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March 12, 2010

Spring turkey season forecast fair, youth day March 27

An estimated 50,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming turkey season, generating an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina’s economy. The 2010 wild turkey season runs April 1 through May 1 for all Wildlife Management Areas where turkey hunting is allowed and on private lands in 34 counties that make up Game Zones 1-5. The season opens March 15 and runs through May 1 on private lands only in Game Zone 6: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties.  

Saturday, March 27 is Youth Turkey Hunt Day in areas where the season opens on April 1.  On thisTurkeys day, youths 17 and under 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. 

This year, most hunters will receive their turkey tags by mail during the weeks before the season opens.  Hunters can also order tags online.  For those hunters who do not get tags by mail, handwritten tags and the 2010 Turkey Brochure will be available in early March at DNR offices and some local businesses that were formerly Big Game Check Stations.  Tags are free and the brochure describes all areas open for hunting, current regulations, and special restrictions for certain Wildlife Management Areas. Turkey hunting regulations apply to both public and private lands in most cases. No turkey hunting is permitted on any Wildlife Management Area not listed in the spring turkey regulations. For more information on Spring Turkey Regulations contact:  SCDNR, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202, call the DNR Columbia office at (803) 734-3886.

Hunters are reminded that although they must still possess and use turkey tags, taking harvested turkeys to check stations is not required.  Hunters will also notice that turkey tags now include security features that require the hunter to notch or mark the day and month of kill when tagging their gobbler.
The outlook for the 2010 spring season is only fair for most areas, according to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project supervisor for DNR.  As has been the case in 6 of the last 7 years, it appears that wild turkey reproduction was less than desirable in many regions based on the annual brood survey conducted by DNR last summer.  Although average brood size was good with hens averaging 3.7 poults, 54 percent of hens observed had no poults at all by late summer leading to a total recruitment ratio of 1.8.  Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. 
"In the Southeast," Ruth said, "Weather often plays a big role in turkey populations with heavy rainfall coupled with cool temperatures during the spring nesting and brood rearing season leading to poor reproductive success. However, that does not appear to be the case last year because those types of events were not widespread across the state.  Clearly there may have been broods lost due to strong thunderstorms at the local level, however this does not explain generally poor reproduction at the statewide level."                      
What does poor reproduction by turkeys mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth indicated, "With poor reproduction the last few years the number of mature gobblers (2 years and older) available during the spring of 2010 will likely be lower across much of the state.  Not only is the number of adult gobblers expected to be down in 2010, the survey results indicate that the number of jakes (immature gobblers) will be lower as well.  The summer brood survey has documented poor reproduction the last few years and it is supported by a decline in turkey harvest each year with a net reduction in harvest of about 35 percent since 2002.  The statewide turkey population is estimated at 90,000 birds which is good, but obviously lower than when reproduction was better."

"The bottom line," Ruth said, "we need a couple of years of better reproduction to overcome poor reproduction the last few years."

Check the DNR site for more information on wild turkeys, including how to order turkey tags online, the 2010 Turkey Regulations, the 2009 Summer Turkey Brood Survey or the results from the 2009 spring gobbler season.

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