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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

Nov. 9, 2011

Wild turkey reproduction remains better this summer

As was the case last year, wild turkey recruitment remained good in 2011 based on a S.C. Department of Natural Resources survey. 
Annually since the early 1980’s, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts a Summer Turkey Survey to estimate reproduction and recruitment of turkeys in South Carolina. The survey involves agency wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers, as well as many volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the general public.
Although wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May in South Carolina, the survey does not take place until late summer, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator. Therefore, the survey statistics document poults (young turkeys) that actually survived and entered the population going into the fall. 
Reproduction in 2010 was the best in a number of years and although indicators were not quite as strong in 2011, indicators remained good this year, said Ruth. The average brood size of 4.2 poults and the total recruitment ratio of 2.3 where down only slightly from last year which was the best year since 2004.  Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. These solid figures were driven by the second lowest percentage of hens that had no poults (46%) in 6 years. "At the regional level it appears that reproduction was generally good in most of the state with the lower coastal plain being an exception."
It is unclear why reproduction in turkeys improved the past two years. In the Southeast Mother Nature 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. Reproduction was generally poor between 2005 and 2009, however, it has been much better the last two years. Is difficult to say that there was anything related to the weather that contributed to the previous decline or recent improvement in reproductive success. 
What does better reproduction in 2011 mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth indicated, "Harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years and we saw a slight increase in harvest this spring which coincided with the better reproduction in 2010. With two successive years of better reproduction the number of turkeys available during the spring of 2012 season should the best in a number of years. More importantly, the number of mature gobblers (2 year old birds) should be the highest we have seen for a while." "Another positive note," said Ruth, "is the gobbler to hen ratio remained good with a statewide average of 0.76, the highest in 5 years.  Many experts believe that when gobbler to hen ratios get below 0.5, the quality of hunting can be impacted because hens are extremely available which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters."
"The bottom line," Ruth said, "is the type of reproduction we have had the last two years is exactly what we need to overcome less than desirable reproduction in previous years." That is the nice thing about turkeys; given the right conditions they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time.
"Anyone interested in participating in the annual Summer Turkey Survey is encouraged to sign-up," said Ruth. The survey period is July 1-August 29 annually and those who participate typically spend some reasonable amount of time outdoors during that time period. Cooperators obviously must be able to identify wild turkeys and must be comfortable in telling the difference between hens, poults, and gobblers. Cooperators are provided with survey forms prior to the survey and a reporting notice and postage paid envelop at the end of the survey period.  If you would like to participate in the survey, send your name and address to Summer Turkey Survey, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202.  You will be added to the cooperator list and receive materials at the end of June annually.  Those interested in the survey can also download instructions and survey forms at the following website.

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