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February 15, 2008

Wild turkey season forecast 'fair' in 2008

An estimated 50,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming spring wild turkey season, generating more than $16 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina’s economy. The state’s chief wild turkey biologist said the forecast is only fair for most areas.

The 2008 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 that make up Game Zones 1-5. The season opens March 15 and runs through May 1 on private lands only in Game Zone 6: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties.

Saturday, March 29 is a Youth Turkey Hunt Day in areas where the season opens on April 1. On this day, youths 17 and under 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. 

This year, a high percentage of hunters will receive their tags by mail the last week in February. Hunters can also order tags online. For those hunters that do not get tags by mail, tags and the 2008 Turkey Brochure will be available the first week in March at DNR offices and many 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 restrictions for certain Wildlife Management Areas. Turkey hunting regulations apply to both public and private lands in most cases. No turkey hunting is permitted 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.
           
Hunters are reminded that although they must still possess and use turkey tags, taking harvested turkeys to check stations is not required. Hunters will also notice that turkey tags now include security features that require the hunter to notch or mark the day and month of kill on the tag prior to tagging.
           
The outlook for the 2008 spring season is only fair for most areas, according to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project supervisor for DNR. As was the case the last two years, it appears that wild turkey reproduction was poor to very poor in most regions based on the annual brood survey conducted by DNR staff and many volunteers. Although wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May in South Carolina, the survey does not take place until late summer. Therefore, the survey statistics document poults (young turkeys) that actually survived and entered the population going into the fall. Although average brood size was good with hens averaging 3.6 poults, 58 percent of hens observed had no poults at all by late summer leading to a total recruitment ratio of 1.5, which is the lowest figure since the survey began in 1982. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population.
           
"In the Southeast," Ruth said, "Mother Nature often plays a big role in turkey populations with heavy rainfall coupled with cool temperatures during the spring nesting and brood rearing season leading to poor reproductive success." However, that does not appear to be the case last year. Although many hunters were concerned about the record cold event that the state experienced at Easter, Ruth said research in states that frequently have freezing temperatures during the nesting season did not find cold temperatures alone to be a big cause of mortality. Chilling of poults associated with wetting appears to be more important. Additionally, the timing of our late freeze was too early in the reproductive season to cause a significant problem.
           
However, last summer was extremely dry and although dry conditions are typically good for turkey reproduction, there is likely a limit to what constitutes dry in terms of being beneficial to turkeys. Under the conditions that much of the state experienced last summer, the production of food in the form of seeds and insects could have been limited, as could the vegetative growth that is important brood rearing cover.
           
What does poor reproduction by turkeys for three consecutive years mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth said: "With poor reproduction the last three years, the number of mature gobblers (2 years and older) available during the spring of 2008 will likely be lower across most of the state. Not only is the number of adult gobblers expected to be down in 2008, the survey results indicate that the number of jakes (immature gobblers) will be low as well. The survey has documented poor reproduction the last three years, and it is supported by a decline in turkey harvest each of the last three years. The statewide turkey population is estimated at 90,000 birds, which is good, but with three years of poor reproduction this figure is the lowest in recent years."

"The bottom line," Ruth said, "Is that it will take a couple of years of better reproduction to overcome poor reproduction the last three years."

For more information on wild turkeys including how to order turkey tags online, the 2008 Turkey Brochure, the 2007 Summer Turkey Brood Survey or the results from the 2007 spring gobbler season.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.


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