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The South Carolina turkey hunting season opens March 22 on private lands in Game Zones 3 and 4. Jay Cantrell/SCDNR/Provided

Opening day for the 2021 turkey hunting season is just around the corner and there's one major change from a year ago for the approximately 50,000 hunters who target gobblers in South Carolina.

The season structure and bag limits remain the same, but this year electronic reporting will be mandatory through SC Game Check.

"This was actually part of the season legislation that was passed in 2019 and went into effect last year. The harvest reporting part had a one-year implementation and we're there now," said Charles Ruth, Big Game Coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

SC Game Check is in the process of being rolled out now and turkey hunters will receive information on methods for reporting harvested turkeys when they receive their hunting tags.

"There will be three ways to report," Ruth said. "Shortly, they will be able to download a free mobile app. It's really slick. Once people download and set up their profile it won't take 20 seconds to report a turkey. There will be a web-based reporting system on our website (dnr.sc.gov) that's very simple. And there also will be a toll-free number you can call, although we're trying to steer people away from that. It's a key punch thing and you have to enter your customer ID by keypad, pick your county of harvest. It's a typical phone key punch entry."

The seasonal bag limit for residents remains at three birds, no more than one per day, and hunters are limited to just one turkey during the first 10 days of the season. Non-resident hunters will be limited to two birds. State residents are required to purchase a set of three tags for $5 while the two tags for non-residents are $100. Ruth said hunters who are eligible for free tags — youth hunters, lifetime license holders and senior license holders — will receive their tags if they requested them last year. If they did not request the tags then they need to do so before hunting this year.

The 40-day season on private lands in Game Zones 3 and 4, which includes most of the lower part of the state including Charleston, is March 22-April 30. The season on Game Zones 1 and 2 is April 1-May 10. Statewide season on Wildlife Management Areas is April 1-April 30. Check Wildlife Management Areas for specific hunting dates on these properties.

Ruth said the 2020 turkey harvest was down about 19 percent compared to 2019, continuing a downward harvest trend.

"There are so many factors that I'm reluctant to point to any one," Ruth said. "We had a completely new season structure. We had for the first time a limitation of one turkey for the first 10 days of the season. That was clearly an effort to reduce early harvest of these adult birds as relates to potential implications with breeding activity. And then you pile COVID on top of that."

Ruth said there was a slight increase in hunter effort in South Carolina as well as other turkey hunting states in the region.

"(Turkey season) is when the shutdown was going on big time," Ruth said. "People had a lot more free time. We saw some increase but not a lot."

Ruth said this year's heavy rainfall should not affect South Carolina's turkeys because they are adults. He did say abnormal rain events in May and June, during the nesting and brood-rearing season, would be of concern.

"But that's a long way. We may be in a drought by then," Ruth said. "Typically, a lot of rain in late spring, early summer is not good for turkey reproduction."

Flooding forces DNR property closures

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has announced that Santee Cooper Wildlife Management Area and Wateree River Heritage Preserve Wildlife Management Area have been closed because of excessive rain and flooding.

The flooding also has closed some or all of the roads to vehicular access within the following properties: Webb Wildlife Center; Palachucola WMA; Hamilton Ridge WMA; Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve; Waccamaw River Heritage Preserve; Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve; Marsh WMA; Woodbury WMA; and Great Pee Dee Heritage Preserve. 

America's Boating Club

America’s Boating Club Charleston will hold a boating safety class March 13 at 1376 Orange Grove Road, Charleston. A class also will be held March 20 at the Berkeley County Emergency Training Center in Moncks Corner. The classes begin at 9 a.m. and end around 4 p.m. Successful participants earn the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Boater Education Card. The cost is $25 for adults and youth 12-18 are free. Call (843) 312-2876 or email lynes@tds.net.

Brady Bates Redfish Open

The Brady Bates Youth Redfish Open Scholarship Tournament is scheduled April 10 out of Buck Hall Landing. The tournament is part of the Student Angler League Tournament Trail. Visit salttfishing.com for information.