Wildlife - Wild Turkeys

2008 Turkey Harvest Report Wild Turkey

The 2008 Turkey Harvest Report is provided in Adobe® Acrobat® (PDF) format. Adobe® Reader® is required to open this file and is available as a free download from the Adobe® Web site.
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Ranking only behind the white-tailed deer in popularity among hunters, the Eastern wild turkey is an important natural resource in South Carolina. The 2008 Turkey Hunter Survey represents the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Wildlife Section's ongoing commitment to conduct pertinent research related to the state's wild turkey population. The primary objectives of this survey research were to obtain valid estimates of; (1) the statewide spring gobbler harvest in 2008, (2) the harvest of gobblers in the constituent counties of the state, and (3) hunting effort related to turkeys. Information on hunter’s opinions of the turkey resource and other aspects of turkey hunting are also presented.

Due to the importance of turkeys as a state resource, DNR believes that accurately assessing the harvest of turkeys, as well as hunter participation in turkey hunting, is key to the management of this species. Proposed changes in turkey-related laws and regulations should have foundations in biology, therefore, the population dynamics associated with annual hunting mortality cannot be ignored. Similarly, when issues arise that do not involve biological parameters, it is important to have information related to turkey hunter activities afield because they too form an important basis for managing wild turkeys.

Since the inception of the Statewide Turkey Restoration and Research Project (Turkey Project) the methods used to document the turkey harvest have changed. Historically, turkey harvest figures were developed using a system of mandatory turkey check stations across the state. This system yielded an actual count of harvested turkey and was, therefore, an absolute minimum harvest figure. Shortcomings in this system included deterioration of check station compliance, complaints from hunters regarding the inconvenience of check stations, and costs associated with the check station system. The requirement to check harvested turkeys in South Carolina was eliminated following the 2005 season. 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.

Survey Methodology

The 2008 Turkey Hunter Survey represented a random mail survey that involved a single mail-out. The questionnaire for the 2008 Turkey Hunter Survey was developed by Wildlife Section personnel (Figure 1 - Adobe PDF). The mailing list database was constructed by randomly selecting 15,000 individuals who received a set of 2008 Turkey Transportation Tags which are required in order to hunt turkeys in South Carolina.

Following the mail survey, a nonresponse bias test was conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Virginia using a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview program (CATI). Results from the mail survey were corrected for nonresponse bias using data collected from the telephone survey.

Statistical analysis was conducted using Statistix 7 (Analytical Software, Tallahassee, FL).


Special thanks are due DNR Licensing personnel for their cooperation in building the licensee database and data entry associated with the completed surveys. Specifically, thanks go to Bryan Kyzer for his overall cooperation as Licensing Coordinator and Vanessa Calhoun, Kim Corley, Cheriece Dowdy, and Lou Jones for their data entry. Thanks to Jay Butfiloski, DNR Furbearer Project supervisor, for his considerable efforts in data entry form design.

Results and Discussion

Turkey Harvest

During the 2008 spring season it is estimated that a total of 15,118 adult gobblers and 2,186 jakes were harvested for a statewide total of 17,304 turkeys (Table 1 - Adobe PDF). This figure represents an 8.9 percent decrease in harvest from 2007 (19,289) and a 32.2 percent decrease from the record harvest established in 2002 (16,348 check station, 25,487 estimated by survey). The reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributable to one primary factor, poor reproduction.

Reproduction in wild turkeys has been poor five of the last six years (Figure 2 - Adobe PDF ) and the spring harvest following each year of low recruitment has been down (Figure 3 - Adobe PDF). Unlike deer, wild turkeys are much more susceptible to significant fluctuations in reproduction and recruitment and these measures of production have simply not been good recently. Lack of success is typically associated with bad weather (cold and wet) during nesting and brood rearing season.

Additionally, many parts of the state have been under drought conditions for the last 2 years. Although dry conditions are typically good for turkey reproduction, there is likely a limit to what constitutes dry in terms of being beneficial to turkeys. Under the conditions that much of the state experienced during the last two summers, the production of food in the form of seeds and insects could have been limited, as could the vegetative growth that is important brood rearing cover. Finally, habitats are continually changing in South Carolina. Although timber management activities stimulated the growth in South Carolina’s turkey population in the 1980s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old, a situation that does not support turkeys as well.

Harvest Per Unit Area County Rankings

Comparisons can be made between turkey harvests from the various counties in South Carolina if a harvest per unit area is established. Harvest per unit area standardizes the harvest among counties regardless of the size of individual counties. One measure of harvest rate is the number of turkeys taken per square mile (640ac. = 1 mile²). When considering the estimated turkey habitat that is available in South Carolina, the turkey harvest rate in 2008 was 0.8 gobblers per square mile statewide (Table 2 - Adobe PDF). Although the turkey harvest has been down the last few years, this harvest rate should be considered good and is similar to other Southeastern states. The top 5 counties for harvest per unit area were Bamberg (1.9 turkeys/mile²), Pickens (1.6 turkeys/mile²), York (1.3 turkeys/mile²), and Cherokee, McCormick, and Chester tied (1.2 turkeys/mile²) (Table 2 - Adobe PDF).

Turkey Harvest Rankings by County

Total turkey harvest is not comparable among counties because there is no standard unit of comparison, i.e. counties vary in size and are, therefore, not directly comparable. However, some readers may be interested in this type of ranking. The top 5 counties during 2008 were Berkeley, Colleton, Williamsburg, Orangeburg and Fairfield (Table 3 - Adobe PDF).

Turkey Harvest by Week of Season

Gobbling by male wild turkeys occurs primarily in the spring and is for the purpose of attracting hens for mating purposes. Therefore, spring turkey hunting is characterized by hunters attempting to locate and call gobbling male turkeys using emulated hens calls. With respect to both biology and effective hunting, the timing of the spring gobbler season should take into account three primary factors; peak breeding, peak gobbling, and peak incubation. Considering these factors, seasons can be set to afford hunters the best opportunity to hunt during the best time (i.e. peak gobbling) without inhibiting reproductive success.

South Carolina currently has two spring turkey season frameworks. Throughout most of the state (Game Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) the season is April 1-May1. This season is based on a recommendation from DNR following gobbling and nesting studies that were conducted in the 1970’s. The other season framework is March 15-May 1 and is only in effect in Game Zone 6 (lower coastal plain). This season is socio-politically based.

If seasons are set appropriately, the greatest proportion of turkeys should be harvested during the first week of the season because hens should be nesting resulting in gobblers that are naïve and most responsive to hunter's calls. Harvest by week of season demonstrates that the timing of the April 1-May 1 season affords higher turkey harvests as most turkeys are harvested following the April 1 opening date (Figure 4 - Adobe PDF). When broken-out by specific season framework the results are similar. In areas were the season begins March 15, only 28 percent of the total harvest is accounted for during the first week of the season (Figure 5 - Adobe PDF). This is likely due to the fact that late March is the time of peak breeding and males gobble less because "they are all henned up". On the other hand, 40 percent of the harvest occurs during the first week of the season in areas where the season begins April 1 (Figure 6 - Adobe PDF). This is due to the fact that by the first week in April, a significant number of hens have left the gobblers and begun continuous incubation. This lack of hens stimulates peak gobbling resulting in hunters being able to locate and call responsive birds. Comparing the first two weeks of each season format, we find that were the season opens March 15, 45 percent of gobbers are harvest while this figure is 62 percent where the season opens on April 1. Again, this is a reflection of fewer available hens due to nesting resulting in gobblers being more responsive to hunter's calls.

Number of Turkey Hunters

Even though all individuals receiving a set of Turkey Transportation Tags were licensed to hunt turkeys, only 42.6 percent actually hunted turkeys. Based on this figure, approximately 46,365 hunters participated in the 2008 spring turkey season, an 8 percent increase over 2007. Counties with the highest estimates for individual hunters include Fairfield, Berkeley, Laurens, Union, and Newberry (Table 4 - Adobe PDF).

Hunter Effort

For the purposes of this survey hunter effort was measured in days with one day being defined as any portion of the day spent afield. Turkey hunters averaged approximately 5.7 days afield during the 2008 season (Table 4 - Adobe PDF), a figure identical to that in 2007. Successful hunters averaged significantly more days afield (6.9 days) than unsuccessful hunters (4.5 days). Extrapolating to the entire population of turkey hunters yields a figure of 227,034 total days of spring gobbler hunting, down 5 percent from 2007. The number of days devoted to turkey hunting in South Carolina is significant and points not only to the availability and popularity of turkeys as a game species, but to the obvious economic benefits related to this important natural resource. The top 5 South Carolina counties for overall days of turkey hunting during 2008 were Berkeley, Fairfield, Union, Colleton, and Newberry counties (Table 4 - Adobe PDF).

Hunting Success

For determination of hunting success only those individuals that actually hunted turkeys were included in the analysis and similarly, success was defined as harvesting at least one turkey. Overall hunting success in 2008 was 30.2 percent, down 9.3 percent from 2007 (32.6%). This is likely related to the declining trend in turkey reproduction that the state has experienced in recent years, i.e. fewer turkeys available for harvest. On the other hand, unlike deer hunting which typically has high success, turkey hunting can be an inherently unsuccessful endeavor, relatively speaking. As would be expected, the majority of successful hunters take one gobbler (Figure 7 - Adobe PDF). However, the percentage of successful hunters who take two birds is quite high as well. This indicates that successful hunters had nearly the same chance of taking two birds as they did one bird.

The statewide bag limit in South Carolina is five gobblers. Obviously, most successful hunters harvest only one or two birds. However, it is interesting to note the relative contribution to the total harvest of turkeys by the few hunters that harvest multiple birds. Ironically, the percentage of hunters taking more than 3 birds was only 2.8%, however, this small percentage of hunters harvested 22% of the total birds taken in the state (Figure 8 - Adobe PDF).

Turkey Hunting on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)

Approximately 47,000 individuals purchase a Wildlife Management Area Permit in South Carolina each year. This permit allows them to hunt various species of game on pubic lands throughout the state. Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) represent lands owned by DNR, other state owned lands enrolled in the WMA Program, US Forest Service land enrolled in the WMA Program, and private or corporate lands that are leased by DNR as part of the WMA Program.

In an effort to evaluate participation by turkey hunters on WMA lands, the 2008 Turkey Hunter Survey asked participants if they hunted on WMA land during the 2008 season and how many turkeys they harvest. Approximately 18 percent of turkey hunters indicate that they hunt on WMA lands which equals approximately 8,695 individuals. Although the figure is below the number of deer hunters that hunt on WMA lands (18,445), the percentage of turkey hunters who hunt public land (18%) is greater than that for deer hunters (12.7%).

Success rates for WMA hunters were lower (20%) than for hunters on private land (30%). This should come as no surprise because hunters on private land typically have more familiarity with the property than hunters on public land. It is estimated that approximately 1,799 turkeys were harvested on public land representing 10.4 percent of the statewide turkey harvest. This figure should be considered good because WMA lands compose less than 10 percent of the turkey habitat in the state. Finally, it is estimated that hunters spent approximately 49,561 days afield on WMAs in South Carolina during the 2008 turkey season.

Hunter Opinion Regarding Turkey Numbers

The 2008 Turkey Hunter Survey asked participants to compare the number of turkeys in the area they hunt most often with the number of turkeys in past years. Participants were given 3 choices; increasing, about the same, or decreasing. About half (45.6%) of hunters indicated that the number of turkeys in the area they hunted most often was about the same as in past years. Significantly more hunters (40.4%) believed that the turkey population was decreasing than increasing (14.0%). On a scale of 1 to 3 with 1 being increasing, 2 being the same, and 3 being decreasing, the overall mean rating of 2.26 suggests that hunters viewed the turkey population as decreasing. The opinion among hunters that the turkey population has decreased in recent years is consistent with recent harvest trends and reproductive data.

Hunter Opinion Regarding Charging a Fee for Turkey Tags

State law requires that anyone who hunts wild turkeys must posses a set of wild turkey transportation tags and that all harvested birds must be tagged before being moved from the point of kill. Tags serve as the primary tool used to enforce the bag limit on turkeys and state law indicates that tags will be provided to hunters by DNR at no charge.

Historically tags were only available at Big Game Check Stations and the tags were handwritten for each hunter. Supplying check stations obviously involves a certain amount of effort and expense (staff time, fuel, vehicle expense, etc.) on the part of DNR, particularly considering that there are/were over 300 stations statewide. Similarly, this method of issuing tags requires 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. Beginning in 2006, a form containing tags was developed that can be printed and mailed in an automated fashion, thereby removing this burden from both hunters and DNR field staff. However, the forms and postage associated with mailing them to hunters has an obvious cost.

DNR’s Wild Turkey Research and Management Project receives no state funding and the federal funding and revenue that is available to the Turkey Project is extremely limited. In fact, the annual Turkey Project budget receives only enough funds to print the annual Turkey Rules and Regulations Brochure and the handwritten tag books. There is no funding for the new type of tags or for research and management activities related to wild turkeys in South Carolina.

With this in mind, the 2008 Turkey Hunter Survey asked hunters if they would support placing a $5 charge on a set of turkey tags in order to administer the new "mail-out" tag program with remaining fund to be earmarked for turkey research and management. Overall, 73.1 percent of turkey hunters indicated support for the $5 fee for turkey tags. Perhaps DNR will seek legislative support for placing this small fee on turkey tags which will not only pay for the administrative costs of the tag program, but it will also allow for some level of funding for future turkey research and management in South Carolina.

The tables and graphs referred to in this report are provided in Adobe® Acrobat® (PDF) format. Adobe® Reader® is required to open this file and is available as a free download from the Adobe® Web site.
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