Compared to many other pursuits, turkey hunting may be the perfect outlet for outdoors enthusiasts who are paying attention to the current social distancing guidelines. While approximately 50,000 people hunt turkeys in South Carolina, it's mostly a solitary pursuit.
Although Lowcountry hunters with access to private lands have been taking advantage of the state's turkey hunting season since March 22, the rest of the state and those who don't have access to private hunting property can join in this week.
The season opened on private lands in Game Zones 3 and 4 (basically the lower portion of the state) on March 22 and remains open there until April 30. The rest of the state opens April 1 on private lands, with the season extending until May 10 in Game Zones 1 and 2. The season on Wildlife Management Areas statewide is April 1-May 5.
There are some changes hunters should be aware of and Charles Ruth, big game coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, urges hunters to visit the department's website (dnr.sc.gov) and familiarize themselves with the turkey hunting regulations and any changes that may take place.
Wildlife Management Areas remain open, but lottery hunts on the state's Wildlife Management Areas have been canceled. Those who have been drawn to participate in the lottery hunts generally gather at a designated site on the WMA property for instructions, but large gatherings are not a good idea in light of the current coronavirus situation.
The limit for resident hunters is three birds while the limit for non-resident hunters is two birds. But there has been a reduction in the daily bag limit to one bird per day, and hunters can take only one gobbler during the first 10 days of the season.
"If a hunter has already bagged a bird, they cannot bag another until April .The hunter can take another hunter, but he cannot have his shotgun and actively try to harvest a bird. He can guide or call for someone else," Ruth said.
"That was something the legislature did to try and moderate some of the excessive early harvest of these mature toms as it relates to breeding and nesting."
For the first time there is a fee for tags, with resident hunters obtaining three tags for $5 while non-residents will pay $100 for two tags.
This year there's also a new regulation prohibiting the practice of fanning, or reaping, on public lands.
"It's a technique that's gained some popularity in the last six to eight 8 years," Ruth said, explaining that's it's a popular method of hunting in the Midwest. "You take a turkey tail fan or ... some folks use a large picture of a tail fan and either attach it to their gun or hold it on a stick out in front of them and stalk a turkey. In a typical scenario, the bird is out in the field and the hunter hides behind the tail fan and crawls or stalks the bird. It apparently works very well. The birds see that fan and either lock down, or run right at the hunter.
"The reason we have that prohibition on public land is purely a safety issue. There have been a couple of fatalities nationwide related to that. But it does not apply to private property."