With the 2006 spring gobbler season approaching, South Carolina's 50,000 turkey hunting enthusiasts should expect only moderate turkey numbers in most parts of the state, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Saturday, March 25 is the statewide Youth Turkey Hunt Day, on which youths ages 10-17 who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult (age 21 and older) may hunt turkeys. Only the youth can take or attempt to take turkeys. Tagging requirements remain in place for this special youth day.
Annually, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts a Summer Turkey Brood Survey to estimate reproduction and recruitment of turkeys in South Carolina, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Turkey Project supervisor. This survey involves agency wildlife biologists, technicians, and conservation officers, as well as many volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the general public. The results of last year’s survey indicate the poorest reproduction by turkeys in at least six years. Check the DNR Web site for the 2005 Summer Turkey Brood Survey.
Unlike deer for example, turkey reproduction and recruitment into the population can be greatly affected by environmental conditions during the spring nesting and brood-rearing season with heavy rainfall and/or cool temperatures typically leading to poor reproductive success. In the Southeast, Mother Nature plays a much greater role in turkey populations than in deer populations, and conditions for turkey reproduction were simply not good last spring. With a poor reproductive season last spring, turkey numbers in most parts of the state should be down, and DNR biologists expect harvest figures to decrease this spring, Ruth said.
Combining the near record harvest of 14,353 birds last spring with the poor reproductive success last summer, could mean fewer gobblers this season. What likely will be missing this spring is large numbers of juvenile gobblers, also called jakes.
“Even though many spring turkey hunters prefer to harvest only mature gobblers or long beards, jakes typically make up a significant portion of the harvest following years of good reproduction,” Ruth said. The number of two-year-old gobblers should be fair this year because reproduction in 2004 was good and many of these birds will still be available this spring. Nonetheless, a decrease in the total turkey harvest is typically seen anytime there is poor reproduction the previous year. This decrease in harvest is typically the result of the low availability of jakes.
The spring 2005 wild turkey season opens April 1 and closes May 1 in most areas of the state and on all public lands with turkey hunting. The season opened March 15 for hunters on private lands in 12 Lowcountry counties in the state. Turkey hunters must have a current South Carolina hunting license and Big Game Permit, as well as a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) permit if hunting on WMA land. In addition, everyone who hunts turkeys, regardless of age, must also have a set of turkey tags that are available at Big Game check stations. Although possession and use of turkey tags is still required, hunters are no longer required to check harvested turkeys. Rather than relying on check station reports, the department is now using a Turkey Hunter Survey in order to get more reliable turkey harvest figures.
South Carolina's turkey population is estimated at about 120,000 birds.