Lowcountry hunting enthusiasts probably have mixed feelings about the upcoming wild turkey season. On one hand it's less than two weeks before the March 15 opening day on private lands in the Lowcountry (on WMA properties and elsewhere in the state it opens April 1). But results from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' 2013 Wild Turkey Summer Survey don't paint a bright picture for the 2014 turkey season.
S.C. Turkey Season
Dates: Game Zone 6 (private land only), March 15-May 1; Game Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and Wildlife Management Areas, April 1-May 1. No Sunday hunting on WMAs.
Limit: Statewide limit of 5 gobblers, no more than 2 per day, except 2 total gobblers for Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, Richland and Sumter counties.
Shooting hours: Unlawful to shoot any turkey between 30 minutes after official sunset and 30 minutes before official sunrise.
The total recruitment ratio (a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population) was down 32 percent.
"Spring harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years with harvest figures being better in 2012 and 2013 due to better reproduction. However, with reproduction way down this summer the outlook for the 2014 spring season is not terribly encouraging," Charles Ruth, the DNR Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator, said after the completion of the Summer Survey.
According to Ruth, the state's wild turkey population is about 25 percent below record levels a decade ago, but given the right conditions the population can bounce back in a short period of time. Ruth said the gobbler-to-hen ration remains good at 0.70, about average. When the ratio falls below 0.5, the quality of hunting can be impacted because hens are extremely available, which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters, he said.
The Eastern wild turkey is the second most popular game animal in South Carolina behind the white-tailed deer. Wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May.
DNR's 2013 Turkey Harvest Report stated: "Lack of reproductive success is typically associated with bad weather (cold and wet) during nesting and brood rearing season. On the other hand, 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."
Charleston County had the second-largest number of total turkeys observed during the Summer Survey, 845. Union County was first with 869 and Newberry County was third with 583.
During the 2013 season, Newberry County accounted for the most number of turkeys harvested with 1,017, 904 of them gobblers and 113 jakes. There were 635 turkeys harvested in Berkeley County, 331 in Charleston County and 285 in Dorchester County.
Statewide, hunters bagged 17,101 adult gobblers and 2,110 jakes, an 11 percent decrease from 2012 (21,552) and 25 percent decrease from the record harvest of 2002 when an estimated 25,487 were taken by hunters.
The season opens March 15 on private lands in Game Zone 6 (Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties) and April 1 in Game Zones 1-5 as well as Wildlife Management Areas. It closes statewide on May 1.
All hunters, including hunters younger than 16 or those who are calling or guiding, must possess a valid set of turkey tags, available from the Department of Natural Resources. All harvested turkeys must be tagged and validated as prescribed on the tag form before being moved from the point of kill. No person may possess more than one set of turkey tags.
The Statewide Turkey Youth Hunt Day is March 29 for youth 17 and younger accompanied by a licensed adult 21 or older. No license is required for youth. Adults may call or guide, however only the youth may take or attempt to take except in Game Zone 6 where adults are allowed to hunt on March 29. Limit two gobblers.