Wild Turkey Harvest in South Carolina Increases Slightly this Spring
Over 40,000 turkey hunters take to the woods annually in South Carolina with hopes of harvesting a wily gobbler, and the 2011 spring turkey season was no exception.
With an estimated harvest of 17,085 birds, the spring turkey harvest was up about one percent from 2010, the second increase in as many years. Although the harvest was up in 2011, it was still 33 percent below the record harvest established in 2002, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Wild Turkey Project supervisor. This year's increase in harvest is likely due to much better reproduction that occurred last year.
South Carolina's spring wild turkey season opens April 1 and closes May 1 in most areas of the state and on all public lands with turkey hunting. The season opens March 15 on private lands in 12 Lowcountry counties in the state. Annually, spring turkey hunters contribute more than $30 million in direct expenditures to South Carolina's economy.
Results of the 2011 spring turkey season>>>
Each summer during July and August, DNR wildlife biologists, technicians, conservation officers, and private cooperators participate in an annual turkey observation survey. Reproduction in wild turkeys has been poor seven of the last nine years and the spring harvest following each year of low recruitment has been down.
On the other hand, reproduction in 2010 was up substantially compared to previous years resulting in more birds available for harvest in 2011. As expected however, the increase in harvest in 2011 was related to the harvest of juvenile birds or jakes rather than mature gobblers. In fact, the harvest of jakes as a percent of the total harvest in 2011 was the highest since 2005. The harvest of adult gobblers was actually down in 2011, said Ruth, however, based on the increase in jakes this year it is anticipated that there will be more adult birds available in 2012. This association between subtle changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolina’s turkey harvest and reproductive data set.
Information on the 2010 Summer Turkey Survey>>>
Top counties for total turkey harvest were Fairfield, Williamsburg, Newberry, Orangeburg, and Berkeley. However, because counties vary in size, a better method of comparing harvests between counties is the harvest per unit area, for example turkeys harvested per square mile. Using this method top counties were Fairfield, Cherokee, Newberry, Union, and Pickens.
With the elimination of the check-in requirement for turkeys, hunters may wonder how turkey harvest figures are derived now. According to Ruth, “We are now using a Turkey Hunter Survey to estimate the harvest and the survey provides a more accurate estimate of the actual total harvest of birds in the state. Check stations worked well in the early years of turkey hunting but they only provided a minimum count of harvested birds. The decision to eliminate the check-in requirement was made due to shortcomings of the system including deterioration of compliance with the check-in requirement, complaints from hunters regarding the inconvenience of check stations, and costs associated with the check station system.”
Prior to eliminating the check-in requirement, DNR conducted surveys in order to document the rate of noncompliance, as well as, to determine the relationship between harvest figures obtained from check stations and those obtained from surveys. As would be expected, harvest figures obtained from surveys are higher than those from check stations due to lack of compliance with the check-in requirement.”
Other statistics from this year’s survey indicate that there were approximately 40,454 turkey hunters with the average hunter spending about 6 days in the field. Total effort expended by all hunters was approximately 190,000 days in 2011. The success rate was about 26 percent in harvesting at least one gobbler and the week of the season during which the most turkeys were harvested was the first week in April.