Chester Moore is an award-winning wildlife journalist. He is owner of The Wildlife Journalist® and Higher Calling media properties, Editor-In-Chief of Texas Fish & Game, host of "Moore Outdoors" on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and founder of the Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® and Wild Wishes® program. He was named a "Hero Of Conservation" by Field & Stream magazine in 2006, awarded "Conservationist Of The Year" by the Texas Soil & Conservation District in 2009 and given the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy Award in 2017. You can learn more at www.chestermoore.com
For the second time in less than a week, officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD have released a statement on increased bear activity in the state. The last one as reported here involved sightings in the Trans Pecos.
The new reports are from Northeast Texas along the Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana borders.
Since April, there has been an uptick in black bear sightings in Bowie, Grayson and Titus counties in northeast Texas. The bears are thought to originate from the neighboring states of Oklahoma and Arkansas, or possibly Louisiana, where resident bear populations are well established and expanding. As the numbers of this iconic species grows, dispersing black bears find their way across state lines into Texas, signaling the possibility of its eventual permanent return to our landscape.
“It is inspiring as a biologist to watch these animals make their return to Northeast Texas after being absent for a century or more,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist, Penny Wilkerson.
“Bears do not generally pose a threat to pets or livestock. These critters are omnivores and are more interested in berries, grubs, and acorns than anything else,” Wilkerson said.
The last time TPWD sent out a press release regarding black bears was 2017 and there was another in 2016. Before that, the last release was in 2012.
For TPWD to send out two releases in a week shows there is a major change in bear activity and likely some kind of bear emphasis coming from the department.
The lack of activity in the woods, state parks, and wildlife management areas due to COVID-19 this spring has in my opinion given bears a little more leeway in the woods and emboldened the animals in areas where they have been lurking in the shadows for a number of years.
A recent report from just across the border in Oklahoma shows landowners frustrated with the amount of bear activity. And one of my research partners Todd Jurasek got numerous bears including a 400 plus pound bruin on video in the Kiamichi Mountains along the Texas-Oklahoma corridor.
I will be posting those videos soon along with a massive update on bear sightings by county in Texas.
“There has been a flurry of bear activity in the Trans-Pecos recently. Reports of black bears wandering into Fort Davis, Alpine, and Fort Stockton were received this past week on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, respectively,” said Michael Janis, TPWD Trans-Pecos District Leader.
Black bears are generally shy, reclusive creatures but there comes a point when populations grow when that can change.
There is no hunting pressure in Texas and Mexico so there is no reason to fear people. In these situations, they may begin approaching human habitations and dry conditions like west Texas is facing now will amplify the issue.
My concern is Texans are not bear aware.
To most encountering bears is something that might happen once-in-a-lifetime when they visit Yellowstone or in the Smoky Mountains.
And these Texas bears are not just in the Trans Pecos.
For more than a decade I have recorded sightings in the Hill Country, South Texas, and along the Middle Coast. The East Texas bear population is a different issue and we will touch more on that next week but there are increasing sightings in the eastern third of the state as well.
Texans need to understand a few things about these unexpected inhabitants of its wildlands.
The following is from TPWD.
Bears have an excellent sense of smell and much of their behavior is driven by their appetite. These natural characteristics can, however, become a problem when bears find an easy meal from a human-related source such as garbage, pet food or corn from a deer feeder. If over time a bear continually finds food around humans, it can become habituated, losing its fear of people and creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Fellow hunters, we are now in the off-season. If you have a bear hitting a feeder, a good option is to shut it down and let the bear move on. Feeding in an area might keep the bear around and give you problems with your feeder (they’ll tear it up) or maybe an unwanted up close and personal encounter.
Another option is electricity.
Bears are sensitive to electricity however, so electric fences can be used to prevent bears from accessing feeders while still allowing deer to reach them because of their ability to jump the fence. Although an added cost, electric fencing can pay for itself in the prevention of lost feed and damage to a feeder.
TPWD biologists say education is the best way to prevent human-bear conflicts
Residents in areas where bears have been spotted should secure anything that could be a potential attractant (e.g. garbage, pet food, bird and deer feeders, etc.). Residents can also choose to invest in bear proof garbage dumpsters, a recourse that many communities in the western U.S. have deployed to reduce or prevent bear encounters. Double-bagging garbage to reduce odors and keeping bags in a secure location until the morning of trash pickup are also encouraged practices. Similarly, TPWD biologists recommend feeding pets inside or limiting pet food portions to an amount that can be consumed completely at each feeding.
Black bears are potentially dangerous animals. And while they are not likely to attack, their ferocity upon attack can be fatal.
In a story in the March/April 2020 edition of Sports Afield, I outlined a surprising study on black bear attack behavior.
A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management documents 63 people killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bears between 1900-2009.
Here is the standout quote.
“We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88 percent of fatal incidents. Adult or subadult male bears were involved in 92 percent of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears.”
There are a couple of things that should jump out at outdoor lovers here.
If you are attacked by a black bear you must fight back. While many grizzly attacks are territorial or perhaps because the grizzly didn’t like you way you looked that day, most black bear attacks are predatory and nearly all of the fatal ones are. Play dead for grizzlies. Fight like crazy against a black bear.
Big male bears are the biggest threat. If you see one in an area or have game camera photos of one, take extra precautions.
Black bears are protected in Texas, so hunters should keep that in mind and especially when hunting hogs in areas with bear sightings at night. A bear could easily look like a hog hitting a bait pile especially if you are using night vision or thermal imaging.
Black bears returning to Texas is exciting but everyone needs to stay informed. I will continue coverage here as the great American bear returns to the Lone Star State and shows up in places where few expect to see them.
(TPWD is requesting bear sighting information. Click here to find a biologist in your area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to send bear photos and videos.)
Lake Falcon on the Texas/Mexico border is known for its huge largemouth bass and monstrous alligator garfish.
So, when 15-year-old Joseph Belcher and his uncle Sherman Pierce hit the water in mid-June 2020, they were focused on fish.
That is until they noticed something swimming across the lake.
Moving closer to investigate, they saw a black bear coming from the Mexican side and were able to capture footage of it mid-lake and were gracious enough to share it with Higher Calling. Thanks to Larry Belcher for making the connection.
Black bears are native to both Mexico and Texas.
Ursus americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and Texas, and over the last two decades, they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains and other areas.
Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Zapata County where this sighting took place.
A 2012 report shows another bear sighting in the county but this one was on dry land.
Ten years ago a hunter named Al Weaver sent me this photo from Bay City, TX on the north-central tier of the Texas Coast. I wrote about it in Texas Fish & Game in 2010.
Last year, I wrote this story, showing this individual had to take a pretty fantastic journey to end up where Weaver got the photo.
(Houston, TX- June 24, 2020) Houston Safari Club Foundation (HSCF) and “Hunting Matters” welcome Chester Moore, an award-winning wildlife journalist, and conservationist and Editor-In-Chief of Texas Fish & Game. Moore will appear on the program 6-7 a.m. Saturday, June 27 on KPRC AM 950.
Chester is Editor-In-Chief of Texas Fish & Game magazine and contributes to Sports Afield, Hunter’s Horn, Deer & Deer Hunting, Tide, The Lakecaster, and many others. He is the host of “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and of The Higher Calling podcast. Chester has authored 15 books including Hog Wild: Hog Hunting Facts, Tips & Strategies, Texas Waterfowl, and Flounder Fever. He is a lifelong hunter and angler who enjoys everything from bowhunting wild turkeys to surf fishing for sharks to fly fishing for rainbow trout.
His heart is for conservation and youth. He was awarded the Advocatus Magni award in 2020 from the National Wild Turkey Federation for his work with wild turkeys, the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy award in 2017 for his work with children and wildlife, and was named a “Hero Of Conservation” by Field & Stream magazine. Altogether he has won more than 150 awards for conservation, writing, radio, and photography. He and his wife Lisa operate the Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® and Wild Wishes® programs which give wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness, in the foster system or who have lost a parent or sibling. Their latest project is Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions which takes teens from those programs into the forest and mountains to mentor them in using photography and video to raise awareness and funds for wildlife conservation.
His favorite animals are wild sheep and his most amazing wildlife encounter was cage diving with great white sharks in the Pacific. His most important roles however are as a follower of Christ, husband, father, and mentor.
“Hunting Matters” airs each Saturday from 6 am-7 am CST on KPRC AM 950 – Real Texas, Real Talk, a Houston iHeartMedia station, and Houston’s longest-running radio station. Listen live online here. You may also listen to each episode as a podcast, following live airing, by downloading the SPREAKER app to any of your devices! Or, listen online, at spreaker.com/show/hunting-matters.
About Houston Safari Club Foundation
Houston Safari Club Foundation (HSCF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve the sport of hunting through education, conservation, and the promotion of our hunting heritage. HSCF has awarded 550 scholarships totaling $2.5 million dollars. HSCF conducts youth outdoor education programs, career training, hunter education, and field experiences throughout the year. HSCF has provided over $4 million in grants for hunter-funded wildlife, habitat, and various conservation initiatives. HSCF is an independent organization, is not affiliated with Safari Club International (SCI) or its affiliates and is not a chapter or affiliate of any other organization. Visit our website at wehuntwegive.org or call 713.623.8844 for more information. HSCF. We Hunt. We Give
Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain.
I’ll never forget sitting alone on a rock on a distant hill in South Dakota watching the northern lights as a pack of coyotes sang in the distance. The skies were truly spacious and grain plentiful as I ended a long day of pheasant hunting with friends.
For purple mountain’s majesty. Above the fruited plain.
Just as the sun rose above the Montana mountains, I could finally understand the lyric “purple mountain’s majesty” as one of the peaks in the distance had a light purple hue. It was a special moment because in the plain below, just in front of me were two pronghorn bucks in an intense battle, almost as if to say, “I’ll be the king of this majestic scene.”
Oh, America how God truly shed His grace on thee, even before anyone other than the Creator Himself set foot here you were special.
And I have been exceedingly blessed to see so much of your beauty.
From the incredible pink dolphin that graced our presence on the Louisiana coastline to the hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese I have seen in those marshes.
From the Rocky Mountain bighorn I photographed at 12,000 feet in Colorado to the big eastern gobbler I bagged in the rolling hills of New York.
And Texas, our Texas, oh hail my home state.
From the big bucks of the Pineywoods to the ocelots in the valley to the clear streams of the Hill Country and the mule deer of the west. You are incredible.
America was not chosen by First Nations people or European settlers because it was a big chunk of land. It was because of abundant timber, water and wildlife. America’s very greatness is tied to its wildness.
Naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote that, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
And while the exact intent of Thoreau’s quote has been debated since he wrote it, there is no question America without wilderness is not America at all.
And the further we get from the roots our ancestors planted, the further off track we’ve become. There are agendas on top of agendas for destruction of this nation. To plunder it To control it. To manipulate it and confuse.
There are so many voices demanding our attention, it is crucial that all hunters, anglers, hikers, campers and wildlife lovers go out into the wild for clarity.
I just returned from a remote area of Texas and at one point found myself in crystal clear water, surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs and there was no one around. Even my fishing partners were about 1/2 mile away and it was just me, God and His creation.
There was no one telling me who to be angry with. There was no one demanding political affiliation, holding a sign or fighting.
America looked quite beautiful from here and I suspect on my coming trip to Alaska it will be just as majestic. As I seek to photograph Dall sheep, the only intent will be to capture one of the Lord’s finest creations to share with the world so others can care about their existence.
When I have been on wild turkey releases, bighorn captures, bay cleanups and stream enhancement projects there has been only one true agenda. To keep America wild and ensure what our forefathers no matter where they came from first marveled over when reaching the country remains.
Don’t let anyone tell you America is not beautiful anymore.
Don’t let anyone tell the nation is not worthy of adoration. I have ventured from sea to shining sea and feel blessed I was born here to experience the wild things that inhabit our woodlands, waterways, mountains, prairies, marshes, deserts and tundra.
Politics and media manipulation enter the woods only if you bring it.
It’s time to go beyond the pavement, into the wild and thank God for shining His most creative blessings on the United States of America and its wild lands.
In January 2019, I had an incredible experience while praying.
The Lord impressed two words upon me-“Higher Calling”.
I could feel the weight and depth of it in my bones as I knew a significant shift was coming to my life. It was one of those few times where I knew the Lord had a message for me to unravel.
Some say He no longer communicates with people but Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice”. (John 10:27)
And in this case, the significance of sheep cannot be overstated.
That prayer time began a journey of soul-searching and a path back toward the very beginnings of my career as a wildlife journalist and even younger.
For starters I knew the Lord wanted me to dedicate more time to Him, studying His word and praying. That was first.
But there was more.
I love pretty much all aspects of fishing, hunting, and wildlife but if someone had given me a chance to do anything I wanted at 19 years of age when this journey began I would have pursued the wildlife of the mountains and forests.
I’ve always written about it but when paying opportunities came in other areas of the outdoors industry, I went where chances to make a living came.
Very much of that for me was in the Gulf coast fishing boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. I have loved coastal fishing my whole life so it was natural for me.
But my deepest love has always been mountain and forest wildlife.
So, last year I decided to put all career time outside of what I do at Texas Fish & Game toward writing about and advancing the cause of the conservation of mountain and forest wildlife. That is why this blog exists and the Higher Calling podcast and it has expanded into articles in numerous national and regional publications.
By discerning the two words “Higher Calling”, a new purpose was birthed into my writing and broadcasting and an epic year ensued.
I went from having never photographed bighorn sheep to photographing them in four different states. I went having only hunted and photographed Rio Grande turkeys to photographing the Grand Slam of the four major subspecies all in 2019.
And I managed to bag a big eastern gobbler in New York in the process.
In the fall of last year, we started a new outreach of our ministry called Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions which has the goal of taking kids in our Wild Wishes program into mountain regions to train them to be wildlife conservationists. Wild Wishes grants wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling.
Plans were on tap for Central Texas, Colorado, and Montana.
Then COVID-19 came.
The Colorado trip has been at the very least postponed.
Montana is still up in the air and we will probably pull off the Texas trip. But it has been disheartening as we had some special teens lined up for some incredible opportunities that are shaky at best now.
People can say what they want about the coronavirus but at the time of this writing there were more than 60,000 people dead from it in the United States alone and economic depression looms like vultures circling a carcass.
It’s pretty ugly out there.
But I remain hopeful.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ. That means I believe in His virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection.
And although I fail more often than I would like to admit, I try to follow his teachings and example. It’s why Lisa and I work so hard to help children going through illness and trauma.
And since I believe in a supernatural God, I believe supernatural things can happen. I believe in healings. I believe in deliverance and I believe in hope that we can have great lives despite the chaos.
I was a little boy from a lower-middle-income home who grew up in the oil industry bust of the late 70s/early 80s. We could barely afford to hunt in East Texas near our home much less pursue the great wildlife of the mountains.
My Dad and I would cut our favorite photos out of old Sports Afield,Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines and paste them in scrapbooks. We would dream of hunting around the country together and in our 700 square foot home in Orange, TX we were the best hunting team in the world.
Dad died of natural causes on a hunting trip with me in South Texas in 2014 at age 71. He just shot the second biggest buck of life, topped only by the one he shot on the same ranch the year before. A connection I made in the industry became a friend and let me and Dad live out our deer hunting dreams on his ranch.
I am eternally grateful for that.
I hated to lose Dad but there is no better way or place he could have made his trip to Heaven.
I almost quit hunting after that.
For a couple of years there it just wasn’t the same. Dad was my hunting partner and it felt so strange to be in the field without him. I would always support hunting but two years ago, I had plans no one knew about to go bury Dad’s deer rifle on the ranch he died on and walk away from hunting.
It was just too hard emotionally.
But my friend Josh Slone who came into my life through our Wild Wishes program had been inspiring me to keep at it. Every time we got around each other the conversation was hunting and it often ended up being about our mutual dream of sheep hunting.
You see right after I got the words “Higher Calling”, I found those old scrapbooks in one of my mom’s storage bins.
Opening them up again was like opening up my childhood and being back in Dad’s lap.
And as I looked at the pages I was blown away that the majority of photos were of wild sheep and wild turkeys in that order. And those were the first two things I felt I needed to pursue on the career and conservation side of a higher calling.
The Lord had taken me back to the beginning of my life and a deep, profound love of wild sheep and wild turkeys that was rekindled like a wildfire.
In the ancient Book of Pslams, the Psalmist writes “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
I look back at 2019 and had more desires of my heart fulfilled than I have in 10 years before that from wildlife and career perspective.
And although 2020 has been scary for all of us, I have been able to photograph desert bighorns in Nevada and capture a very rare photo of an eastern turkey in East Texas as part of the Turkey Revolution project.
I had a great hunting season and feel as alive in the woods bow hunting and turkey hunting as I did as a young man.
I am no one special.
But I get to do special things because I put my relationship with Christ first and work extremely hard on the vision of wildlife conservation and helping hurting children receive peace through wildlife encounters.
That is the true higher calling.
Without those two words, I felt in my spirit because I took time to pray, my life would look very different this year.
I am extremely concerned about the status of the outdoors industry that I have made a living in for 28 years. Like most Americans, I don’t know what is next. In this process, I have fears that need to be conquered as a man, provider, and conservationist.
But I am placing my trust in God and realizing I have a cause that is greater than the desire for even commerce.
I would continue using my God-given talent of communication on wildlife’s behalf even if there was no paycheck. I’m going to do everything I can, of course, to make sure the paychecks keep coming but that’s how much I believe in what I do.
This blog doesn’t pay. The podcast doesn’t either. These are things I do because I followed the Lord’s direction on “Higher Calling” and to keep the cause of conservation of mountain and forest wildlife front and center.
Lisa and I have never received a dime for our work with children. All of the money in our nonprofit goes to the cause and we are believing donors will continue to support what we do.
I can’t help but think about Jesus’ quote that His sheep hear his voice.
As His follower, I am one of those sheep and it blows my mind that because of hearing “Higher Calling” and doing something about it, He has led me to the wild sheep He created in the beginning and to childhood dreams never realized.
I thought seriously about this as I photographed a gorgeous desert bighorn in Nevada that actually walked down toward me after I climbed a treacherous mountainside. The beautiful ram essentially posed in perfect sunlight!
In this case, which sheep heard his voice?
Was it me who followed the call?
Or was it the ram?
Perhaps the Lord brought it down to let me know He was there with me when Dad and I were cutting out pictures of rams and putting them in a scrapbook when I was six.
And He was there with me 40 years later on the mountain.
I can’t describe what that feels like.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel truly loved in this crazy, often dark world but as I knew the Lord brought me and that ram together. the Creator’s love was tangible.
I praise Him for the opportunity and for the higher calling.
His love for all of us is astounding. We just have to pray and listen.
Remember, His sheep hear His voice.
And I am living proof He still speaks to His flock.
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
I’m sure when poet Robert Burns inked those words in his seminal “To A Mouse”, wild turkeys were the furthest thing from his mind.
But oh how this poetic truism has rang true in all things turkey for me lately.
Last year I founded Turkey Revolution, a project to raise awareness of wild turkey conservation.
It began with a quest to photograph the Grand Slam of wild turkeys (Rio Grande, Eastern, Osceola, Merriam’s)-all within 2019. That concluded at 9,000 in elevation in Colorado last June by photographing a gorgeous and ultra-rare bearded cinnamon phase Merriam’s hen with poults.
This year’s goal was to photograph the elusive Gould’s turkey that inhabits the “Sky Island” areas of Arizona and New Mexico.
I had the location.
I had the contacts.
I had a time picked out to travel during the peak breeding season.
Not only was air travel not an option but the federal lands the limited Gould’s population dwells in were off-limits as well, so I decided in March to switch 2020 and 2021’s objectives. The Gould’s search would begin next year and the search eastern turkeys in the Pineywoods of East Texas where I live would begin.
A tract of private land 75 minutes from my home that had turkes on it opened up and it happens to be in Newton County, one of 12 counties open to hunting eastern turkeys in the Pineywoods region.
Once a mecca for these birds, poaching and habitat degradation took the numbers down to nothing.
Gradually intensive stocking and habitat work from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) brought the region’s numbers up to around 10,000.
Me and my friend Josh Slone scouted his friend’s property heavily the day before the season opener and figured we knew where the birds were roosting.
It was in a big creek bottom on the edge of a clear cut.
Our plan was to set up on the outside of the roosting locations and get the birds as they came into the field to feed. Tracks, scat, and scratching showed they were using the exact spot where we set up the day before.
So, now we go back to that whole best-laid plans of mice and men thing.
We got to the location well before daylight, set up the decoys, and after things settled a few minutes let out a call.
A gobbler called back immediately.
It sounded like he was on top of us.
He gobbled again and I was thinking the bird might already be on the ground right out in the weeds just past our decoys.
“Holy smokes! He’s right there in that big pine tree!,” Josh said.
On the outer edge of the creek bottom was a small clump of trees and sitting on a limb about 60 feet up was a gobbler.
He was way too close for comfort!
The big gobbler let out a flurry of gobbles that was unlike anything I’ve heard and was running up and down the big limb strutting.
I don’t like to get this close to roosting birds, especially in an extremely open clear cut like we were in.
I thought there was no way this bird was going to come to us. The sky was so clear we didn’t even need a light to walk in so I knew he saw us setting up.
Josh kept toying with him and he seemed interested until a hen busted out into the field and started calling. He fixed his attention on her and as she made her way down the field away from us, he flew down, walked far out of range along the woodline, and followed the girl.
Who could blame him, right?
Just as I was about to get discouraged, I saw a beard hanging off a big pine tree about 60 feet up and 30 feet away from where the other gobbler flew down from.
A few minutes later I saw tail feathers as the bird moved.
It was a huge gobbler!
And it never made a sound.
Not at daylight. Not for the next hour.
Not for the next two hours. It just sat in that tree and barely moved.
I have seen turkeys in roosts a little after daylight but nothing like this.
At around 8:30 it walked from the backside of the tree to a limb on the front side in perfect sunlight.
I grabbed my camera with the 400 mm lens knowing the Lord had granted me an opportunity and snapped away.
As the massive gobbler stood there with beard dangling, I was in awe.
This was the county I have hunted in my whole life.
It was the county my father first let me accompany him to a deer blind in the late 70s when there were few deer and no turkeys.
And here I was with my true hunting partner Josh sharing the moment.
When my father died of natural causes on a deer hunting trip with me in 2014, I was broken. I didn’t know if I would hunt again, especially hunt deer.
Dad was my hunting partner and whitetail were his thing.
But I couldn’t help talk hunting being around Josh. He practically forced me to get on his deer lease and here we were together seeing a turkey that never made a peep for 2.5 hours after daylight in a county that means something to both of us.
It was a powerful moment.
When I got home, I reached out to TPWD Wild Turkey Program Leader Jason Hardin about the birds in Newton County.
The bird I photographed did not have a leg band so it was at least a second-generation wild bird so I thought.
“You will not likely see any banded wild turkeys in Newton County. The area has not received a stocking in 20 years. My records show four release sites scattered north to south across Newton County,” Hardin said.
“Restocking efforts began slowly in the late 1970s and concluded in 2000. There may have been some earlier restocking efforts, but those would have consisted of Rio Grande wild turkeys and pen-reared turkeys (illegal to release today in Texas for the purpose of establishing a wild turkey population).”
Historical Newton County Release Sites
Donahue Creek in central Newton County near Louisiana border: 1977 (2 males), 1978 (4 hens), 2000 (15 hens and 4 males)
Sheppard Road in southern Newton County near Louisiana border: 2000 (5 males and 15 hens)
Scrappin Valley in northern Newton County: 1981 (8 females, 2 males), 1982 (4 males), 1996 (5 males)
Slaydons Creek in southern Newton County near Louisiana border: No data in my records other than the location suggesting a restocking effort in the late 70s or early 80s.
I was blown away to see Sheppard Road on the list because my Aunt Ann lived at the end of it and I took my first animal-ever there-a swamp rabbit. I used to hunt squirrels on the very public hunting unit that used to exist where the birds had been released in 2000.
Listen to The Higher Calling podcast as Chester Moore interviews TPWD’s Jason Hardin on a can’t miss episode.
“Newton County birds are part of a larger population that expands west out of Louisiana. Once you get to Sabine County, Toledo Bend reservoir serves as a fragmenting feature on the landscape,” Hardin said.
“Turkey numbers begin to decline rapidly as you move north to Shelby County due to the connectivity with the larger metapopulation in Louisiana.”
Hardin said Louisiana wild turkey genetics flow into Newton County.
“They make their way here naturally through regular population expansion. The lake reduces that potential for ingress to those areas north of the Toledo Bend lake dam,” he said.
This Turkey Revolution journey has been full of surprises.
Whether it was the super rare color phase Colorado bird hen noted above, learning that York’s turkey population has declined 40 percent in the last decade after hunting there in 2019 or that reservoirs can serve as a barrier for natural turkey expansion, surprises are the norm.
Josh and I are returning to the property in hopes of bagging a gobbler this time. We have a new game plan and are hoping for better turkey cooperation.
I’ll never forget watching that big Newton County gobbler walk out on that limb and pose for us.
And I’ll never forget watching a TPWD and NWTF eastern turkey release in Titus County in the Pineywoods just a month before COVID-19 became an issue.
This year has been special in the quest to learn about the region’s eastern turkeys and share it with hunters and other wildlife lovers.
I’ll always remember the disruption caused by the pandemic as giving me a greater chance to learn about the turkeys in my back yard.
Sometimes plans do go awry, but that doesn’t mean something just as good can’t come along.
The shrill gobble carried across the 1/2 mile stretch of the valley with ease.
Positioned on a tall hill (by East Texas standards) my friend Josh Slone and I were pumped to get a response to our first call and it was loud!
The space between these hills and the creekbed below had been clear cut in the last six months and while that practice has questionable merit, the first year or so of a clear cut provides lots of new growth for turkeys, whitetails, and many other creatures.
This was a better start to the day than a public land hunt the day before where we saw plenty of sign, but no birds. My friend Derek York got a good luck at a gobbler and two hens but that was while he was transitioning between locations and wasn’t ready to take a shot.
The same thing happened to me and Josh here on a private lease as later in the morning after seeing a couple of hens, we decided to move toward where we had heard the gobbler earlier and as soon as we went to stake out the decoy there he was.
At about 1/4 mile away he popped out of the woods and popped right back. A turkey’s vision is astounding and once he saw us we knew there was no chance he was coming back out no matter how much we called.
This was a very special couple of days as we were hunting eastern turkeys in the Pineywoods of East Texas. A limited season for this subspecies exists in a handful of counties where restoration efforts by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) have boosted eastern numbers from near zero to around 10,000.
Restoration efforts continue with “super stockings” that are putting upwards of 80 birds in key locations to see eastern numbers expand in this vastly forested region.
On the way back from day two’s hunt, I realized we had been turkey hunting on Earth Day.
To me, it was a fitting way to celebrate the environment and enjoy God’s creation in a fun, exciting way.
In my opinion, as turkeys go, so do America’s forests.
Where forests have either natural fires or controlled prescribed burns and trees adequate for roosting turkeys thrive. And in those same locations so do many other creatures including species of concern such as indigo snakes, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and gopher tortoises.
The difference is there are no groups willing to spend millions to help woodpeckers or indigo snakes, but there is a group that has hundreds of thousands of members and that spends millions helping turkeys-the NWTF.
Wildlife and its habitat need cornerstone species to inspire people to stand for their existence and proliferation. In the mountains, it’s bighorn sheep and in much of the rest of America’s forests, it’s wild turkeys.
Seeing eastern turkeys on a hunt just 75 minutes from my house in the eastern extremity of Texas was a dream come true. I will be returning numerous times to try and bag a bird and enjoy this pursuit that would have been impossible without the diligent efforts of hunter-conservationists.
I’m not one of those hunters who says that only hunters care about wildlife That’s nonsense. I know many nonhunters who do as well.
But I don’t know any group that has a hardcore contingent of conservationists willing to spend as much money, time, and effort on behalf of wildlife as hunters and fishermen in America.
It’s truly remarkable what this group of people have done for wildlife in the United States and beyond.
That’s why spending Earth Day hunkered down in the brush, calling out to turkeys in East Texas was so fitting for me.
I learned to conserve wildlife through hunting and fishing and to this day it remains a means of connecting with nature, collecting food for the table, and enjoy the outdoors to the max.
Thank God for the planet and for filling the forests of America with wild turkeys.
My life is better thanks to their existence.
Chester Moore, Jr.
Chester’s Turkey Revolution project has hit many media outlets already in 2020 with a message of turkey conservation. Here’s where to find some of the articles and broadcasts.