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November 8, 2008

Wild turkey harvest in S.C. 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 2008 spring turkey season was no exception.

With a harvest of 17,304 birds, the spring turkey harvest was down about 9 percent from 2007 and down approximately 32 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 5 out of the last six 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 $30 million in direct expenditures to South Carolina's economy.

Results of the (Pdf file) 2008 spring turkey season >>>
           
Each summer, DNR wildlife biologists, technicians, conservation officers, and private cooperators participate in an annual turkey brood survey.  Survey results have indicated poor reproduction in wild turkeys 5 out of the last 6 summers.  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. 

Information on the 2008 Summer Turkey Survey>>>

Top counties for total turkey harvest were Berkeley, Colleton, Williamsburg, Orangeburg, and Fairfield. 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 Bamberg, Pickens, York, Cherokee, McCormick, and Chester.
           
With the elimination of the check-in requirement for turkeys, hunters may wonder how turkey harvest figures are now derived.  According to Ruth, "We are now using a Turkey Hunter Survey to estimate 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 43,365 turkey hunters with the average hunter spending about 5 days in the field.  Total effort expended by all hunters was approximately 227,034 days in 2008.  The success rate was about 30 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. 
           
"Another interesting finding from this year’s survey was that 73 percent of turkey hunters supported the idea of paying a $5 fee to administer a new method of issuing turkey tags", said Ruth.
 
"Historically tags were only available at Big Game Check Stations and the tags were handwritten for each hunter.  This method of issuing tags required turkey hunters to make a special trip to a check station to get their tags just prior to the turkey season which involves time and travel expenses.  Additionally, supplying check stations involves effort and expense on the part of DNR, particularly considering that there are/were over 300 stations statewide.  Beginning in 2006, a form containing tags was developed that can be printed and mailed in an automated fashion, thereby removing the burden from both hunters and DNR staff.  However, the forms and postage associated with mailing tags to hunters has an obvious cost.

DNR’s Wild Turkey Research and Management Project receives no state funding.  Not only is there no funding for the new type of tags, there is and never has been a dedicated state funding source for research and management activities related to wild turkeys in South Carolina."  Ruth said, "I am encouraged by hunter’s indication of support for generating funds related to the state’s wild turkey resource.  Not only is mailing tags to hunters practical but we should be conducting research related to turkey biology here in South Carolina, particularly given the declining trend that we have seen in recent years.  For example, DNR’s deer tag program funds are earmarked for deer research and management.  We have done a number of major movement and mortality studies on deer and currently, we are involved in a major study looking at the effects of coyotes on fawn survival.  Behind deer, turkeys are the number two game species in the state, however, we are simply not able to conduct any research because there is no funding mechanism like there is with deer.

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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