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BIG GOBBLER WORTH WAIT FOR HUNTER WILBANKS BAGS 42-INCH TOM AT ONYX.

Byline: Rochelle Kaplan Special to the Daily News

``Mo'' might have been legendary before the spring turkey opener March 29, but ``Mo'' never had met turkey hunter Dan Wilbanks.

Specifically drawn to Onyx Ranch, just northeast of Lake Isabella, because of ``Mo'' - who was thus named because he's ``more bigger'' than the other toms - Wilbanks was challenged to bag the huge gobbler, and he wasn't going home to Moreno Valley without him. He'd made the three-hour drive to Kern County at the urging of hunting guide Jerry Scotton, who'd been tracking the tom for weeks on one of the fields of the 67,000-acre private property he manages.

After two unsuccessful tries during the weekend, Wilbanks positioned himself in a different location the third and final time Sunday - though in the same proximity to Mo's territory - poised his shotgun on a fallen tree branch, remained absolutely motionless and waited for the big tom to make his first appearance. After gobbling from high in his roost for 25 minutes, ``Mo'' suddenly went silent, indicating to Wilbanks and Scotton he'd hit the ground sometime soon.

Fighting frustration from the previous day, when something alerted ``Mo'' to their presence, the two men mustered patience and determination as they waited for the trophy tom. It was coming up on daybreak, the sun hidden behind the tall mountain range that borders the eastern reaches of Onyx Ranch, and Wilbanks knew once the sun was visible in the sky, his opportunity to shoot the gobbler would pass. The big guy either would be lured by the lifelike decoy 25 yards away or distrust the fake hen and leave.

Wilbanks' patience paid off.

``I hit him right at the base of his neck and he just dropped,'' said Wilbanks, a veteran hunter and bowhunter who typically harvests turkeys in Tennessee, his home state. ``He measured 42 inches, so he's definitely the biggest tom I ever got. All the previous toms I've bagged - even in Tennessee - don't hold anything to him.''

It was Wilbanks' first turkey hunt on the private acreage of Onyx Ranch, part of the Rudnick Trust of Bakersfield.

According to Scotton - who had counted about 100 turkeys on several fields over the past few months - wild turkey behavior is predictable during the springtime when mating occurs. Although they'll come out - like clockwork - at dawn and dusk to eat, ``Feeding isn't too much of an issue now because they're into breeding.''

Also along on the hunt were Dan Unrue of Lompoc and his brother, Derek, visiting from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. They returned to the same field Dan hunted last fall, which he deemed lucky because it was where he got his first turkey.

The Unrue brothers set their decoy just before 5 a.m. and settled in a ``clump of trees'' waiting for the birds. Dan said he heard the first gobble at 5:15.

``I called him a total of five times and then he came out with two hens,'' Dan said. ``He was in full strut and moving full on at the decoy.''

Dan's 25-yard shot nailed the tom in the neck when it was within five feet of the decoy. Having shot high last spring, when he was a beginner turkey hunter, Dan remained calm and remembered to aim at the base of the neck for a clean kill.

``What was really awesome was I had my brother with me, he was right behind me,'' said Dan, who attributed his luck to a combination of calling and decoy placement. ``I missed one in the exact same place last year. This time, I didn't waste any time before shooting him.''

Although the turkeys are ``really boisterous this time of year,'' Scotton warns his hunters to not get too eager to call them too often on a hunt, or at all, when scouting.

``If you call (at the wrong time) it'll educate him, he'll know it's a fake,'' said Scotton who runs a hunting service, including all upland game, deer and bear. ``If you call, the next thing he should know is a `Boom.' ''

Spring turkey season ends May 3. For information on hunting Onyx Ranch, call Scotton at (760) 378-1992, or go to www.kernvalley.com/fishnhuntguide.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 10, 2003
Words:702
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