An estimated 45,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming wild turkey season, generating more than $16 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina’s economy.
The 2006 wild turkey season runs April 1 through May 1 for all Wildlife Management Areas where turkey hunting is allowed and on private lands in 34 counties. The season opens March 15 and runs through May 1 on private lands only in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties.
Saturday, March 25 is the statewide Youth Turkey Hunt Day, on which youths ages 10-17 who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult (age 21 and older) may hunt turkeys. Only the youth can take or attempt to take turkeys. Tagging requirements remain in place for this special youth day.
Though turkey hunters in South Carolina will still be required to possess and use turkey tags, taking harvested turkeys to check stations will not be required as it was in the past. Tags, as well as the 2006 Turkey Brochure, will still be available at S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offices and most local businesses that were formerly Big Game Check Stations. Tags are free, and the brochure describes all areas open for hunting, current regulations, and special bag limits for certain Wildlife Management Areas. Turkey hunting regulations apply to both public and private lands in most cases. No turkey hunting is permitted on turkey restoration sites that have not been formally opened by DNR or on any Wildlife Management Area not listed in the spring turkey brochure. To obtain a copy by mail write: Spring Turkey Brochure, DNR, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202, call the DNR Columbia office at (803) 734-3886 or visit the DNR Web site at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/regs/Turkeyharvest.html.
Last year, at the request of the DNR, the South Carolina General Assembly amended the law specifying that all harvested turkeys must be checked at an official check station on the day the turkey is harvested. DNR’s decision to request this change came after several years of study and for several reasons, according to Charles Ruth Jr., DNR Deer/Turkey Project supervisor.
Many hunters believe that the reason turkeys were required to be checked is so turkey-hunting laws could be enforced, but this is not the case. “The primary reason for checking turkeys in the past is so the DNR could get turkey harvest information,” Ruth said. “In reality, turkey tags, not check stations, form the basis for wild turkey hunting enforcement, and no changes are being made to tagging requirements.”
In preparing for the change in the check-in requirement, DNR Wildlife Section biologists have been using survey research the last few years in order to develop harvest figures to compare with check station figures, according to Ruth. Extensive surveys, using both mail and telephone techniques, indicate that far more turkeys are being harvested annually than are reported at check stations.
“This is partially explained by the fact that about 20 percent of hunters admit to not checking harvested turkeys,” Ruth said. “If this many hunters admit to not checking birds, the actual percentage could potentially be much higher. The bottom line is information coming from check stations represents only a minimal turkey harvest, and today there are more reliable and cost effective methods for getting this type of harvest data. This is exactly the reason surveys will be the primary tool used to gather turkey harvest data in the future.”
In hindsight, the wide distribution of turkeys now may account for some of the decline in compliance with the check-in requirement. Compared to 20 years ago when turkeys were not widely available, today’s hunters can hunt closer to home; therefore, it is not as convenient to find a check station.
“We saw this same phenomenon with deer check stations in the Piedmont more than 10 years ago,” Ruth said. “As the distribution of the resource increased, hunters stayed closer to home and check-in compliance decreased.”
Hunter convenience, as well as the DNR’s recent manpower and financial situation, entered into the decision to eliminate the turkey check-in requirement, as well. Even with more than 300 check stations in the state, there have been complaints by hunters that it can be difficult to conveniently locate an open check station in some cases. Also, servicing the check stations involves labor and supplies that will represent savings to the DNR.
In addition to turkey tags, turkey hunters must also have a state hunting license, big-game permit and Wildlife Management Area (WMA) permit if hunting on WMA land.