All posts by Chester Moore

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

Death Of A Blacktail

The Sacramento River in northern California is magnificent.

With cool waters running from the Klamath Mountains in the shadow of magnificent Mount Shasta it flows over smooth, gray stones along wooded shorelines.

As I made my way up a game trail leading from the main river, a shocking scene unfolded before me.

Lying on the edge of the trail was a massive, dead blacktail buck.

With antlers that would make any hunter proud it was evident this buck had died within the last 24-36 hours.

For a moment I pondered if I might have come across a mountain lion’s kill but it was not buried and there were no marks in the neck. Upon closer examination it was evident coyotes had started eating the hind quarters but there was no sign they killed the buck.

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The author found this magnificent blacktail buck dead along the banks of the Sacramento River. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

There were also no gunshot wounds. Only a single hole with no exit wound could be found near the base of the neck and judging by the diameter it was made by the antlers of another buck.

It seems like this old buck met his match and I had been fortunate enough to get a glimpse before nature had its way and all of its parts went back into the ecosystem.

The blacktail is America’s forgotten deer.

Whitetail dominate conversations among hunters and wildlife managers and mule deer take up the slack but but blacktail barely make a blip on the radar.

Scientists believe blacktails split off the whitetails eons ago and at some point mule deer arose out of the blacktail.

There are two varieties of blacktail, the Columbia which can be found from California through Washington and the Sitka, which roams British Columbia and Alaska.

Blacktail are facing a number of issues in the Pacific Northwest ranging from an exotic louse introduced to the region in 1995 to loss of habitat and decline of quality forage in available habitat.

A 2018 report by the Mule Deer Working Group of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies features concerning observations from a majority of states and provinces in the blacktail’s range.

Oregon: Both mule deer and black-tailed deer are substantially below the long-term statewide management objectives and benchmarks.

Washington: Regional harvest trends indicate black-tailed deer in western Washington have decreased.  Loss of black-tailed deer habitat due to encroaching human development continues to be a concern.

British Columbia: Predation from wolves and cougars on black-tailed deer continues to be a concern in most areas as well as the need for effective measures to conserve high quality habitat. Black-tailed deer buck harvest has dropped by approximately half since the early 1990s.

California’s population seems to be stable but habitat problems proven in other states seem to be rearing its head there. Alaska’s numbers have faced ups and downs but seem to be holding steady overall.

Things are changing quickly in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and it is my opinion that blacktail and their close cousins the mule deer are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

What happens to them is an indicator of what is happening at a much larger level ecologically and I have committed to monitoring this issue.

Finding this massive buck inspired a deeper look at blacktails and gave me an even deeper appreciation for these majestic forest dwellers.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Doubling Down On Mountain Goats

The blessing of have numerous media platforms is the ability to get conservation messages on mountain wildlife out to a diverse group of people.

When a Texas Fish & Game columnist was not able to turn in a column due to an emergency, I used the space to the readership informed on mountain goat conservation and the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance.

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Mountain goats are truly fascinating creatures who deserve more attention from hunters and those who simply enjoy seeing wildlife.

We will be doing more on mountain goats and other mountain wildlife through a series of expeditions as well as continual communication with the top people at the private, state, tribal and federal level of wildlife management.

Read this article in the Nov. 2019 edition of Texas Fish & Game and don’t forget to check out the podcast with Pete Muennich, founder of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance we posted here a couple of weeks ago.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Chester Moore, Jr.

New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns

If looks could kill I would have been a dead man.

The ewe fixated on me with a focused intensity.

It was obvious she knew I was a stranger in her rocky domain and I suspected her to bolt at any time.

But as clacking sounded from the rocks below, she broke the stare and looked down.

Up came her baby, a gorgeous Rocky Mountain bighorn born this spring and already masterfully moving up through this gorgeous and treacherous gorge.

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Bighorn lambs can weigh as much as 70 pounds during their first winter. This one was climbing up to find its mother. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

After the lamb came up, eight more bighorns moved up into the plains above the gorge. It was an incredible sight and is proof of New Mexico’s hard work to see its bighorn populations increase.

According to Nicole Tatman, Big Game Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (Game & Fish), the state has populations of both Rocky Mountain and desert bighorns.

“We actively manage both herds and are always evaluating populations and areas where we can translocate sheep from abundant herds into areas that need more or that currently do not have sheep,” Tatman said.

In 2018, Game & Fish officials released 40 desert bighorns in Alamogordo and over the last decade stockings of Rocky Mountain bighorns in the Rio Grande Gorge and near Bandelier National Monument have proven successful.

The state is able to conduct translocations from its own herd and has seen significant progress in its sheep program. According to Game & Fish officials their desert bighorn herd was an estimated 170 in 2001 and now sits at over 1,000. Rocky Mountain bighorn populations edge that out and are expanding into suitable habitat.

And suitable habitat can change.

The tragic Las Conchas fire that consumed more than 150,000 acres created treeless habitat in the mountains that is perfect for bighorns.

Controlled fire is a practice that benefits sheep along with other wildlife like New Mexico’s Merriam’s turkeys, so it is interesting to see that even after something as catastrophic as that fire, hope can arise.

I plan to do more expeditions into New Mexico in search of bighorns in the next year, focusing both on the desert and Rocky Mountain herds.

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Chances are this young ram won’t be contributing his genetic this year but he sure showed an interest in this ewe. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

Just before the sheep I found disappeared into their rocky habitat, a young ram tried to make a move on an older ewe. You could tell it wasn’t quite his time yet but the instincts are there.

And those instincts to reproduce, persevere and expand will keep hope alive for New Mexico’s bighorns in the coming years.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance (podcast)

Check out my hour-long interview with Pete Muennich, founder of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

If you have any interest in mountain goats, this is a must listen via the IheartRadio podcast of the program.

We discuss the following:

*Mountain Goat Ecology

*The Challenge of Hunting Mountain Goats

*Conservation Of The Species

*Formation of Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance and membership/volunteer opportunities.

Listen via the player below.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Hidden Bighorn Threat?

When discussing issues impacting bighorn sheep in the United States, three main issues dominate the conversation.

  1. Domestic Sheep Disease Transference
  2. Predation
  3. Habitat Loss/Degradation

And those should be the three primary concerns but there is a growing threat in the Western United States.

Feral hogs.

Hogs polluted all water sources they use to some level. (Public Domain Photo)

Originally brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, feral hogs have taken a foothold in 31 states and there is no question they will eventually move into all of the Lower 48.

According to an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs are a major threat to wildlife through water pollution.

“Water polluted from feral swine wallowing can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria such as giardia, salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli that could be transmitted to humans and other animals. This can happen when feral swine use an agricultural water source, such as an irrigation pond…”

They noted since hogs lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature.

“Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.”

Looking at a current distribution map, it is easy to see hogs are already established in the entirety of desert bighorn habitat in Texas and California and are also growing in numbers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.

In drought years in particular hogs will impact ponds, stock tanks, streams and guzzlers. These of course are crucial to bighorns and other wildlife.

Feral hogs can also carry pseudorabies.

According to USDA officials, pseudorabies is a disease of swine that can also affect cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and goats.

“Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a contagious herpesvirus that causes reproductive problems, (abortion, stillbirths), respiratory problems and occasional deaths in breeding and finishing hogs. Infected newborn pigs may exhibit central nervous system clinical signs.”

It is typically spread through direct contact but there are other ways transmission can occur.

“If present on inanimate objects, such as boots, clothing, feed, trucks, and equipment, the virus can also spread from herd to herd and farm to farm.”

Could hogs transfer PRV to domestic sheep that in turn transfer to bighorns?

Maybe.

And that’s a frightening prospect for animals already facing great challenges.

Desert bighorns in particular could be subject to issues with feral hogs during droughts when all water sources in their range are incredibly valuable. Polluted waterholes could be the source of problem for sheep. (Public Domain Photo)

Another potential threat from hogs is predation.

According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, “wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats.”

There is no question hogs could prey on bighorn lambs, especially desert bighorn lambs in the early days of their life. I have found no concrete evidence of hog/wild sheep predation but it remains a possibility.

I will dig more into hog predation on other ungulates in another post but for now just consider what has been presented here.

No one thought 30 years ago feral hogs would now be hunted in New Jersey and more hogs would be killed by hunters in Texas than whitetails.

Could a growing population of hogs in the western United States put more stress on bighorn populations?

I believe it is a possibility, especially the water pollution and disease aspects.

I’ll let you know more as soon as I do.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Rocky Mountain High

There’s something about being in the mountains that cleanses the soul.

No matter what kind of baggage we bring from our day to day lives, being in the mountains brings peace.

And on the flip-side, encountering wildlife in the mountains can be the most exhiirating thing a person can experience.

As I type this from the deck of a cabin I’ll use as base camp for a few days, I’m still a bit jittery (in a good way). It’s from the adrenaline-infused meeting I had with a big bull elk and my camera.

This bull was bugling away-despite the peak of the rut being over. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

This big boy had a bunch of cows cornered in a small lake and he let a younger bull know he wasn’t getting any play.

I was told the rut was over here but you couldn’t tell by today’s action. There was bugling, attempted mating and some straight up fighting.

Seeing this from the perspective of a bowhunter, it would have been about trying to get in and make a clean, ethical shot to score on some incredible, heart-healthy venison.

But with my photographer cap on, it was about capturing the vibe of what was going on. I think I did in a couple of shots.

Elk are truly a national treasure and to see them in such numbers and to get so close was an awesome experience. I’ve seen and photographed plenty of elk in the past but there was something special about this bull.

A cow elk playing in the water near Estes Park. Co. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

He had attitude and capturing that with my camera was a true blessing.

I have never done drugs of any kind but today I got high here in the Rocky Mountains.

The bugle of the elk and the stunning scenery took me to a higher place that will undoubtedly beckon me to return again and again.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Ursus americanus in texas

The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.

Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.

I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.

In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.

It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.

Reader Al Weaver captured this photo of a black bear near Bay City, TX on the coast over a decade ago. Did this bear travel from the Davis Mountains or some other Trans-Pecos location down to the coast? Or did it cross from Louisiana where a small but growing bear population lives.

The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me  close to the river. The view was stunning  and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.

An hour later I found myself a few hundred  yards above this location.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.

Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.

I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.

Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and  on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.

After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.

Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.

Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.

My home state of Texas is a prime example.

Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.

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 Kerr County.

In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit-an area that hasn’t regularly had bear sightings in well over 100 years.

To read the full story that originally appeared in Texas Fish & Game click here.