NEWBERRY COUNTY — Turkey season started April 1 in game zones 1-5, and this year hunters in South Carolina have special gobbler bag limits of five gobblers and no more than two killed per day.
To legally hunt turkeys, all hunters including hunters under the age of 16 must possess a set of turkey tags. Hunters 16 and older must also possess a hunting license and big game permit.
Hunters cannot possess more than one set of turkey tags and all harvested birds must be tagged prior to being moved from the point of kill.
From April 1 to May 1, DNR estimates 50,000 hunters will take to the woods, generating an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina’s economy.
Eleven counties in the midlands and Pee Dee, however, have a two-bird limit. According to DNR there are concerns about South Carolina’s statewide limit being five birds. Only Alabama has a five-bird limit. Most states have a two bird limit.
According to DNR, the average annual turkey harvest has decreased 25 percent since 2002 and the number of turkey hunters has increased over time.
DNR staff recommended a three bird bag limit in May 2008, a change their officials believe should increase annual carryover of gobblers, the reproduction in turkeys and that a reduction in the bag limit should more equitably distribute harvest opportunities among hunters.
Only about 3 percent of hunters take more than three birds annually.
However, this 3 percent of hunters takes about 25 percent of all birds annually with about 11 percent of the total harvest being made up of the fourth and fifth bird.
According to DNR, most hunters have noted the decline in turkeys in recent years.
Indications are that most hunters question the appropriateness of the five bird limit and would support a reduction in the bag limit.
The outlook for the 2014 spring season is only fair for most areas, according to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project supervisor for DNR. Annually since the early 1980’s, SCDNR conducts a Summer Turkey Survey to estimate reproduction and recruitment of turkeys in South Carolina. The survey involves agency wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers, as well as many volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the general public.
“Although reproduction in turkeys has been somewhat better the last couple of years, indicators plummeted in 2013,” said Ruth. “Average brood size of 3.9 poults remained relatively consistent, however, the total recruitment ratio of 1.3 was down about 32 percent.”
Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. This figure was driven by a high percentage of hens (66 percent) that had no poults at all. Both recruitment ratio and percentage of hens with no poults were the lowest during 2013 since the survey began in 1982.
“At the regional level it appears that reproduction was poor in most of the state,” Ruth said.
Unlike deer, wild turkeys are much more susceptible to significant fluctuations in reproduction and recruitment.
Lack of reproductive success is often associated with bad weather (cold and wet) during nesting and brood rearing season and most of the state saw unprecedented rainfall that began late last spring and continued throughout most of the summer.
What does poor reproduction in 2013 mean for the spring turkey hunter?
Ruth indicated, “Spring harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years. With reproduction way down during the summer of 2013, the outlook for the 2014 spring season is not terribly encouraging.”
One positive note, according to Ruth, was that the gobbler to hen ratio remained good with a statewide average of 0.70, about average for the last few years.
Many experts believe that when gobbler to hen ratios get below 0.5, the quality of hunting can be impacted because hens are extremely available which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters.
“The bottom line,” Ruth said, “the state’s turkey population remains about 25 percent below record levels of 10 years ago and we need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up. That is the nice thing about turkeys; given the right conditions they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time.”
For more information on wild turkeys including how to order turkey tags online, the 2014 Turkey Regulations, the 2013 Summer Turkey Survey or the results from the 2013 spring gobbler season, visit www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/turkey/index.html