Tag Archives: eastern turkeys

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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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

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.

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.

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.

turkey release shot
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.