All posts by wildlifejournalist

Chester Moore is known as The Wildlife Journalist® for his cutting-edge articles, videos, lectures, television appearances and radio broadcasts involving wildlife around the world. He has won more than 100 awards for writing, photography, radio and his conservation efforts. He was named a "Hero of Conservation" by Field & Stream magazine and won the Mossy Oak Outdoors Legacy award for his work with children and wildlife in the conservation field in 2017.

Finding The Osceola Turkey

Sarasota, FL–-The swamps along the edge of Florida’s Myakka River are teeming with life.

From alligators to Seminole whitetail to mottled ducks, the wildlands just outside of Sarasota are rich in biodiversity.

The short, thin pines reminded me a bit of the habitat on the Upper Coast of Texas where I live, but it looked uniquely Florida. With scattered palms and thick palmetto, this place looked subtropical.

It would have been easy to get lost in the majesty of it all, but I was on a mission.

That mission was to get a photo of an Osceola turkey.

Turkey Revolution is a project I founded to raise awareness of turkey conservation. As turkeys go so do America’s forests.

This year I set out to get quality photos of the “Grand Slam” of turkeys which are the Rio Grande, eastern, Osceola and Merriam’s.

This was number three to scratch off the list as I had already gotten the Rio Grande and eastern but in my mind those made sense in terms of location.

I found the Rio Grande along a very remote roadway among many hundreds of thousands of undeveloped acres in the Texas Hill Country.

The eastern came from rolling hills and farmland new Auburn, NY in an area that any turkey hunter would mark as a prime location.

While Florida has plenty of forested lands, it also has many highways, subdivisions, businesses, and tourist destinations.

That made it feel a little off during the research process and the epic travel from Orange, TX.

Things changed once I found myself along the banks of the Myakka River. It felt wild although I was only three miles away from a subdivision.

It was an interesting dichotomy-tourist Florida vs. turkey Florida.

I had done many studies to end up in this location to find Osceola turkeys.

And since I am doing this all on my coin, I was low on time. I had from sunrise to noon to make something happen.

One particular area looked seriously promising, and within 30 minutes there I spied my prize.

A hen Osceola turkey gave the author a quirky look before getting back to feeding near the Myakka River.

A hen Osceola turkey gave me a curious look on the edge of a palmetto thicket and shortly after that followed another hen and a brood.

Two Osceola turkey hens escort a brood along the edge of Florida’s Myakka River.

They made their way into a clearing and fed down toward the edge of the river. It was great to see a brood because much of this habitat was thicker than I suspected it would be. Prime turkey habitat has relatively open forest. The suppression of natural fires has created enormous undergrowth, and that allows predators a better shot at turkeys and destroys some of the turkey’s best forage opportunities.

Something else that caught my attention was a great blue heron struggling to eats a plecostomus (think suckerfish in your aquarium) just past the feeding turkeys.

The author photographed this great blue heron doing its best to swallow a large plecostomus from a distance of 200 yards.

It was a picture of a  very determined bird trying to eat an exotic that has had an impact on this ecosystem at the aquatic level. Florida is full of land-dwelling exotics too from Burmese pythons to feral hogs and even monkeys. Add that to the pressures of human development in the Sunshine State, and I was concerned about this turkey’s status.

That is why I consulted David Nicholson, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in Florida.

I inquired specifically about population trends.

“Unfortunately, there is not a reliable/accurate way to estimate wild
turkey populations at a large-scale and therefore the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) does not currently estimate wild turkey population size in Florida,” he said.

“Instead, the FWC utilizes spring turkey season harvest estimates from an annual mail survey as an index to population size.  These harvest estimates are either on a statewide scale or a regional scale, so, therefore, do not necessarily track harvest rates of the Eastern and Osceola subspecies separately in Florida.

Nicholson said that given this data is derived from mail surveys, and the harvest estimates are currently only available through the spring of 2018 and information is not yet available for 2019.

“In examining the spring turkey harvest estimates provided by FWC, it appears populations in Florida have been stable to slightly declining over the last decade depending on the region.”

Harvest data suggests the slight declines were observed more in Northern Florida coinciding more with the Eastern subspecies and harvest rates since that time have been more stable in Central & South Florida where the Osceola subspecies occurs.

Nicholson said research is being conducted to determine the cause.

“While no exact cause has been determined yet, it is likely due to many factors, which may be different for certain areas.  Factors likely include: decreasing habitat quality, changing land use, and land conversion (e.g., development), but may also include other factors we don’t fully understand yet, but active/planned research is looking into them.”

All of those factors seem entirely plausible, and the word “decline” has been omnipresent during this Turkey Revolution quest. Louisiana and New York have both seen significant declines, and now Florida seems to be on the down swing.

What is going on with turkeys and how widespread is the problem? That’s something we will be investigating heavily.

As both a wildlife journalist and a turkey hunter it is concerning.

This is not a situation of birds becoming threatened, but we could be seeing a trend that ends badly if exact reasons for decline are not determined.

I genuinely believe that as wild turkeys go America’s forests go with them. Poorly managed forests equal minimal turkey numbers. Highly managed forests see optimal turkey numbers.

And many other factors-some which we may not even understand yet are at play. I am glad they have dedicated people at the NWTF and in state fish and game agencies investigating this phenomenon.

And speak of a phenomenon I was able to get my fourth species of turkey this month-the Merriam’s but there is something very unique about it. I am getting the photograph examined to learn more.

You will see something on it here within the coming month and it is worth the wait.

Big things are happening with Turkey Revolution, and I believe we have just begun what may an epic journey.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Duck Stamp Exhibition Coming To Stark Museum Of Art

The Stark Museum of Art is bringing the great outdoors inside with Conservation Art: Federal Duck Stamps & Prints.

The exhibition opens July 13  and continues through January 4, 2020. This exhibition celebrates the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, popularly known as the Duck Stamp.

A set of stamps and prints, from the beginning in 1934-1935 through 2000-2001, is on view. In addition to viewing the stamps and prints, visitors can go on a virtual Duck Hunt and enjoy other activities.

Started in 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp program links hunting with conservation. Sales of stamps support wildlife habitat. Choosing artists to design the stamps added visual drama. Artists’ prints increased the impact of the program.

With this exhibition, the Stark Museum of Art traces the history of the Federal Duck Stamp. The United States government created the stamp to address a problem. In the 1930s, the numbers of ducks and geese had fallen to dangerously low levels.

Loss of habitat and over-hunting contributed to the decline. Hunters and conservationists sought remedies. To raise funds for waterfowl habitat, the government required hunters to buy a Migratory Bird stamp. The U.S. uses the revenue to purchase and maintain wildlife refuges.

Every year the government selects an artist to create the image and issues a new stamp. They depict ducks, geese, and swans. The beauty of the stamps has inspired collecting. It has also prompted the artists to make prints from their stamp art.

The exhibition begins with the 1934-35 Stamp and its accompanying print by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. Darling was a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, a hunter, and a conservationist.

Franklin Roosevelt appointed him as Chief of the Biological Survey. Darling drew two mallards flying onto the water for the first stamp, and then made an etching based on his design.

The exhibition includes etchings, lithographs, and photolithographs by fifty-two artists, including Frank W. Benson, Maynard Reece, and the Hautman brothers.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to view a digital exhibit of the 2018-19 Federal Junior Duck Stamp in Texas winners. The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design program began in 1993. Each state holds a contest.

A best of show for the state is selected. These works advance to the national contest. The digital exhibit features the top twelve Texas artists in Kindergarten through twelfth grades in the 2018-19 contest. It is presented in cooperation with the Federal Junior Duck Stamp in Texas program.

The exhibition includes a number of hands-on learning opportunities. The interactives include viewing recent years’ duck stamps up closely using magnifying tools, drawing and displaying a duck stamp, and playing the Nintendo Entertainment System pop culture classic Duck Hunt.

Adjacent to the main exhibition will be Waterfowl Art with the flourishing images of ducks and geese as seen in Steuben glass, Limoges plates, Boehm porcelain, and other forms.

An Opening Reception and Insights Lecture will be held 2-4 p.m. Sat. July 13. at the Stark Museum of Art.

Celeste Rickert, a 2018 Federal Duck Stamp Finalist from Katy, TX, will speak on her experience as an artist participating in the Federal Duck Stamp competition.

Light refreshments will be served following the talk. The Opening Reception and Insights Lecture are open to the public.

Admission is free.

(Source: Stark Cultural Venues)

In Search Of Whitetail-Mule Deer Hybrids

So, what happens when whitetail and mule deer meet up?

It’s a question I have long been intrigued with since I heard stories of mysterious whitetail/mule deer hybrids at a hunting camp in my home state of Texas.

While on a mission to photograph Merriam’s turkey in Colorado for my Turkey Revolution quest two weeks ago my wife Lisa and I stopped at a beautiful location to look for mule deer.

We found a big bachelor group with some large males feeding in a meadow.

And then from the distance came more deer.

I assumed they were muleys too but after glassing, I realized they were whitetail.

Two whitetail bucks join up with mule deer in June 2019 in Colorado. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Eventually, they made their way to the mule deer. Most passed by but a couple merged with them and began to feed. This is what you see in the included photo.

It was interesting to see this interaction.

I plan on returning to this location in the fall when the rut is on and see what type of activity occurs. Bucks could get along now but how about when their antlers are hard and testosterone is jacked up?

The whitetail will be fighting one another and the muleys battling it out as well. But will they fight one another?

Who will win?

Even more intriguing is the possibility of whitetail and mule deer mating.

Longstanding studies by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials show some interesting dynamics including hybridization.

“Where mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist, interbreeding does occur. The long-term effects are unknown, and for most areas, the extent of hybridization is not known. The highest incidence of hybridization in the Trans-Pecos occurs in the eastern part of the region where high populations of mule deer and white-tailed deer coexist. It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of deer may be hybrids where both species occupy the same range,” TPWD reported.

“DNA sequencing techniques were used to determine the extent of hybridization in the Panhandle (Donley County) where the ranges of both species overlap. Results indicated a hybridization frequency of eight percent. ”

TPWD reported antler characteristics, tail coloration, and ear length are not reliable in recognizing hybrids.

They said hybrids can be identified by the length of the metatarsal gland that is located on the outside of the rear leg between the hock and the hoof. It typically will measure about 3 /4 inch long in whitetail and about 4 inches long in mule deer.”

“The metatarsal gland of hybrids is intermediate in length, measuring about two inches long. It has been theorized that occurrences of hybridization are initiated by white-tailed bucks, but interbreeding also can occur between mule deer bucks and white-tailed does. Hybrids appear to have at least a limited degree of fertility. Hybridization is a concern to managers who see it as a threat to their mule deer herd.:

Whitetail numbers have reached historic highs in most of their range and are healthy virtually everywhere whereas mule deer are on the decline in many areas.

I will have more on the mule deer decline soon as well as hybridization.

For now, I am seeking photos of whitetail/mule deer hybrids.

If you have seen or shot any or deer you suspect might be hybrids send photos to chester@chestermoore.com.

I believe this is a topic that needs more coverage and look forward to seeing what other outdoors lovers are seeing out there.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Moore Honored for Bear Conservation PSA

The Wildlife Journalist® publisher and Texas Fish & Game Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore was honored by the Press Club of Southeast Texas for his “Be Texas Bear Aware” public service announcement that runs on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.
 
Moore took first place in the radio public service announcement category at the groups annual excellence in media awards.
Chester Moore and Harold Mann of KLVI Radio show the awards they took home for the station.
“It’s a real honor to be awarded by such a great organization and especially for something so special to me,” Moore said.
 
“I had the opportunity to create public service announcements on wildlife for KLVI who are always great about supporting wildlife conservation and the first one I came up with was the issue of black bears.”
 
Moore said many outdoors lovers are not aware that black bears are moving in and out of Texas through Louisiana and Arkansas and a growing population exists in the Trans Pecos region.
 
“I want people to be aware of bears. Part of that is educating hog hunters to be careful of their targets as a bear and hog can appear similar at a distance especially if you have no idea bears are in the area. I also wanted to get the message across that killing a bear in Texas is illegal and comes with serious legal consequences. There aren’t enough bears to justify a hunting season yet.”
 
Moore has long worked to get the word out on bears creating a bear awareness poster, partnering with Texas Fish & Game beginning in 2007 that has went to thousands of readers, concerned citizens and students.
 
“Black bears are an important part of Texas’ legacy and as a lifelong hunter and wildlife lover seeing them come back is exciting. If the efforts of me and my media partners helps a little bit that makes me happy,” Moore said.
 
Moore was also honored in four other categories including radio talk show for “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI and independent blog for The Wildlife Journalist.
 

Bighorn License Plate Boosts More Than Funding

The desert bighorn sheep is now officially a celebrity in Texas.

A new conservation license plate features a stunning bighorn image and those who purchase them for $30 get the satisfaction of knowing $22 goes directly to sheep conservation efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

The new plate design is a first for TPWD.

“Our longtime plate artist, Clemente Guzman, retired, so we decided to use a photograph of a majestic Bighorn Sheep proudly looking into the desert—and perhaps its future,” said Janis Johnson with the TPWD Conservation License Plate program.

“We conducted an online survey with thousands of hunters and conservationists and had them rank several designs for a Bighorn Sheep plate and a Pronghorn plate. The Bighorn Sheep was the overwhelming favorite.”

Diehard hunters and wildlife enthusiasts know bighorns are native to Texas.  The mainstream of those user groups however have no idea about Texas rich bighorn legacy and the amazing conservation efforts it took to get them back on the mountains of the Trans-Pecos.

Wild sheep have been a source of interest to me since I clipped out a statistics chart from a TPWD magazine during my childhood and put it in my dream hunt scrapbook.

I did so to serve as a reminder that we should always put in more than we take.

 

The author's scrapbook page from a 1976 Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine shows a stunning difference in game populations over a good portion of the 20th Century. Bighorns have made a massive comeback since then due to diligent conservation efforts.
The author’s scrapbook page from a 1976 Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine shows a stunning difference in game populations over a good portion of the 20th Century. Bighorns have made a massive comeback since then due to diligent conservation efforts.

That graph showed 100 bighorns in Texas in 1928 and 40 in 1976, just a few years before I made this clipping.

For a six year old who was already knew about the Grand Slam of sheep this was frightening.

Now according to TPWD Desert Bighorn Program Leader Froylan Hernandez there are around, 1,500 which is at historical highs.

Desert bighorn sheep in Texas (Photo Courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

TPWD’s leadership along with the vision of the Texas Bighorn Society and help from the Wild Sheep Foundation have helped make this a modern-day conservation success story of epic proportions.

But the future is uncertain.

It will take a broader awareness of their presence in the arid Trans Pecos to support things like proper domestic sheep grazing practices so their diseases do not impact the easily infected bighorns.

This license plate along with the media blitz that has introduced it will go a long way and creating a path for bighorns to find their way into the mainstream Texas wildlife consciousness.

New generations must learn of these great animals and be inspired to help them.

Through our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center me and my wife Lisa work with children in the foster system and those with terminal illness and who have lost a parent or sibling. We give them the wildlife encounter of their dreams through our Wild Wishes program.

The license plate has given me a chance to integrate wild sheep conservation awareness into our programs.

When I showed a group of kids at foster children’s home e a monster set Gobi argali horns I asked them what type of animal they came from.

The author teaches children at a foster home about wild sheep conservation.

A couple said deer, while one said antelope.

Most of the others said it was a ram.

When told that a ram is a male of a particular kind of animal none of them knew it was a sheep.

Several expectedly thought rams were male goats. (This seems to be a common belief-even among adults.)

When I told them we had wild rams in Texas in the form of the desert bighorn sheep they lit up. And they thought it was even cooler that we will have a special conservation license plate to help them.

That’s just a tiny example of the kind of conversations the new license plate will generate.

Impactful conservation takes awareness, money and creativity and all of those are present in this project.

In the long run the bighorns of Texas will benefit greatly from this small step toward the mainstream.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Wild Sheep Of the World (Podcast)

Did you know bighorn sheep are slowly moving back into Oklahoma?

Yep, Oklahoma.

How cool is that?

Have you ever heard of Asia’s Marco Polo Sheep-a massive mountain dweller that lives exclusively in elevations of 12-15,000 feet?

Oh and by the way , the rams sport horns upwards of 60 inches in length.

Learn about this and much, much more in the podcast of my radio program “Moore Outdoors” (May 25 edition) as I interview Gray Thornton, President & CEO of The Wild Sheep Foundation.

Wild sheep have a deep personal meaning in my life dating back to early childhood when I would sit with my Dad and cut out photos of wildlife from Sports Afield, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and place them in a scrapbook.

Wild sheep and wild turkeys were my favorites.

This photo of a Stone sheep is one of many wild sheep photos in the author’s recently rediscovered childhood scrapbook. Since he cant this photo out of a Sports Afield Stone sheep have been his favorite wild sheep.

Dad passed away of natural causes on a hunting trip with me five years ago but the memories of sitting in his lap and clipping out those photos will never fade.

A recent discovery of one of these scrapbooks in a storage vault brought back a flood of emotions and reminded me that a love of wild sheep has been with me my whole life.

The interview is just one of what will be many broadcasts, articles and investigations on wild sheep and their conservation moving forward.

This includes a forthcoming major feature story on desert bighorn in Texas Fish & Game magazine in the August 2019 issue.

For now check out the podcast. It’s one of the best interviews I have had in 20 years of radio.

Listen to learn about wild sheep of the world and to be inspired by their amazing conservation story.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Northern Invasion-Feral Hogs Taking New Territory

Seeing a feral hog in thick snow was surreal to me.

I had seen thousands in swamps, cactus thickets and rocky canyons in  Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Florida but seeing one bust out from behind a tree on a snow-covered hill in Michigan was wild.

The author photographed this big feral hog in Michigan in 2001.

This was back in 2001, just 20 years after the first feral hogs were spotted in Michigan. Now they are in virtually every county in the state.

The feral hog issue is definitely most pronounced in the South but hogs are becoming increasingly common in the North.

A decade ago I did an interview with a radio station in New Jersey because they had just opened a hog hunting season and the host wanted advice of dealing with these invasive exotics.

If states on the northern tier of their range in America do not take action then hogs will gain a permanent foothold above the Mason-Dixon line.

Some states have taken an unusual stance on dealing with hogs. They have made hunting them illegal.

It seems counterintuitive to eliminate a potential method of removing many hogs from the landscape.

The reasoning in states like New York, Minnesota and Kansas is the spread of feral hogs has had much to do with ranches that put them behind high fences for hunting. Hogs of course escape and the population outside fences spreads.

I have no doubt this has contributed greatly to the spread of hogs in my native Texas and have written on this in Texas Fish & Game.

It’s a bizarre idea to prohibit a hunter who is out to seek deer for example from killing one when at the end of the day state officials will have to kill hogs to stop their spread.

Perhaps simply banning importing them or transporting live pigs would be better.

It will be interesting to see how management of hogs changes as they multiply.

Will states that ban hunting them see success in their fight against this foreign invader? Or will they have to change their tactics?

I predicted the urban areas of the country would see a huge increase in hogs including gigantic ones and we are seeing that unfold at this very moment.

I am now predicting within a decade every state in the North will have growing hog populations perhaps with the exception of Maine.

These highly adaptive animals have proven they can thrive in the face of great pressure from hunters, professional hog trappers and even growing urbanization.

The feral hog invasion of the north continues and it will take intensive action and focused management to stop their forward momentum.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Eastern Turkeys In New York!

Auburn, NY—Mention New York to virtually anyone who lives outside of the Northeast and it conjures images of skyscrapers, traffic jams and urban sprawl.

New York is of course not just a city but a state and much of that state contains beautiful forests, farmlands and mountain ranges, greatly contrasting the Big Apple.

The state is home to around 180,000 eastern wild turkeys and that is why I found myself hunkered down in a blind for the opening of the spring season.

The hunt was a success and I bagged a nice bird but the real mission of the trip was to capture a good photo of an eastern gobbler to help complete my quest to capture photos of the “Grand Slam” (Rio Grande, eastern, Merriam’s and Oceola) in 2019.

The aim is to raise awareness to turkey conservation triumphs and concerns.

It is my belief after much study that if we get turkey conservation right-especially in relation to their habitat America’s forest will be dramatically healthier and all wildlife in their range will benefit.

They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine and in my opinion the cornerstone species for forest conservation in the United States.

That is why I was so excited to get this photo of the big gobbler I took when it appeared in the field.

Me and my friend and NY resident/expert turkey caller/outdoor writer Lou Marullo hunted a farm near Cato, NY in an area with a good mixture of corn, beans and other crops and forests.

Score! The author got the second bird of his quest, this big eastern gobbler near Cato, NY.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  after reaching their peak around 2001 (250,000 birds), wild turkey populations declined gradually over the next decade. This was followed by a more severe decline since 2009.

The decline in turkey numbers may be more pronounced in some areas. Reasons for this include cold wet spring weather, tough winters, and changes in habitat quantity and quality. In areas where open habitats such as agricultural fields, hayfields, old fields, thickets, and young forests have been lost due to development and vegetative succession, there are fewer turkeys. In areas with a larger proportion of “big woods” turkeys will persist, but at lower densities than areas with a mix of mature timber, early successional habitats, and agriculture.

According to DEC officials, predation may also be a factor due to the fact changes in habitat give predators like coyotes easier opportunities to get birds.

My view getting ready to land in Syracuse, NY. Notice the slivers of forests and huge amount of agricultural land. This is not optimum habitat and is a big reason turkey numbers have declined in the state.

New York turkey hunting regulations are adjusted to reflect population trends and hunter harvest is figured into management strategies and is considered to have minimal impact on long-term turkey populations.

Turkeys were hunted at their population rise and peak in the late 90s to early 2000s and are hunted and managed now.

At the end of the day habitat is the ultimate key and during this Turkey Revolution my eyes have been greatly opened to the scope of  issues facing turkey habitat.

In New York forests are continually being removed for farming and housing developments. And while turkeys can live with small sets of woods and big cropland, they need a good mixture of crops, mature forests and intermediate woodlands.

Developments do them no good.

The author points out a turkey track in a field near Auburn, NY.

A key to turkey conservation is getting landowners to see value in the birds.  Two of the tracts I visited and hunted on were kept as forests specifically for the purpose of hunting. Land in this state that is not seen as a value for hunting or otherwise for wildlife is eventually plowed or developed.

It’s that simple.

The eastern turkey is a truly amazing, wary creature and were what founding father Benjamin Franklin famously wanted to use as America’s icon.

They were the dinner for the first Thanksgiving and are a species we should monitor more to see where the health of forests in their range is going.

Groups l  ike the National Wild Turkey Federation and state fish and wildlife departments do a great job but they are limited. They need everyone to support efforts for turkeys.

The author finds a set of turkey tracks in Moravia, NY. The search for wild turkeys throughout America will continue with the goal of raising awareness to their conservation.

There is no concern of major decline in the near future but looking down the road it’s hard to imagine turkey habitat in states like New York not declining as human populations surge.

We need to make sure available habitat is maximized and managed properly.

Few are interested in a variety of threatened, endangered and declining animals in the eastern turkey’s range but due to the fact turkey hunters are passionate, these birds have a huge fan base who cares about their habitat.

And they spend millions of dollars on conservation.

Turkeys are important for the wild lands of America and I was honored and privileged to capture the second species in my Turkey Revolution question.

The search continues…

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

 

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.

red-wolf-texas-zoo-2.png
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.