Of Gobblers and Woodpeckers

Gobble Gobble Gobble

Gobble Gobble Gobble

The shrill sound of gobbling echoed through a deep tract of national forest in the Pineywoods of East Texas.

As my friend and guide on this hunt Derek York worked his box call at least five gobblers sounded off in the distance.

“This is awesome!” he said.

Indeed.

Derek York sets up on a decoy in one of the areas where there are enough eastern turkeys to offer a limited hunting season.

The eastern wild turkey was essentially eliminated from East Texas by the 1980s.

A combination of poaching, habitat degradation and more poaching left these great forests barren of its most vocal and regal game bird.

Restoration efforts that began in the 1980s helped boost numbers but they never quite got to where they need to be.

A recent new theory of taking excess birds from other states and releasing them into highly managed corridors larger numbers than before is seeing some success.

Limited hunting access is available in spring and I was getting to see the results of the hard work by members of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and others.

The author scopes the area for turkeys while testing out his new ALPS Blind Bag. He was able to comfortably carry all the gear he needed into this remote tract.

We never bagged a bird that day but I did see a hen running full blast across a hill. A few seconds later a coyote came down the same path and was undoubtedly hunting for an early Thanksgiving dinner.

Derek hit his call and the young predator came down the hill toward us but it did what all coyotes do.

It moved into a downwind position, smelled us and retreated quickly.

On the hike out I noticed a sign that noted there was a red-cockaded woodpecker colony on site. This endangered species needs the type of open, savannah-like forest that wild turkeys do. What is good for the turkey is good for red-cockaded woodpeckers.

A colony of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers benefits from turkey conservation.

A few feet away from the sign I saw turkey tracks.

An eastern turkey track on a trail in East Texas. How cool is that?

It has been my contention that if we get turkey habitat and conservation efforts right the entire forest will benefit.

The public has had a hard time getting behind a tiny woodpecker species few have seen. But there are many turkey hunters who spent millions of dollars and exert huge effort conserving their chosen quarry.

I believe the public will latch on to the turkey conservation message if it is presented properly.

People think wild turkeys are fascinating and if we let them know good turkey habitat helps even the most endangered of wildlife maybe they will support things that help them like controlled burning and increased anti-poaching education.

Gobble Gobble Gobble

I can’t get that out of my head along with the desire to go back into those woods and get a glimpse of a majestic eastern gobbler and take in all of the sights, sounds and smells of some of Texas’ most pristine habitat.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Early Hunter-Conservationists Legacy Lives On

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 brought protected status to dozens of then-dwindling North American animals.

Among the first listings were the red wolf, black-footed ferret and ivory-billed woodpecker.

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The red wolf was one of the first animals Endangered Species Act listings. These animals were part of the captive breeding program at the Texas Zoo in Victoria. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Had the ESA been established in 1900, the American bison would have been listed along with the wild turkey and pronghorn. All of those are game animals now hunted across multiple states with thriving populations.

“It is unprecedented to have so many species come back in such a big way and it has everything to do with the value put on those species and their habitat by hunter-conservationists like our founder Teddy Roosevelt,” said Keith Balfourd with the Boone & Crockett Club.

Since 1900 bison bounced back  from 1,000 to 300,000 and wild turkeys went from 30,000 to nearly seven million.

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Bison from Yellowstone were moved onto what is now the National Bison Range. Creating sanctuaries for wildlife was a cornerstone of early hunter-conservationist actions by groups like the Boone & Crockett Club. (USFWS Photo)

Pronghorns which fell below 20,000 animals now number more than a million.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Whitetail would not have been listed as “endangered” but their population stood at only 500,000 throughout the continent. Now it’s 15,000,000.

Elk were down to 40,000 and now there are more than a million.

Contrast that with the ivory-billed woodpecker which is functionally extinct and the red wolf that exists only through a very small captive-bred introduced population in North Carolina and in various zoos and wildlife centers.

Some ESA-listed animals like the bald eagle have had huge success stories but the rise of game populations managed for hunting rarely gets mentioned in the corporate wildlife media.

One of the first actions of dedicated hunter Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club was to push for the creation of Yellowstone National Park as it was one of the last intact ecosystems with abundant game.

“Roosevelt and the early proponents of Yellowstone faced many obstacles including mining, timber and railroad interests. But they prevailed and Yellowstone’s preservation made it possible to restore dwindling species to other areas,” Balfour said.

Elk from Yellowstone were transplanted to areas where they had been eliminated and so were bison.

As newly created game laws created protection for these animals their numbers began to multiply where they had been stocked. This quickly became the template for wildlife restoration in America.

The key reason for the wild turkey’s monumental increase was bringing excess birds from areas of abundance and releasing into zones with no birds. This practice continues today and has also been a cornerstone for the restoration of everything from bighorn sheep to gray wolves.

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Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials release eastern wild turkeys into the Pineywoods region where poaching and habitat loss have impacted their numbers. (Photo Steve Lightfoot/TPWD)

What Roosevelt, the early members of the Boone & Crockett Club and other early conservationists tapped into was that wildlife needed areas of sanctuary. And once you establish this, excess animals can be taken from there to areas of need.

To some it might seem ironic.

Hunters pushed for huge areas to be shut down to hunting and then helped create licensing systems that ensured hunting as restricted and managed by the government. On top of that they added licenses and excise taxes on sporting goods to fund conservation projects.

But these hunters knew without making sacrifices the animals they pursued would have been gone forever.

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Teddy Roosevelt was the founder of the Boone & Crockett Club and one of the early hunter-conservationists that changed wildlife conservation forever.

They were visionaries and the pioneering work they did gave hope that wildlife could continue to thrive in the face of growing human population and industrialization. It is not a perfect system but it works better than anything else on the planet thus far.

Many have had a hand in wildlife conservation in North America but few have had the impact of early hunter-conservationists like Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club.

Their legacy lives on-in the woods, on the mountains and across the fruited plain.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Touching Hearts For Turkey Conservation

“Holy smokes! It’s a turkey!”

A 16-year-old girl wearing a retro Metallica shirt could not believe her eyes.

“I’ve never seen a turkey. He’s so big,” she said.

The young lady was referring to a hefty golden-breasted gobbler we had displayed at Eco-Fest at Shangri-La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX. The tall, docile bird was strutting his stuff and drawing a crowd.

She was not the only one that was shocked to see a turkey.

Hundreds came by to see it and every one of them left hearing that wild turkeys are the epitome of a wildlife conservation success story.

They also learned East Texas is seeing a return of eastern turkeys due to the efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the hunter-founded National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

Our Wild Wishes® program grants wildlife encounters to children with a terminal illness or loss of a parent or sibling. We are mentoring many of them to be conservation ambassadors.

Eleven-year-old Jaxon sat in with the big gobbler and told passers-by about wild turkeys and had lots of fun making turkey calls to incite gobbles.

And if that didn’t get them the baby turkeys did.

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Ana enjoyed showing Eco-Fest attendees the turkey poults.

We brought two newly hatch bronze-breasted poults and they absolutely blew away everyone who saw them.

“Their wild cousins will be born shortly out in the woods, deserts, swamps and mountains of America. If we want wild turkeys to thrive then we need to make their habitat healthy and do our best to restore them in areas where they are missing,” I told one gentleman.

I’m not saying he shed a tear when I let him pet one of the poults but he was definitely moved.

The wildlife conservation community needs to bring more people in if we want to secure the future for not only wild turkeys but hundreds of other species and their vanishing habitat.

And that will require moving the hearts of the public.

Legendary wildlife host and zoo director “Jungle” Jack Hannah once told me that you must move the heart before you change the mind when it comes to wildlife. He said this while telling kids from our Wild Wishes® program about the value of zoological facilities to conservation and giving props to excise taxes on sporting goods funding everything from game wardens to land acquisitions.

In my opinion, hunting-based conservation groups have done great work in the field but have missed in moving the heart.

I want to conserve turkeys because I grew up in a family that hunted for its food and dreamed of the day I would one day see wild turkeys in the field.

As a youngster there were virtually none in the Pineywoods where I grew up due to poaching, lack of natural fire and habitat loss. Now, groups like the NWTF are helping bring them back.

I first encountered a wild turkey on a day lease in Llano in the Texas Hill Country and since then have had deep reverence for America’s greatest game bird.

Many people left Eco-Fest thinking turkeys were amazing too and were armed with more information about the positive aspects of turkey conservation.

We need to reach a broader audience with a pro-conservation message in ways that people have never considered.

Bringing a big gobbler and some poults to a community event did that and having kids trained up to talk turkey (in Jaxon’s case literally) made people think.

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Jaxon had a great time getting his turkey “Tom” to gobble for the crowds.

Me and my wife Lisa have dedicated our life to helping hurting children and training them to be wildlife conservationists. We believe these kids are not the next generation of conservationists.

They are the NOW generation.

We have just begun this Turkey Revolution and will unveil many more projects spearheaded by these wonderful young people for not only turkeys but many species.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

Strange Coyotes

There is nothing like staring into the eyes of a predator.

Even a glare from captive predators like a leopard at a zoo can send chills down your spine-and in my case in a good way.

I dig that kind of thing.

A few months back I locked eyes with a wild black canid that had been seen in Orange County, TX numerous times. People were calling it the “black coyote”.

Driving down a rural road near my home I saw the creature cross the road and literally stop a couple of feet away from the white line so I did what virtually no one else would do.

I hopped out for a closer look.

Trying to open my camera bag I kept my eye on the beautiful animal that was only 10 feet away. And just as the bag opened, the coyote looked me dead in the eyes and ran off.

Ahhh!!!

So much for getting a photo.

Despite the frustation I was thrilled at the opportunity to see such a magnificent animal and in recent weeks have been getting emails, texts and social media shares of unusual-looking coyotes and other suspect-looking canids.

With the recent red wolf gene rediscovery on the Texas Coast, anything that looks wolf-like in particular makes coyotes even more interesting.

Below are a couple of photos of unique-looking coyotes or perhaps non-coyote canids (hybrids of some sort).

If you have seen unusual coyotes or perhaps a non-coyote canid email me at chester@chestermoore.com. I would love to check them out and share with readers.

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Mike Sulivant captured this photo on a game camera set in Leflore County, OK. Look at those eyes! This pattern is something I have never seen on a coyote.
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A listener of my radio program sent this shot over of a stocky animal that looks like it could possibly be linked to red wolves-somewhere down the line.

Chester Moore, Jr.