Tag Archives: merriam’s turkey

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. 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Rio Grande Turkey!

Mountain Home, TX—Cruising down the back roads of Kerr County, TX is an interesting experience.

The majority of wildlife spotted is exotic and much of it ranging beyond the confines of high fenced hunting ranches. Axis deer, blackbuck antelope and aoudad are more are prevalent than even native whitetail.

I was looking for wild turkeys, the Rio Grande variety in particular as I am on a quest to get the Grand Slam (Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Oceola subspecies) by camera this year.

It started off super slow two weeks ago with a trip to the area surrounding Palmetto State Park near Luling, TX.

I saw a lone turkey at about 200 yards but we could not get it to come any closer despite calling.

My rule for this project is the pictures must be magazine quality. In other words up close and full of detail.

Just as the sun began to peek out of an early morning haze I spotted three turkeys on a hill. Fellow wildlife photographer Gerald Burleigh stopped the truck and my friend and fellow turkey fanatic Josh Slone jumped out and started calling.

I ran down below the bird’s line of sight, walked up to a bush and shot a few pics.

Then down the fence line came a loud gobble.

I spun around to see two large gobblers trying to figure out how to get over the fence to get to the hens that had just flown over.

Apparently these guys were so love struck (after all it is breeding season) they forgot they can you know…fly.

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One down-three to go! These two gobblers were trying to find their way over a fence that three hens had just flew over. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

This worked to my advantage as they paced up and down and I slid down about 30 yards and waited.

The birds eventually made the move and moved into range and I took dozens of shots before their pursuit of the hens continued.

It was so exciting to get these birds after so much hard work.

Getting the Rio Grande photo above took the following effort.

*Two Trips from Orange, TX to Hill Country

*28 hours total driving

*$450 in hotels and gas

*16 hours searching in the field

Since the quest began I have studied historical maps of turkey range and found there should be Rio Grande in good numbers much closer to home. The drive should be cut from six hours to about three but urban sprawl and degraded habitat on top of poaching many years ago have isolated them more than people think.

Texas has around 500,000 birds with the vast majority being Rios with a few hundred Merriam’s in the Trans Pecos and about 7,000 easterns in the Pineywoods.

Turkeys are not nearly as adaptable as whitetails.

Getting what so far is the best turkey photo I have ever taken gave me an even greater respect for those conservation-minded turkey hunters who pursue the Grand Slam and wanting to learn much more about these regal birds.

Step one was hard considering I am doing this in my “spare” time and totally on my coin to raise awareness to turkey conservation and the health of America’s forests.

But I have a feeling finding Rios will be a walk in the park compared to some of the other varieties.

I plan on pushing hard for eastern in the coming two weeks. I’ve already had two days searching for them in the national forests of Texas with no success.

I might have a line on some birds in Louisiana and as I researched that state’s turkey population I found there is a story that needs to be told.

After all people will only conserve what they care for and understand.

And that’s what this Turkey Revolution is all about-unveiling the story of America’s greatest game bird so their future and that of America’s forest is secure.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

A Turkey Revolution Has Begun!

A society can only value what it understands.

And with wildlife, understanding is only the beginning. People must find a way to appreciate wild animals enough to care whether or not they exist.

Throughout decades of research, time spent in the field from Canada to California to seemingly every corner of my home state of Texas, I have come to a conclusion.

No creature in North America is linked more to healthy forests than the wild turkey. And no creature has the potential to captivate people in all corners of the nation than these great birds.

The author was busted by this big gobbler as he tried to sneak up near a tree on his belly. These free-ranging birds on a ranch didn’t know if they were tame, wild or in between but this one showed no fear. Good thing the author’s wife Lisa was set up in an elevated position just a few yards away and caught this photo.

Whether they are the striking Rio Grandes in the Texas Hill Country, Eastern turkeys in the big woods of the Northeast, Oceloas in Florida’s swamps, Merriam’s in mountain forests of the West or Gould’s in the high deserts, turkeys desperately need healthy habitat.

All animals do of course but some have done a much better of adapting to mans’ meddling of forest management, invasive exotics and urban sprawl.

And while there are urban centers where turkeys have adjusted, for the most part unlike whitetail deer and coyotes, turkeys need primo habitat to thrive.

If we can make the woods better for turkeys, it will be better for deer and the threatened Louisiana pine snake and the gopher tortoise and a host of other native wildlife desperately needing healthy ecosystems.

The National Wild Turkey Federation and various state fish and game departments have done an incredible job of turkey restoration and enhancement but they need the public’s help.

I have begun a quest to capture quality photographs of Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Oceola in 2019.

Hunters call this quest the Grand Slam and while I will be taking a hunt or two this year, this quest is to document with a camera these great birds and to log everything discovered along the way.

I live a stone’s throw from Louisiana and a friend recently sent photos of eastern turkeys near their home.

Photos submitted by Maris Martinez inspired the author to look at Louisiana’s turkey population.

This inspired me to look more at Louisiana’s turkey population.

As of now it sits at 60,000 but that is down from a historic high of as many as 1,000,000 birds.

What happened?

Digging into these types of stories is what this is all about it. I’m calling it the Turkey Revolution and it will encompass years of research, reaching out to the public via many media platforms and searching out stories in the field.

If you have an interesting observation on wild turkeys, perhaps see a rare color phase bird or have anything related to them to share email me at chester@chestermoore.com.

Founding father Benjamin Franklin famously opined that the wild turkey would make a better representative of America than the bald eagle.

After all eagles are scavengers he said!

While I can’t see an image of the gobbling turkey intimidating America’s enemies, I can see the story of these great birds move the hearts of the public toward wanting healthier forests and more abundant wildlife of all types.

Putting a gobbler on a flag might have been a terrible way to cap the Revolutionary War but for a Turkey Revolution that might actually be pretty cool.

Chester Moore, Jr.