Wildlife - Wild Turkeys

2014 Wild Turkey Summer Survey

Wild Turkey Reproduction Increases Slightly this Summer

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 reproduction increased over last year it remained lower than desirable.

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 fall population.

"Reproduction in turkeys has generally been poor for the last decade", said Ruth. "This year, average brood size of 3.9 poults remained relatively consistent and the total recruitment ratio of 1.6 was actually up about 23 percent from 2013. However, 2013 was the lowest recruitment ratio since the survey began in 1982, therefore, a modest increase is still below what is considered good. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. This figure was driven by a high percentage of hens (59%) that had no poults at all by late summer. "At the regional level it appears that with the exception of the lower coastal plain, reproduction was poor in most of the state."

Unlike deer, wild turkeys are much more susceptible to significant fluctuations in reproduction and recruitment. Lack of reproductive success is often associated with bad weather (cold and wet) during nesting and brood rearing season. However, there are a host of predators that take advantage of turkey nests and broods including; raccoons, opossums, snakes, foxes, bobcats, and numerous avian predators. Coyotes which are not native but are now well established in the state can be added to the list of turkey predators. Turkeys naturally have high reproductive potential and are therefore able to maintain populations in spite of predation and other mortality factors. The problem is that we have not been getting much "bounce back" amid years of poor survival.

What does poor reproduction in 2014 mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth indicated, "spring harvest trends have followed trends in reproduction for many years. As was expected, with poor reproduction in 2012 and 2013 the spring harvest in 2014 was down significantly. The percentage of jakes (juvenile males) harvested in 2014 was the lowest on record supporting the record low reproductive data from last year. The record low reproduction in 2013 will not be felt until the 2015 spring season because 2 year old gobblers in 2015 would have been hatched in 2013 and that simply did not happen in most parts of the state. Also, the gobbler to hen ratio during this summer’s survey was 0.60 which is the lowest since the year 2000, said Ruth. Low gobbler to hen ratios can affect the quality of hunting because hens are extremely available which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters."

"The bottom line," Ruth said, "is the state’s turkey population is about 35 percent below record levels of 12 years ago. We need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up. That is the nice thing about turkeys though; 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. The survey period is July 1-August 29 annually and those who participate typically spend a 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. 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: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/turkey/volunbroodsurvey.html

Figure 1. Map of physiographic regions for 2014 Summer Turkey Survey.

Map of physiographic regions for 2014 Summer Turkey Survey.

Table 1.  Summary of reproductive data for 2014 Summer Turkey Survey by region.

Region Gobbler Hen Ratio No. Hens w/Poults No. Hens w/o Poults (%) No. Poults Avg. Brood Size Total Recruitment Ratio
Piedmont 0.49 362 675(65) 1,307 3.6 1.3
Midlands 0.90 96 111(54) 386 4.0 1.9
Northern Coastal 0.73 143 219(60) 504 3.5 1.4
Southern Coastal 0.69 382 398(51) 1,637 4.3 2.1
Statewide 0.60 983 1,403 (59) 3,834 3.9 1.6

Table 2. Statewide Summer Turkey Survey reproductive data 2010-2014.

Region Gobbler Hen Ratio No. Hens w/Poults No. Hens w/o Poults (%) No. Poults Avg. Brood Size Total Recruitment Ratio
2010 0.69 1,687 1,151 (41) 7,508 4.5 2.6
2011 0.76 1,442 1,223 (46) 5,987 4.2 2.3
2012 0.78 1,208 1,472 (55) 5,085 4.2 1.9
2013 0.70 810 1,588 (66) 3.169 3.9 1.3
2014 0.60 983 1,403 (59) 3,834 3.8 1.6
Average 0.70 1,226 1,367(53) 5,117 4.1 1.9

Table 3. 2014 Summer Turkey Survey Results by County

County No. Observ. No. Poults No. Hens w/ Poults No. Hens w/o Poults No. Hens % Hens w/o Poults No. Gobblers No. Unid. Total Turkeys Observed
Abbeville 39 57 20 71 91 78 32 0 180
Aiken 57 33 14 39 53 74 76 19 181
Allendale 19 9 2 14 16 88 33 16 74
Anderson 8 0 0 15 15 100 4 0 19
Bamberg 4 4 1 6 7 86 6 0 17
Barnwell 51 33 12 41 53 77 62 7 155
Beaufort 36 43 29 46 75 61 39 9 166
Berkeley 163 642 152 104 256 41 217 57 1172
Calhoun 17 31 9 14 23 61 22 0 76
Charleston 48 185 48 48 96 50 40 8 329
Cherokee 8 47 11 7 18 39 12 0 77
Chester 31 57 18 25 43 58 46 8 154
Chesterfield 46 234 49 16 65 25 47 25 371
Clarendon 7 16 5 11 16 69 4 5 41
Colleton 29 84 26 39 65 60 44 0 193
Darlington 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dillon 7 24 6 1 7 14 2 0 33
Dorchester 15 25 10 18 28 64 13 19 85
Edgefield 30 59 20 37 57 65 14 0 130
Fairfield 70 150 39 89 128 70 70 14 362
Florence 9 14 6 14 20 70 8 0 42
Georgetown 47 135 35 57 92 62 66 24 317
Greenville 36 49 21 48 69 70 35 5 158
Greenwood 30 49 25 39 64 61 22 3 138
Hampton 90 460 83 68 151 45 61 21 693
Horry 69 122 42 52 94 55 81 58 355
Jasper 16 129 14 0 14 0 6 0 149
Kershaw 2 0 0 3 3 100 0 0 3
Lancaster 5 33 8 8 16 50 5 0 54
Laurens 20 39 11 13 24 54 16 14 93
Lee 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lexington 2 0 0 8 8 100 3 0 11
McCormick 15 30 10 11 21 52 6 0 57
Marion 22 21 7 13 20 65 34 2 77
Marlboro 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Newberry 44 120 24 53 77 69 36 21 254
Oconee 11 10 2 11 13 85 6 1 30
Orangeburg 14 23 5 14 19 74 14 5 61
Pickens 52 196 52 49 101 49 35 18 350
Richland 7 13 6 14 20 70 0 2 35
Saluda 12 35 7 11 18 61 12 11 76
Spartanburg 51 99 27 58 85 68 37 22 243
Sumter 18 75 18 17 35 49 38 2 150
Union 84 216 51 104 155 67 53 17 441
Williamsburg 61 172 42 71 113 63 70 8 363
York 20 61 16 26 42 62 10 3 116
State Total 1,422 3,834 983 1,403 2,386 59 1437 424 8,081

The 2014 Summer Turkey Brood Survey above 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.
Get Adobe Reader