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November 21, 2007

S.C. wild turkey harvest down this spring

Nearly 50,000 turkey hunters take to the woods annually in South Carolina with hopes of harvesting a wily gobbler, and the 2007 spring turkey season was no exception.

With a harvest of 19,289 birds, the spring turkey harvest was down about 5 percent from 2006 and down approximately 24 percent from the record harvest established in 2002, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Turkey Project supervisor. This year's reduction in harvest is likely due to poor reproduction by turkeys the last summer two summers.
South Carolina's spring 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 opens March 15 on private lands in 12 Lowcountry counties in the state. Annually, spring turkey hunters contribute more than $16 million in direct expenditures to South Carolina's economy. Results of the 2007 spring turkey season can be found on the DNR Web site (Pdf file).
Each summer, DNR wildlife biologists, technicians, conservation officers, and private cooperators participate in an annual turkey brood survey. Results from the survey the last two years indicated poor reproduction in wild turkeys.  Going into this season, most hunters anticipated tough hunting because the success of spring hunters is typically linked to turkey reproductive success the previous year.  
Top counties for total turkey harvest were Fairfield, Orangeburg, Berkeley, Williamsburg, and Colleton. However, because counties vary in size, a better method of comparing harvests between counties is the harvest per unit area, for example turkeys harvested per square mile. Using this method top counties were Abbeville, Union, Fairfield, York, and Hampton.
With the elimination of the check-in requirement for turkeys, hunters may wonder how turkey harvest figures are derived now.  According to Ruth, "We are now using a Turkey Hunter Survey to get the harvest and the survey provides a more accurate estimate of the actual total harvest of birds in the state. Check stations worked well in the early years of turkey hunting but they only provided a minimum count of harvested birds. The decision to eliminate the check-in requirement was made due to shortcomings of the system including deterioration of compliance with the check-in requirement, complaints from hunters regarding the inconvenience of check stations, and costs associated with the check station system. Prior to eliminating the check-in requirement, DNR conducted surveys in order to document the rate of noncompliance, as well as, to determine the relationship between harvest figures obtained from check stations and those obtained from surveys. As would be expected, harvest figures obtained from surveys are higher than those from check stations due to lack of compliance with the check-in requirement."
Other statistics from this year’s survey indicate that there were approximately 42,262 turkey hunters and the average hunter spent about 5 days in the field.  The success rate was about 33 percent in harvesting at least one gobbler and the week of the season during which the most turkeys were harvested was the first week in April. 

The recovery of the wild turkey in South Carolina has been a great success story. The bird was rare throughout much of the 1900s, but through trapping and relocating more than 3,500 turkeys on some 200 sites statewide as part of a restoration program DNR began more than 30 years ago, turkeys are now present in all 46 South Carolina counties. The statewide population is estimated at about 90,000.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.

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