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November 5, 2009

Wild turkey harvest in S.C. down again this spring

Nearly 50,000 turkey hunters take to the woods annually in South Carolina with hopes of harvesting a wily gobbler, and the 2009 spring turkey season was no exception.
With a harvest of 16,234 birds, the spring turkey harvest was down about 9 percent from 2008 and down approximately 36 percent from the record harvest established in 2002, according to Charles Ruth, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer and Turkey Project supervisor. This year's reduction in harvest is likely due to poor reproduction by turkeys six out of the last seven 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.
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 6 out of the last 7 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.  
Top counties for total turkey harvest were Berkeley, Fairfield, Orangeburg, Colleton, and Williamsburg. 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 Cherokee, Anderson, Union, Fairfield, and York.
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 44,538 turkey hunters with the average hunter spending about 5 days in the field.  Total effort expended by all hunters was approximately 220,091 days in 2009.  The success rate was about 29 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. 

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