Category Archives: Turkey Revolution

Tracking Eastern Turkeys: LSU Study Crosses Over To Texas

A cutting-edge study to examine the lives of Eastern wild turkeys has crossed the Sabine River from Louisiana into East Texas.

Louisiana State University (LSU) researchers with the cooperation of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and help from the National Wild Turkey Federation are fitting Eastern turkeys with GPS collars to track their movements.

Higher Calling Wildlife’s Chester Moore got to document the first collaring effort in Texas.

He hit the field with Chad Argabright, a graduate student at LSU spearheading the project in the field and TPWD Wildlife Region 6 Leader Rusty Wood and his staff.

LSU graduate student Chad Argabright fits an Eastern turkey captured north of Lufkin with a GPS transmitter. Argabright has worked with everything from whitetails to opossums around the nation. ((Photo by Chester Moore)
  • In this edition of Higher Calling Wildlife,-the podcast Chester  interviews LSU’s Dr. Bret Collier who has studied the birds in Louisiana for a decade and is overseeing the the overall turkey collaring study that spans Texas and Louisiana.

In this show learn the following:

*The technology to track turkeys

*How the collars can track hens with poults in their feeding zones down to a 30 square foot area.

*Roosting habits of turkeys.

*An examination of turkey breeding dates.

*Predation on turkeys-(key predators)

*The controversy of hog predation on turkeys. Are hogs really a direct nest threat?

*Reasons for decline of Eastern turkeys in many states & much more.

You can reach out to Dr. Collier @drshortspur on Twitter and Instagram.

Subscribe to the podcast on the Waypoint Podcast Network by clicking the “subscribe” button at the bottom of the latest episode to get updated when shows debut.

The podcast is brought to you by Texas Fish & Game magazine.

Follow Chester Moore on the following social media platforms

@thechestermoore on Instagram

Higher Calling Wildlife on Facebook

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Color Phase Turkey Response Astounding!

Last week, my story The Lost Turkeys of East Texas drew a strong, positive response from readers.

There were comments across numerous media platforms but the best part was getting photos of other color-phase birds.

Natural anomalies always captivate people and getting outdoors lovers to share color phase turkey photos has been a great way to get people talking about turkeys and their habitat.

And that is the goal of the Turkey Revolution project I established in 2019.

Here are some photos of color phase birds, beginning with Dan Williams who submitted this photo from Tyler County. Tyler is one of the counties that does not currently have an Eastern turkey season and is in the extreme southernmost extent of the birds range in Texas.

It’s great to see there are some turkeys there.

Photo Courtesy Dan Williams

This shot shows three of five birds in view with at least partial smoke color phase. The interesting thing about the bird on the right is it is smoke phase but has the standard red head. Many are gray.

Photo Courtesy Jimmy Jessup

Jimmy Jessup sent in this shot from south-central Louisiana. You can see the cinnamon color phase on the back half of this bird. It has the partial coloration of the Merriam’s bearded hen I photographed in Colorado in 2019. In the same area in 2020 I photographed several birds with partial cinnamon color.

A rare cinammon phase Merriam’s bearded hen the author photographed in Colorado.
Photo Courtesy Dave Troyer

David Troyer submitted this shot of his son Nathaniel with the mount of his stunning smoke-colored gobbler taken in Ohio. This is probably the most uniformly-colored smoke phase bird I have seen. Truly sunning.

Corey Anderson who was profiled with his big smoke-colored gobbler in our last article submitted these more recent photos from Minnesota.

This bird looks like an intermediate of the smoke and white phase. What a beauty!

Photo Courtesy Corey Anderson
Photo Courtesy Corey Anderson

Encountering wildlife is exciting.

Encountering wild creatures rare amongst their own populations is super exciting.

Moby Dick wouldn’t be as cool if he were a standard edition sperm whale, would he?

If you have photos or videos of color phase turkeys, please submit them to chester@chestermoore.com. We would love to share them with our readers and use them as part of an as yet to be announced educational project that will take place in the spring.

To subscribe to this blog and get weekly cutting edge wildlife news and commentary, enter your email at the prompt on the top right of the page.

The Lost Turkeys of East Texas

“You’ve got to check this out.”

That text from my friend Nolan Haney was accompanied with a screen shot from an East Texas hunting group on Facebook.

It included a photo of a smoke-phase turkey, a rare color morph but one that is encountered by numerous hunters around the nation annually.

Turkeys are native to East Texas, with the Eastern subspecies present and growing thanks to reintroduction efforts by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation-Texas.

Photo Courtesy James Broderick

I thought a smoke-phase bird in East Texas would be pretty cool to write about.

Holy Smoke!

Then I read the post.

The photo was taken in Orange County where I live, an area supposedly devoid of turkey for the last 40 years.

I have been researching turkeys in Orange County for the last couple of years when I got a reliable report passed on to me from my good friend and wildlife photographer Gerald Burliegh.

But this was concrete evidence and it was a color-phase jake (inmature gobbler) at that.

James Broderick who captured the photos of this bird on his trail camera was kind enough to share them with us and the information on where the pictures were taken.

They were 3-4 miles from the other solid Orange County report and in a zone that has marginal to good turkey habitat.

Photo Courtesy James Broderick

Not Domestic

Broderick was interested in knowing if this was a wild bird or a domestic strain of turkey.

It’s a good question because there are domestic birds with similar patterns.

My answer to this is “No, this is a wild bird.”

The author sees these royal palm turkeys on a farm down the road from his house on a daily basis. And yes, he pulls over and calls to them frequently. (Photo by Chester Moore)

The royal palm is the most common domestic turkey with a lighter color phase that also has dark mixed in. The above photo is taken from a farm down the road from my house in Orange County. The bird in question is NOT a royal palm.

Narrgansett gobbler photographed by the author.

The Narrgansett can have a lot of gray and white mixed in or can be more Eastern turkey-like as this gobbler I photographed at another farm a few years ago. In my opinion the bird in question is not a domestic bird. I also saw a video taken of the bird and it acted like a wild bird.

This area is infested with coyotes and bobcats and in my opinion any domestic bird ranging in those woods would be dead in a few days. This bird has been photographed over the period of a few weeks.

Photo Courtesy Corey Anderson

Reader Corey Anderson sent in this photo of a smoke phase Eastern turkey he bagged in Minnessotta. You can see it has a very similar pattern to the smoke-phase bird in Orange County. Nearly all smoke-phase birds I have seen have the standard tail color.

Origins

My Turkey Revolution project that began in 2019 has the goal of using photojournalism to raise awareness to wild turkeys and habitat issues. In year two my goal was to photograph an Eastern turkey in the Pineywoods of East Texas.

After much work, the result was photographing this big gobbler that was still on roost at 8:30 a.m.

Newton County gobbler photographed in 2020 by the author.

I had assumed most of Newton County’s birds were the result of restocking out of state birds but after speaking with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department turkey program leader Jason Hardin, I discovered that was not the case.

The bird I photographed did not have a leg band so it was at least a second-generation wild bird or 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.

EWT Release Sites Newton Co
Newton County is on the left. Jasper County is on the right. Orange County is directly below both of them. (Graphic Courtesy TPWD)

“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).”

There were no stockings on record in Orange County.

“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.

And that would most likely be the source of a few birds in Orange County.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Map.

Above is a map of Louisiana Eastern turkey hunting zones. Hunting for turkeys is allowed in these areas and it pretty much sums up counties with huntable populations. Calcasieu Parish has hunting north of Interstate 10 and that is the Parish that borders Orange County,TX.

Louisiana Eastern turkeys. (Photo Courtesy Maris Martinez)

Louisiana has areas with birds that have no hunting due to small populations so this shows enough birds to justify hunting and it’s right across the border from not only Orange County but as a crow (or turkey) flies from the smoke-phase bird in the photo its just a couple of miles, perhaps three at the most.

Other Interesting Factors

The bird in the photo has a small beard, showing it is a “jake” or young gobbler. It would be entering its third year of life and past its second spring period so it has put on weight and should have a longer beard by spring 2022.

A study in New York shows jakes move farther than other turkeys more often due to seeking out new territories.

And it makes sense biologically. Young male black bears for example do the same and it helps spread around genetics.

Springer Link Map

And if you look at this map from biolgoical datbase Springer Link it shows turkey subspecies distribution before the massive habitat changes and stockings that put birds in states like California and Idaho. You can cearly see the Eastern turkey inhabited all of East Texas, including Orange County on the Louisiana border.

According to officials with the National Wild Turkey Federation, turkeys can move up to three miles per day. They will also hang out in an area and then just disappear for greener pastures so to speak.

Why So Exciting?

For me this is exciting because it shows wild turkeys in my county where in an entire career of wildlife journalism and getting thousands of wildlife sightings reports, have only heard of two reliable turkey sightings.

More importantly it shows us these great birds still have things to teach us.

Just when we think we have it all figured out, a smoke-colored gobbler shows up in Orange County.

And it echoes a recent personal experience.

Sitting in my deer stand on the border of Newton and Orange County (about a half mile from the Orange line) I heard an unmistakable turkey assembly call in early November. This is the sound of a hen gathering her flock.

And I have verified a group of turkeys just a few miles north of there.

Scoffers will go the domestic bird route for the Orange County bird no matter the proof and that’s fine.

The research I have conducted here shows wild turkeys should be in Orange County, TX. And it seems a few more birds are inhabiting southern Newton County than they have in the past.

Now, we just need to figure out how we can make room for more of them in both counties.

Chester Moore

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Conservation In Action: Angelina County Eastern Turkey Release

Last Tuesday the beautiful, Eastern turkey jake was in Maine.

On Thursday a box labeled National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was opened by Sean Willis of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Out of it, that same young male turkey flew into the forest of Angelina County, TX near Lufkin.

This jake was in Maine two days earlier. Now it’s a citizen fo Texas. (Photo by Chester Moore)

A total of 22 birds, all from Maine, became Texas citizens that day as a long-standing collaboration between TPWD and NWTF met with the Middle Neches Eastern Turkey Cooperative.

“Our Turkey Restoration Co-op, includes a group of seven landowners and consists of approximately 11,000 acres,” said Jay Todd of Core Supply LLC.

“We began our journey for restocking Eastern turkeys back in 2015, when we first put in our application with TPWD.  We ended up not passing our habitat evaluation that year, and knew we had some work to do with regard to improving our habitat.”

Turkeys prefer running over flying as a mean’s of escape but when they come out of the transport boxes they fly-fast! (Photo by Chester Moore)

Over the next four years, the group of landowners worked hard on enhancing habitat for Eastern turkeys.

“Specifically, we increased our usage of prescribed fire, herbicide applications, and row thinnings, and created more permanent openings throughout the entire landscape. Then, once we re-applied in 2019, our efforts were rewarded when TPWD’s Turkey Program Leader Jason Hardin let us know that we had passed.”

“It’s a dream come true for our landowners, and we know the work has only just begun. Now, we have to continue building upon our habitat improvements and trying to control predator populations as best we can in order for these birds to have the best chance at long term reproductive success. A special thanks also goes out to the Vines, Kenley, Loggins and Todd families, and Don Dietz with Forest Resource Consultants, Inc.,” Todd said.

Among the project partners, NWTF holds a unique position.

“NWTF holds an agreement with Delta Cargo. The Texas State Chapter of NWTF reimburses NWTF National office for the fees associated with shipping birds by air,” said NWTF biologist Annie Farrell.

“The Texas State Chapter also assists with funding for disease testing and reimbursing TPWD staff who travel out of state to collect and haul the birds (not this year though. All birds came in via air). NWTF also provides transport boxes to whichever states are trapping for Texas, free of cost.”

Sean Willis of TPWD releases a hen into Angelina County, TX. (Photo by Chester Moore)

NWTF also holds an agreement with TPWD and other separate agreements with the other state agencies that are sending birds. Through those agreements, trap states are able to be “paid” for the turkeys.

“TPWD reimburses NWTF and NWTF holds the turkey replacement funds for state specific reimbursements. Trap states can submit a turkey replacement form to NWTF to make purchases on their behalf,” Farrell said.

TPWD under the leadership of Hardin have created “super stockings” of turkeys with a minimum of 80 birds stocked in a location with a male/female ratio that allows for optimal population expansion.

Sites in Titus and Franklin County are nearing their “super stocking” goals and new areas are under consideration after careful scientific evaluation.

The tracks of a big gobbler are an exciting sight for east Texas hunters. Eastern turkey restoration has allowed hunting in numerous Pineywoods Counties. (Photo by Chester Moore)

Turkeys are a key indicator of forest health.

This wildlife journalist believes as turkeys go, so do America’s forests. Seeing eastern turkeys return to the Pineywoods and expand their numbers thanks to the cooperation that helped make the Angelina County release possible is inspiring.

It’s all about people stepping up to make a difference for wildlife and the legacy they create for conservation.

“We lost the patriarch of our cooperative this past year, when Mr. Simon W. “Bubba” Henderson III passed away after his long bout with cancer,” Todd said.

“The Henderson family are the owners of the Pine Island Hunting & Fishing Club, where our birds were released, and we know he was looking down upon us today with a big smile on his face.”

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

Chester Moore

NWTF Convention Goes Virtual (PODCAST)

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) will host its annual Convention and Sport Show but this time virtually.

And registration is officially open.

As with many recent conventions across the country, the 2021 NWTF convention will look much different than previous years but still provide a wealth of information, entertainment and inspiration for turkey hunters and other wildlife lovers who support NWTF.

Listen to Chester Moore talk with NWTF’s Pete Muller about the show on the Higher Calling Wildlife Podcast.

The NWTF will host the 45th annual Convention from Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, MO, highlighting many of the acclaimed wildlife exhibits bringing conservation and the outdoors lifestyle directly to at-home viewers.

An inquisitie Osceola turkey checking out the author near Florida’s Myakka River.

“Attendees will be able to experience the many great things that make our Convention and Sport Show so special — a lineup of great music, including a Lee Brice concert; messages from leaders in the conservation and hunting communities; awards for those dedicated to the NWTF mission; a veterans celebration; and silent and live auctions, among so much more.”

The Convention and Sport Show kicks off Monday, Feb. 15, and will continue through Sunday, Feb. 21, with evening programming streaming Friday and Saturday.

In addition to on-demand video content and seminars, virtual attendees can enjoy the immersive exhibit hall that will host nearly 100 vendors. Once registered, you will be able to interact directly with the brands you all know and love, and experience all the great outdoor products the sport show offers.

An eastern gobbler photographed near Cato, NY.

Access to the convention is free with current NWTF membership. Non-members will get an annual NWTF membership when registering for convention access and a $25 Bass Pro Promo card. All participants can join our scavenger hunt and interact to earn points for a chance to win a TriStar Upland Hunter 20 gauge.

“We encourage friends, family and loved ones who cherish the wild turkey and our outdoors lifestyle to register for the convention to join in on the fun,” said Jason Burckhalter, NWTF chief information officer. “Although in a different environment, the show must go on as we look forward to celebrating all of our achievements, members, volunteers and partners.”

For more information or to register for the 45th annual Convention, visit https://convention.nwtf.org/.

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

TPWD and NWTF Turkey Release Inspires

Wild turkeys are fast on their feet and often flee from danger by running instead of taking to the air.

They can however fly quite fast and as each box opened on a private tract of land in Titus County, TX, the flying ability of the wild turkey was on display.

Marked with the logo of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), these six boxes held six Eastern turkey hens captured in Missouri and transported to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport.

Annie Farrell of NWTF releases one of the Eastern turkeys at the Titus County location.

Working together on restoring the Eastern turkey to East Texas, TPWD and NWTF have forged a powerful partnership that saw hope for this subspecies in the region literally taking flight.

According to TPWD Turkey Program Director Jason Hardin, there are now about 10,000 Eastern turkeys in the region thanks to stocking birds from partner states like Missouri and enhanced management on public and private lands.

One of the six hens flying into her new habitat. (Photo by Chester Moore)

It’s a brilliant conservation program and one that has inspired turkey hunters and private landowners to do more to manage forests for turkeys.

This particular turkey release, however, inspired another group of people.

Higher Calling Wildlife’s mothership is the Wild Wishes program that grants wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling. To date, the outreach has granted 115 wishes and is working on many more.

“We filmed the release with our smartphones and put together a virtual turkey release for one of our wish families. They have been basically shut-in since COVID started because of health issues with children, so we wanted to do something special for them. We knew they would love seeing the turkeys released, and TPWD and NWTF officials have been very gracious in allowing us to have our kids participate in these releases,” said Lisa Moore, director of the Wild Wishes program.

Emily Odom, 16 of Graham, TX, got to participate in a release in 2020 on the same property and said it was one of our her life highlights.

Emily Odom was inspired by her 2020 turkey release experience.

“I’ve been in the Wild Wishes program since I was nine, and it changed my life so much for the better. Getting to open that box and watching those turkeys fly out was so freeing and inspiring for someone like myself who has had some challenges. I loved it,” she said.

It inspired her so much in fact she went home and did some wild turkey artwork and has begun a program to raise awareness of wildlife conservation through artwork.

“That turkey release helped inspire that. I’m so grateful to the Moore’s for taking me into the Wild Wishes program years ago and for NWTF and TPWD for letting me be part of a release,” she said.

Emily’s first artwork of her conservation project. She sent this pic over to us to show us her progress just a week after the 2020 turkey release.

As Emily said, there is something special about seeing those turkeys fly out of the boxes into an area that needs a population boost. East Texas by the early 1980s was essentially devoid of wild turkeys, but thanks to TPWD and NWTF, there is a growing population.

That’s inspirational for turkey hunters, wildlife lovers and a very special group of kids who have been able to take part in person and virtually.

Chester Moore

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Hen Turkey Defends Nest Against Snake (Video)

The beauty of everyone having a high definition video camera in the form of their phone is we get to see wildlife interactions rarely viewed in past times.

Jackson Wheat was walking through the woods near Ardmore, OK. when he came across this Rio Grande turkey hen defending her nest against a snake.

Snakes, especially rat snakes, are one of the greatest nest predators of wild turkeys and in this clip we see momma turkey refusing to let her clutch become a statistic.

This is a great tribute to the tenacity of turkeys and the impact outdoor lovers can have by using readily-available technology to share what they see in the wild.

Chester Moore

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

Of Mice And Men (And Turkeys)

“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.

cinammon turkey (1)
The author photographed this bearded Merriam’s hen with her poults at 9,000 feet in elevation in Colorado. This bird is the super rare “cinnamon phase”. (Photo by Chester Moore)

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.

Enter COVID-19.

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.

IMG_1527
Josh scouting an opening in a clear cut. (Photo by Chester Moore)

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.

Dangit.

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.

Newton County Gobbler Edit (2)
This Newton County gobbler stayed in the roost for two and half hours after daylight. He walked to the sunlit side of the tree, stood there a minute, and then flew down toward the direction of where a hen had been calling. (Photo by Chester Moore)

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.

turkey scratching
When gobblers strut their feathers make lines in the dirt. There was some serious action at this spot the day before we hunted. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

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.

EWT Release Sites Newton Co
Newton County is on the left. Jasper County is on the right. (Graphic Courtesy TPWD)

“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.

Wild-Wishes-Turkey-Release
Emily Odom and Dustin Wolfe from Chester snd Lisa Moore’s Wild WIshes program release turkeys with TPWD and NWTF in Titus County. (Photo by Chester Moore)

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.

Chester MooreYou can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

Earth Day/Turkey Day

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.

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The decoy is set up, Josh is calling but once the gobbler saw the two hunters he was done. Hunting turkeys is anything but easy. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

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.

Check out Derek York’s killer podcast “Impact Outdoors” here.

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.

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A 2019 eastern turkey release in Titus County, Tx. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

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.

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Until last year the only turkeys the author had hunted were Rio Grandes in his home state of Texas. He took this big eastern gobbler on a farm new Cato, NY with his friend Lou Marullo. The Moore family enjoyed the breast meat cut into strips and fried in batter. (Photo by Lou Marullo)

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.

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Big gobbler tracks found on a tract of public land in East Texas. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

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

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.

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.

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The Spring edition of Hunter’s Horn from the Houston Safari Club Foundation features Chester’s article “Call Of The Mountain Turkey” about the search for Merriam’s and Gould’s turkeys.

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April 2020 Texas Fish & Game features a photo of a gobbler photographed on Chester’s Turkey Revolution quest in 2019 and an article on  Easterns and Osceolas. This is part 1 of a three-part series on the Grand Slam of turkeys.

The Higher Calling Podcast: (Gould’s Turkey Episode)

The HIgher Calling Podcast: COVID-19 And The State of Turkey Conservation (With NWTF CEO Becky Humphries Episode)

 

COVID-19 And The State Of Wild Turkeys

COVID-19 started making a strong impact just as turkey seasons around the country were opening.

With public land, border and even hunting season closures it changed the dynamic of this season.

But it will have an even greater impact on turkey conservation as spring is the peak fundraising season at the local level for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

Check out his podcast with Chester Moore and Becky Humphries, CEO of NWTF as they discuss this and why turkeys are a cornerstone species for conservation in America. Listen below.

You can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address at the subscribe prompt at the top right of this page. You can contact Chester Moore by emailing chester@chestermoore.com. Subscribe to the podcast by visiting thehighercalling.podbean.com.