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.

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COVID-19 In Whitetail Deer: Top Biologist Gives Latest Info, Plus A Deep Dive On CWD

COVID-19 has been found in whitetail deer in Texas and numerous Midwestern states.

And contrary to social media chatter, it’s not the coronavirus common to certain animals. It’s the same COVID-19 impacting people around the world.

Biologist Macey Ledbetter with a whitetail on one of his ranch surveys.

In this special edition of Higher Calling Wildlife, host Chester Moore interviews veteran wildlife biologist Macey Ledbetter of Spring Creek Outdoors who works with deer on a daily basis through Texas.

Click here to listen.

In this episode the following points are addressed:

*Location (County) of COVID-19 deer study in Texas.

*Latest theories on how deer got the virus.

*Concerns about deer transmitting it to humans.

In addition Chester and Macey go deep into Chronic Wasting Disease talking about number of deer killed in Texas, possible genetic links to CWD susceptibility, how the disease impacts deer breeders and the possible overlooked transmitting species that no one seems to be examining in Texas.

Higher Calling Wildlife was recently named one of the top 20 wildlife podcasts on the planet and won Best Podcast in the Press Club of Southeast Texas “Excellence In Media” awards.

Higher Calling Wildlife is brought to you by Texas Fish & Game.

Poisoned Hogs & The Texas Javelina Massacre

Should we poison feral hogs?

For the last five years, various plans to poison feral hogs has been on tap for Texas but various challenges have changed the original plans.

In the final installment on our series on hogs, Higher Calling Wildlife discusses the following:

Click here to listen

*Latest update on plans to poison hogs on a mass scale in Texas

*Results of USDA Studies on impact on non-target animals

*The CONTRACEPTIVE that was introduced into the wild to fight hogs in 2021.

*’An exclusive interview excerpt with a geneticist about technology to GENE EDIT sows.

*How hog poisoning could help finish of Texas’ javelina population.

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Monster Hogs: Killing Bear-Sized Boars

In part two of the Higher Calling Wildlife podcast series, we discuss truly monster hogs.

Click to listen to this interview with “The Hogfather” Frank Moore.

In this episode we address the following questions:

*What is the maximum size for wild hogs?

*Are wild hogs as smart as whitetails?

*Can you specifically target and kill giant boars?

*Which is more dangerous-giant boars or sows?

*How are monster hogs thriving in cities?

Plus, much, much more.

You can listen to part 1 of the series here.

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Analysis Of A Hog Attack

In this episode of Higher Calling Wildlife on the Waypoint Podcast Network, host Chester Moore and hog expert Jeff Stewart analyze a 2021 hog attack after Chester interviews the survivor who tells a terrifying story of his near-death encounter.

Click image below to listen

Chester and Jeff answer the following questions:

What triggered the attack?

How will this factor impact others as hog numbers continue to skyrocket?

Are we about to enter an era where hog attacks are common?

Just how dangerous are feral hogs?

It’s a can’t miss episode with the super rare change to hear a hog attack survivor’s story and high-level analysis of exactly what happened.

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Black Panthers Don’t Exist, But Black Longtails Do (Pt. 2)

Sightings of “black panthers” are common in the United States, especially in Texas and the Southeastern region.

The problem as I covered in part 1 of this series is that there is no such species as a “black panther” anywhere in the world.

What about the large black cats seen in zoos and on television programs? Those are black leopards or black jaguars.

Melanism occurs when an excessive amount of black pigment dominates coloration of an animal. It happens in many animals ranging from squirrels to whitetail deer. Melanism is not uncommon in leopards in certain parts of their range. This is also true with jaguars. The black cats you see in zoos and on television are all melanistic leopards or jaguars.

The general assumption with “black panther” sightings in America is that these are black or melanistic cougars. The problem is there has never been a melanistic cougar observed by science either in a zoo, captive setting, killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or otherwise positively identified.

For melanistic cougars to be the answer to America’s “panther” question there would have to be many of them, and there is no proof of any of them.

A melanistic jaguar. Notice the spots still appear on the cat but they can only be seen at certain angles. (USFWS Photo)

Jaguars, however, do throw melanistic offspring and are native to Texas, western Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona and California. They were wiped out north of Mexico more than 100 years ago, but a few individuals have been verified moving in and out of New Mexico and Arizona. And over the years, I have fielded three Texas jaguars reports I believe, two right on the Mexico line and one about 100 miles north of it.

Recent research shows that melanism is a dominant trait in jaguars. In other words, if a male jaguar for example moves into an area and starts breeding females there is a good chance much of the offspring will be melanistic as well.

In the many photos captured on trail camera of jaguars crossing back and forth from Mexico into New Mexico and Arizona, there have been no black ones. (USFWS Photo)

Could a remnant population of jaguars survive that has the dominant melanistic genes? There is no way that’s an answer for the entire “black panther” phenomenon, but it is not out of the range of possibility for some of the sightings reported throughout the years.

It’s unlikely but within the realm of possibility.

Melanism is also present, albeit rare, in bobcats.

Melanistic bobcats have been killed and mounted in Texas. In fact, one by taxidermist Steve Moye was mounted leaping at a quail and hung in the Gander Mountain sporting goods store in Beaumont, Texas for the better part of a decade.

My experience shows that many people cannot differentiate between a bobcat and a cougar. Many are surprised that bobcats have tails at all. In fact some have tails as long as eight inches. A black bobcat could easily be labeled a “black panther” by someone who is not aware of melanism in the species.


In fact, I was sent a photo of a black bobcat back in 2011 that the reader believed was a “panther”.

I fault no one for not properly identifying animals or having questions. I consider it an honor and a privilege to get to check out the hundreds of photos sent my direction. But my conclusion is people have a very hard time identifying cats in the wild.

Besides people who don’t understand basic animal identification, the biggest problem in misidentifying cougars and bobcats is scale. A large bobcat seen at a distance with nothing to compare it to, looks much larger than it really is.

In part 1 of this series, I stated that large, feral cats of domestic lineage are the source of the majority of “black panther” sightings. You can read that here and if you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend it.

The jaguarundi is another prime candidate for “black panther” sightings. A large jaguarundi in the common dark gray or chocolate brown phase, crossing a road in front of a motorist or appearing before an unsuspecting hunter could easily be labeled a “black panther.”

Jaguarundis are one of the least known cats on the planet. Although short, they grow fairly long and someone seeing one of these cats could easily label it “black panther”. (USFWS Photo)

Because very few people are aware of jaguarundis, it’s highly unlikely they would report seeing one. Everyone can relate to a “black panther” and virtually no one has ever heard of a jaguarundi.

These cats are native to Texas (and all the way south into South America) but there has been no verified sighting in years. I do believe as some research suggests, there are isolated pockets of them north of their currently accepted range.

Is the jaguarundi responsible for many “black panther” reports in the United States? 

No way.

Are they the source of some sightings?

I have no doubt.

Some suggest the “black panther” sightings are the result of a “circus train” crash where its animals got loose. This story has been repeated over and over in Texas, and throughout the South with exact locations changing with the retelling.

Have circus trains wrecked? Yes but the idea black panther sightings have anything to do with them is ridiculous. Hessels, L. (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), fotograaf

I find no evidence of this.

If black leopards were to escape, the chance of them surviving and producing offspring wide-ranging enough for a phenomenon like this to take place is beyond far-fetched. 

Additionally, why would only black leopards escape? Where are the lions, tigers and elephants?

Considering the bulk of a wild cat’s hunting skills are taught, this is not even remotely likely.

There is no way there are hundreds, if not thousands of black leopards running around the country due to a circus train crash. So far, all intensive re-wilding efforts of tigers have failed  so how could circus leopards escape, survive and create a nation-wide population?

Isolated cases of exotic cats escaping have occurred, but in my opinion they are not the source of many sightings in Texas or at any other location in North America.

In my opinion the majority of these black panther these black longtails of domestic lineage discussed in part 1 of the series, standard cougars seen in low light conditions, black bobcats (because we have proof they exist), jaguarundis in parts of their historical range and I even leave the door open for a few of them even being jaguars.

The thing people have to consider is we are dealing with cats, not some creature with unknown abilities.

I have personally been sent hundreds of game camera photos of bobcats. Cougars which are one of the planet’s most elusive animals show up on game cameras in the American West all the time and even super rare and shy animals like snow leopards are common on these cameras set by researchers.

A cougar looking quite intense. (Photo by Chester Moore)

So, if these mysterious cats are all either black cougars or black jaguars why does no one get a clear daytime trail camera photo or even a clear night shot? The same exact areas have cameras getting pictures of bobcats and standard cougars so why are the black ones so elusive?

I don’t believe they are.

I believe the main answer is the “black longtail” of very domestic lineage discussed in part 1 of the series. I have seen many of these photos and even captured one on camera myself.


It’s not an exciting answer if you want this mysterious cat to be something more grand than a feral and perhaps even evolving version of Felis catus but in my opinion it is the clear answer for a vast majority of sightings.

Something else to ponder there are “black panther” sightings throughout the UK, in Australia and other areas with no indigenous leopards or jaguars.

Ask yourself what cat is very common in these areas that is commonly black?

Yep, Felis catus.

I will be doing more features on this topic and communicating with biologists and genetic experts on how feral cats in the wild might be adapting and changing in ways that makes them as wild as any leopard.

Submit photos to I would love to see them and share with our readers.

Chester Moore

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Black Panthers Don’t Exist, But Black Longtails Do

Black panthers do not exist as a species.

If you open any field guide to wild cats of the world, there will be no species as a “black panther”.

All of the large black cats you see on television and in zoos are black (melanistic) jaguars and leopards. They are not a separate species but a variant of those cats that show an overload of black pigment in sort of reverse fashion of albinism.

With that said, there are thousands of reports of “black panthers” in the United States.

Having investigated this phenomenon since the beginning of my career most who share a report assume what they saw was a black cougar (mountain lion).

The problem is there has never been a black cougar born in a zoo or captive setting (and there are thousands there), killed and brought in by a hunter or observed by a biologist.

There are some fake black cougar mounts out there including this one sent to us by researcher Todd Jurasek who saw it in Oklahoma. There are even taxidermists advertising dying cougars black but there are none in the wild to kill and mount.

As noted on my “Moore Outdoors’ program on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI that airs tonight, all but two of the many photographs sent to me that were allegedly “black panthers” were feral house cats.

One of these cats was a jaguarundi and the other was a black bobcat.

Some of the photos were indeed big but they were house cats.

I did an article for Texas Fish & Game in 2019 entitled Mystery Of The Black Longtail. In it I explained the name for these cats I gave them in my Field Guide To Texas Wild Cats book. You can buy that book for $15 signed by emailing for pay information.

Mystery of the Black Longtail appeared in Texas Fish & Game Oct. 2019.

And I believe they are the source of the vast majority of “black panther” sightings.

I believe this for three key reasons.

  1. People Cannot Judge Size: I have received hundreds of photos of bobcats people sent to me thinking they were cougars. I have now come to the conclusion many cougar sightings in nontraditional habitat are bobcats. I have personally identified dozens of “black panther” sightings as domestic cats.
  2. Distribution: Feral house cats are distributed throughout North America, have large populations in many forested areas and are the only known black cat to dwell continent-wide. I have received multiple photos of readers wondering what kind of wild cat they captured on their game camera. It turned out they were white, tabby and other colored feral house cats. People are not prepared to see a feral cat in the woods but they are abundant. When they see a black one they often label it “panther”.
  3. 3. New research in Australia, which has a massive feral cat problem suggests these cats are growing to much bigger sizes than anyone would expect. Recent stats attributed to Oklahoma wildlife officials state sizes of up to 35 pounds for feral cats.

The long tail on these cats intrigues me.

Many of these cat photos that have been sent to me have extra long tails. This is the photo sent to me five years ago that inspired the name “Black Longtail”. This is from Texas from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Courtesy Photo

The tail length of these cats is intriguing and matches some of the lengths of the extra large feral cats reported in Australia.

I got a photo myself recently in front of a hog trap I set in a woodlot near my home in Texas. At the time of this writing my main computer was down for repair and it has a night shot of this cat on the hard drive. I will do a second post with that photo as soon as it gets back from the shop. Look at the length of the tail on this cat and the tall ears.

Interesting, isn’t it?


These animals having domestic origin does not make them less intriguing.

As noted on my radio broadcast I do not believe they are the total answer to America’s “black panther” phenomenon but I do believe they are the source of the vast majority of sightings.

Do you have photos of a mysterious black cat? I would love to see them.

I begrudge no one for making assumptions about their sightings. Not everyone is a wildlife expert and there are many voices on social media and in the blogosphere that are touting theories that make things confusing.

It’s hard to sort through all of the noise.

Submit photos to I would love to see them and share with our readers.

Chester Moore

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Higher Calling Wildlife (Podcast) Wins Big, Signs With Waypoint Podcast Network

Higher Calling Wildlife, the podcast hosted by wildlife journalist and conservationist and Texas Fish & Game Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore is kicking off 2022 in big fashion.

Winning Big

Higher Calling Wildlife has also been ranked in the top 20 wildlife conservation podcasts on the planet by Feedspot.

Higher Calling Wildlife and Moore Outdoors swept the available radio and podcast categories at the 2021 Press Club of Southeast Texas “Excellence In Media” awards. “I’m very humbled to win from such a prestigious organization with fierce competition. I’m competing against really good sports and news programs so to win with outdoors shows is a blessing.” Moore said.

These rankings are determined from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness.

In addition, Higher Calling Wildlife took first place in the Press Club of Southeast Texas “Excellence In Media” awards in the podcast category.

“The kick-off to 2022 has been a great one! I’m more focused than ever on delivering cutting-edge wildlife content,” Moore said.

Waypoint Podcast Network

Moore has signed onto the Waypoint Podcast Network, joining other top hunting, fishing and wildlife experts.

“Incredibly excited to have Chester Moore and Higher Calling Wildlife join the Waypoint Podcast Network. This inspirational, conservation themed program will be a great addition to Waypoint’s ever-growing outdoor lineup” added Waypoint President, Todd Hansen.

Moore said the feeling is mutual.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be part of the Waypoint Podcast Network. It will be great to be part of a group that includes longtime industry friends and colleagues and to be part of a united front to promote excellence in outdoors podcasting,’ Moore said.

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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 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.

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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.


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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The Inspirational Voice Of Wildlife Conservation