Opening day for South Carolina's wild turkey hunting season is still more than a month away, but for dedicated hunters — and there are approximately 50,000 turkey hunters in South Carolina — it's never too early to think about heading to the woods.
After several years in which there was a standard statewide season, South Carolina is going back to a split season this year with 40 days of hunting opportunities in all four South Carolina Game Zones.
In Game Zones 3 and 4, which encompass most of the lower half of the state including Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, the season for private lands will run from March 22 to April 30. In Game Zones 1 and 2 the season is April 1-May 10. Check Wildlife Management Areas for specific hunting dates on these properties.
The seasonal bag limit for residents remains at three birds while nonresident hunters will be limited to two birds.
Turkey hunters also should be aware that this year there will be a $5 charge for a set of three turkey tags, which previously were free. Nonresidents will be charged $100 for a set of two tags. Charles Ruth of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said the new fee will pay for the tags and also help fund turkey research.
South Carolina, along with other Southern states, has been experiencing a decline in turkey numbers. The harvest for 2019 was down slightly from the previous year with hunters taking a total of 17,347 birds, 15,783 adult gobblers and 1,591 jakes.
The South Carolina Wild Turkey Summer Survey notes that there has been a decline in turkey productivity since 1988. A news release posted on the DNR website (dnr.sc.gov) in November 2019 points out that the average recruitment prior to 1988 was 3.5 poults per hen; the average recruitment since 1988 has been 2.1, a 40-percent decrease in average recruitment. Since 2010 the recruitment number has been below 2.0. The average for the last five years has been 1.6. The number for last year was 1.4.
The decline in harvest isn't that surprising to Ruth and other biologists throughout the Southeast. Changes in habitat and predation are factors.
"Across the board for nearly 10 years, particularly the last five years, the reproductive index has been really not good at all," Ruth said in November. "There's nothing to support the idea that there are more turkeys in the last few years. That's kinda the message."
Still, it isn't time to press the panic button. We still have a decent population of wild turkeys, and biologists throughout the Southeast are working to turn that trend around.
Trout stocked in lower Saluda
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has begun stocking catchable-sized rainbow and brown trout into the lower Saluda River near Columbia. The fish that are being stocked measure between 8 and 11 inches. SCDNR stocks nearly 30,000 trout each year from December through February in what it calls a "put, grow and take" fishery that relies on stocking to maintain populations.
The trout were raised at the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery in Oconee County and then transported to four locations in the upper two-thirds of the river. The cold waters released from the bottom of Lake Murray provide suitable habitat for the trout, creating a unique and very popular fishery in the Midlands of South Carolina.
The trout grow rapidly after stocking, according to SCDNR and can exceed 20 inches in one to two years.
The lower reach of the Saluda River, from the eastbound I-20 bridge downstream to Stacey's Ledge, is year-round catch-and-release fishing for all species of coldwater trout. It is unlawful to take and retain trout at any time in this section of the river.