Walk into attorney Randy Thomas' home in Acampo, and your eyes immediately shift to a large brown bear lunging at you with its claws.
Surprisingly, it is unclear who is the more formidable creature in the foyer, Thomas or the bear.
Thomas's strong stature makes him appear nearly as tall as the animal, bagged in the Aleutian Islands. But unlike the bear, Thomas is very much alive.
Thomas, 59, is a litigation lawyer in Woodbridge during the week. And when he has time after work or on weekends, he is also a top-notch smalland big-game hunter. He has luncheoned with the likes of President Ronald Reagan, single-handedly brought down an African elephant and dealt with the notorious "Co-ed Killer" Edmund Kemper.
And there is a decidedly more sensitive side of the man. Family and friends seek out Thomas for his charming poetry. Be it a birthday party or an awards ceremony, Thomas seems to find a way to pull together a poem that perfectly highlights the occasion.
There is nothing, it seems, that Randy Thomas cannot do.
"Randy is bigger than life," said long-time friend and fellow lawyer Nick Lowe. "He doesn't do anything part way. He attacks his work and his hunting with 110 percent."
But Thomas does not indulge in anyone's praise of his skills, legal or poetic.
He shrugs when showing off a picture of his teenage self standing next to Ronald Reagan when he was a senior in high school. He nonchalantly states that, yes, he has had to deal with the notorious Hells Angels gang during his years as a lawyer.
If anything, he lights up most when he is able to talk about his wife and five children.
His eldest, Kate, has a master's degree in education and teaches in Los Angeles. His son, Ross, graduated from the University of Southern California and is a successful movie and television actor. His daughter Courtney holds a master's degree in hotel management from Griffiths University in Australia. His third daughter Barbara followed in her father's footsteps and will graduate from University of Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in December. His other son Spencer is about to graduate from a school in Oakland that specializes in personal training.
Thomas is clearly proud of all the accomplishments of his family members.
"(My wife and kids) are the best part of my life," he said.
Influenced by Lincoln
Thomas can pinpoint the two people who directly influenced him to become a lawyer: Abraham Lincoln and his mother.
Born and raised in Stockton, Thomas, then 10 years old, took a trip with his family to Disneyland.
Walking into the theme park and down Main Street, Thomas and his family stopped to watch a stage production of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."
There, on the stage, was the United States' 16th president, orating one of his most famous speeches, The Gettysburg Address.
"I remember being very taken by that ... it was something that really resonated with me," he said.
But Thomas was not much like honest Abe, whom historians say was known for his good behavior.
A talker in his elementary school classes, Thomas recalled being frequently reprimanded by teachers, saying they thought he talked too much.
To curb his tendency to chit-chat with others when he was supposed to be doing school work, Thomas started participating in speaking contests in middle school. He learned how to formulate an argument, how to support it and, above all, how to prove he was right.
Thomas' mother began to notice her son's ability, and started suggesting he become a lawyer.
"My mother gave a lot of input when it came to me becoming a lawyer one day," he said. "She started saying pretty early on that it would be a good career choice for me."
Her words stuck with him, and while attending Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton, Thomas continued to enhance his oratory skills. He joined a debate team, and pretty soon he was winning competitions.
One particular speech, however, caught the White House's attention. It was a speech he had written and recorded for a class assignment on the Vietnam War. Thomas's teacher, who submitted the essays to be judged in a national contest, thought it was worthy of a B+ grade.
A national committee, however, thought the speech deserved much more.
Thomas received a letter a few weeks later and was flown back to Washington, D.C., where he not only received an award for his speech, but he also got to meet two of the most powerful men in the world at the time — President Richard Nixon and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover.
"Can you believe it?" he said. "She thought (the speech) was at best a B+, and then before I know it I'm in the same room with Hoover and Nixon, getting an award for the speech."
And while Thomas acknowledged that it was a treat to meet the two men, he said he was not necessarily star-struck.
Hoover and Nixon were not the only two national leaders Thomas had the fortune of meeting.
Another speech contest victory earned Thomas, then a senior in high school, a lunch with former President Ronald Reagan, who was the governor of California at the time.
Thomas was one of three people who headed to Sacramento, where they dined with Reagan and got to see some of the sights of the State Capitol.
"Honestly, one of the coolest parts about that day was getting to go to the old Firehouse," Thomas said.
Thomas later joined a debate team at University of California, Santa Barbara. Thomas, an avid football player whose high school career was cut short by a neck injury, walked onto the university's football team as a defensive tackle his freshman year in 1970.
But Santa Barbara cut the football program after two years, so he headed north in 1972 to UC Davis. It was there that he met Lowe, and where Thomas not only finished his football career, but also his undergraduate education with a degree in rhetoric.
Upon graduation, Thomas already had a clear goal in mind — law school
Thomas and Lowe enrolled at University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Oak Park, Sacramento in 1974.
According to Lowe, Thomas was not one to lock himself in a library. Rather, Thomas was known to have a broad brush with studying legal terms and preferred to understand the bigger pictures of cases that he studied rather than the minutia of legal footnotes.
"Whereas I was reluctant to ever miss a class, if (Thomas) ever got an opportunity to go hunting or fishing, he would," Lowe said. "Don't get me wrong, he worked hard and still ended up with better grades than I did."
In 1977, Thomas, 24, graduated from law school and almost immediately took the bar exam.
He passed it on his first try, something only roughly 35 to 55 percent of test-takers accomplish, according to the American Bar Association.
He began practicing in Stockton doing criminal law, obtaining a contract with the public defender's office. He also worked in places such as Fairfield, where he once met the infamous "Co-Ed Killer" Edmund Kemper.
"I'm tall, but he was huge," Thomas said. "I had to look up."
Twenty years ago, Thomas opened his law office on Lower Sacramento Road in Woodbridge, where to this day he deals with litigation ranging from DUIs to high-profile murder trials.
Thomas's interesting run-ins with criminals and high-profile people did not stop once he began his own firm.
Out in Merced County, Thomas once represented a member of the notorious Hells Angels gang.
In a double murder case that had gone cold, Thomas was able to try his client in court twice, and on the second chance, got an acquittal.
"I have a wide variety of clients," he said. "They come from all walks of life and they all deserve fair representation."
"He likes the contest, he likes the adversarial, he likes the fight," said Lowe. "He is not slow to tell someone how things are going to be done and where to go."
And while Thomas said the best part of his job is that it never gets boring, he does need some time to relax.
That is when Thomas heads to the mountains or to a lake to devote some time to hunting.
Aside from his law firm, Thomas finds time nearly every year to indulge in his 50-year passion — hunting.
From tracking polar bears with dogs and sleds to sitting in a boat in a lake in Africa for hours waiting for a hippopotamus to emerge from the water, Thomas is seriously dedicated to the thrill of the hunt.
Even at eight years old, while he was on a hunting trip with his father, he can recall that he was hooked after shooting his first duck.
But Thomas is not one to head out and attempt to nab the biggest beast on the mountain, according to long-time friend Don Giottonini, president of the Sacramento Safari Club.
According to Giottonini, it is not unusual to find Thomas out hunting ducks or doves up to three times a week, if work permits. In addition to that, he said Thomas makes time for one to two international hunts a year.
Those hunts have taken the two across the globe, from British Columbia to Baja California, across the Atlantic Ocean and as far as China.
They hunted animals like deer, rhino and buffalo.
Giottonini was present when Thomas shot and killed his final big-horned sheep, allowing him to obtain a coveted honor known as "the grand slam."
According to the Grand Slam Club website, a grand slam is retrieving one of each of the four different North American wild sheep, taken on a fair chase by one hunter and documented by the Grand Slam Club. The four North American sheep that constitute a grand slam are the Dall's sheep, Stone's sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn and the desert bighorn.
But earning the award was not easy, and it took time. Thomas traveled to British Columbia, where he shot and killed a Stone's sheep. He hunted through the Northwest Territories to find his Dall's sheep. He did not even have to leave the country to get his Rocky Mountain bighorn, which he shot in Wyoming.
His final kill happened on a sunny day in Baja California, and Giottonini was there to witness the impressive hunt. Thomas tracked and shot his desert bighorn, documenting the kill with a photograph that now hangs on Thomas' wall.
And while Thomas is persistent when he tracks big-game or birds, he is not a typical hunter, Giottonini said.
"Most guys are hung up on killing the biggest one on the mountain," he said. "(Thomas) just wants to have a good representative animal, something that is mature. And he is so happy every time he shoots something."
But Thomas does not go out and randomly kill animals. In fact, Thomas' hunting is part of a conservation effort promoted by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Hunters like Thomas, known as trophy hunters, do not kill young animals. Rather, Thomas will go out and hunt mature, older animals that are considered a surplus, allowing populations of animals to be maintained at reasonable levels.
And so around the world Thomas will go, helping to maintain one species' population at a time.
"I credit my world travel to him," said Lowe, who has been hunting with Thomas since they went to UC Davis together. "But what also amazes me is the risk he takes when we do go places."
On one particular trip to Spain, Lowe said he and Thomas split off to go hunting in the mountains, promising to meet up at camp at sundown.
While Lowe returned, he said Thomas did not.
They waited, and the hours strung along, Lowe said, with no sign of Thomas.
At about midnight, up amongst the rocks, Thomas' figure could be seen descending the mountain with his guide, who was exhausted. With no flashlights and no extra supplies, it was a shock Thomas had made it back in such a good mood.
But they had come back with a what they wanted — an ibex, a high mountain goat, that Thomas had brought down after he and his guide had tracked it all day.
Staying out late in unknown back country is not the only adventure Thomas has had.
He has gone Marco Polo sheep hunting in sub-zero degree weather in the North Pole, hunting musk ox and caribou with sleds and dogs. He has headed to the politically unstable Zimbabwe to go on safari with his daughter, only to be greeted by AK-47 machine guns and local residents eager to take over Caucasian ranches, as per Robert Mugabe's orders.
There is nothing Randy Thomas cannot do.
A gift for poetry and giving
Thomas has been described by friends and colleagues as "Hemingway-esque." It is a fitting description for him, as he admitted his favorite author is Hemingway.
Known for scribbling spur-of-the-moment sonnets on linen napkins at restaurants, Thomas' poetry has been described as humorous but meaningful.
Giottonini said Thomas once told him that a college professor found Thomas to be a terrible poet.
But one man's opinion is not enough to stop Thomas. For those who have read Thomas' poetry, most have been extremely praise-worthy.
Giottonini admitted he had two poems by Thomas hanging in his home in Mexico as well as one at Giottonini's home in Stockton.
"The poems are always a great send off to the last day of a hunt," he said. "It's great to see him write it down then pull out a knife and carve it off of the table cloth."
Lowe recalls a family trip to Spain with Thomas where Lowe, Thomas' wife, Julie, and their children went out to dinner one night while Thomas stayed in at the hotel, saying he was not feeling well.
Upon returning from dinner, Lowe and Julie Thomas saw a pair of shuttered doors on the third floor of their hotel suddenly spring open. Out stepped Thomas, clad in powder blue jockey shorts.
Thomas triumphantly walked out on the balcony and belted a poem to his audience below before chucking with great flair the pages of his poem into the air.
"(The pages) slowly wafted down to us, kind of like snow," Lowe said. "To this day, my children remember that moment."
Julie Thomas proudly displays many of her husband's poems at their home in Acampo.
She said she looks forward to every time he writes a new poem, saying that each one is unique, despite the fact that Thomas never admits his talents.
"He is a true wordsmith, and a lot of his work just takes your breath away," said Julie Thomas. "Don't let him tell you any different."
And poetry is not the only thing Thomas offers friends and family. He is also known greatly for his philanthropic efforts, such as playing Santa Claus at the Woodbridge Inn or hosting fundraisers at his home.
Be it a conservation effort to save exotic animals in Africa or simply taking a friend out to dinner, Thomas is never one to shy away from giving back.
"Randy may be the most generous person I know," said Lowe. "If you buy one dinner, he insists he buys the next five. And he never asks for anything in return. You truly cannot have a better friend."
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.