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DNR News

November 19, 2012

Wild turkey reproduction drops slightly this summer

Unlike the last two years, wild turkey recruitment decreased in 2012 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.

Although reproduction in 2010 and 2011 were the best in a number of years, indicators were not quite as strong in 2012, said Ruth. An average brood size of 4.2 poults remained consistent; however, the total recruitment ratio of 1.9 was down about 15 percent. 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 that had no poults (55%) at all, the highest percentage in 5 years. “At the regional level it appears that reproduction was only fair in most of the state with the lower coastal plain showing slightly better indicators.”

What does fair reproduction in 2012 mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth indicated, “Harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years and we saw a significant increase in harvest this spring which coincided with the better reproduction in 2010 and 2011. Although reproduction was down this summer there should be a good carry-over of mature gobblers (2 year old birds) available during spring of 2013 due to the good reproduction in 2011. Another positive note, said Ruth, is the gobbler to hen ratio remained good with a statewide average of 0.78, the highest in a number of 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, “the state’s turkey population remains about 15 percent below record levels of 10 years ago. Although the harvest has increased a little the last couple of years, we need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up. 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.


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