Wildlife - Wild Turkeys

2016 Wild Turkey Summer Survey

Wild Turkey Reproduction Showing Small Signs Of Improvement

Annually since the early 1980's, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts a Summer Turkey Survey to estimate reproduction and recruitment of wild turkeys in South Carolina. The survey involves agency wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers, as well as many volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the general public.

Although wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May in South Carolina, the survey does not take place until late summer, according to Jay Cantrell, DNR Assistant Big Game Program Coordinator. Therefore, the survey statistics document poults (young turkeys) that actually survived and entered the fall population.

"Reproduction in turkeys has generally been low for the last decade", said Cantrell. "This year, average brood size of 3.8 poults remained good, but the total recruitment ratio was 1.8, a less than desirable figure but an improvement over the previous three years. This low figure was driven by a high percentage of hens (53%) that had no poults at all by late summer. Just as the total recruitment ratio showed small signs of improvement, the percentage of hens without poults statistic was the best it has been since 2011. Recruitment ratio has averaged 1.6 over the last 5 years, keep in mind that 2.0 is somewhat of a break even mark. In fact, when turkey populations were expanding during the 1980's recruitment ratio averaged 3.5. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. "It is basically a good news, bad news kind of year" said Cantrell "Reproduction was poor in most of the state and definitely lower than we would like to see, but numbers are better than the last few years. Although statewide numbers were less than favorable, the Southern Coastal Plain region did show signs of good reproduction with a recruitment ratio of 2.2, an average brood size of 4 and only 44% of hens without poults. Things are improving but not we're not back where we need to be to see widespread improvement in the turkey population in South Carolina."

Unlike deer, wild turkeys are much more susceptible to significant fluctuations in reproduction and recruitment. Lack of reproductive success is often associated with bad weather (cold and wet) during nesting and brood rearing season. However, there are a host of predators that take advantage of turkey nests and broods including; raccoons, opossums, snakes, foxes, bobcats, and numerous avian predators. Coyotes which are not native but are now well established in the state can be added to the list of turkey predators. Turkeys naturally have high reproductive potential and are therefore able to maintain populations in spite of predation and other mortality factors. The problem is that we have not been getting much "bounce back" amid years of poor recruitment.

What does reproduction last summer mean for the spring turkey hunter? Cantrell indicated, "Spring harvest trends have followed trends in reproduction for many years. For example, the harvest in 2015 was down significantly which was not a surprise because reproduction in 2013 was the lowest on record. The 2016 spring harvest showed a 10 percent increase in harvest over 2015. Just as the reduced harvest in 2015 was explained by the all-time low reproduction in 2013, the increase in harvest seen in 2016 was likely a result of slightly better reproduction in both 2014 and 2015 which lead to an increase in turkey numbers in many parts of the state. However, in spite of the increase in 2016 harvest levels remains 34 percent below the record harvest established in 2002. The association between changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolina's turkey harvest and reproductive data sets. Based on this information we expect to see another slight increase in the harvest in the spring of 2017."

Finally, the gobbler to hen ratio during last summer's survey was 0.48 which is the lowest since the year 2000, said Cantrell. Low gobbler to hen ratios can affect the quality of hunting because hens are extremely available which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters."

"The bottom line," Cantrell said, "is the state's turkey population is about 35 percent below record levels that we saw 15 years ago. This year showed a slight uptick over the last three years but additional improvements and better reproduction for several years is needed to get the population back up. That is the nice thing about turkeys though; given the right conditions they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time."

Anyone interested in participating in the annual Summer Turkey Survey is encouraged to sign-up. The survey period is July 1-August 29 annually and those who participate typically spend a reasonable amount of time outdoors during that time period. Cooperators obviously must be able to identify wild turkeys and must be comfortable in telling the difference between hens, poults, and gobblers. If you would like to participate in the survey, contact Jay Cantrell at cantrellj@dnr.sc.gov. You will be added to the cooperator list and receive materials at the end of June annually. Those interested in the survey can also download instructions and survey forms at the following website:
http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/turkey/volunbroodsurvey.html

Figure 1. Map of physiographic regions for 2016 Summer Turkey Survey

Map of physiographic regions for 2016 Summer Turkey Survey.

Table 1. Summary of reproductive data for 2016 Summer Turkey Survey by region.

Region Gobbler Hen Ratio No. Hens w/Poults No. Hens w/o Poults (%) No. Poults Avg. Brood Size Total Recruitment Ratio
Piedmont 0.39 486 504 (51) 1,800 3.7 1.8
Midlands 0.58 39 113 (74)   147 3.8 1.0
Northern Coastal 0.38 95 175 (65) 339 3.6 1.3
Southern Coastal 0.69 273 211 (44) 1,084 4.0 2.2
Statewide 0.48 893 1,003 (53) 3,370 3.8 1.8

Table 2. Statewide Summer Turkey Survey reproductive data 2011-2016.

Year Gobbler Hen Ratio No. Hens w/Poults No. Hens w/o Poults (%) No. Poults Avg. Brood Size Total Recruitment Ratio
2012 0.78 1,208 1,472 (55) 5,085 4.2 1.9
2013 0.70 810 1,588 (66) 3.169 3.9 1.3
2014 0.60 983 1,403 (59) 3,834 3.9 1.6
2015 0.50 1,077 1,543 (59) 3,829 3.6 1.5
2016 0.48 893 1,003 (53) 3,370 3.8 1.8
Average 0.61 994 1,402 (58) 3,857 3.9 1.6

Table 3. 2016 Summer Turkey Survey Results by County

County No. Observ. No. Poults No. Hens w/ Poults No. Hens w/o Poults No. Hens % Hens w/o Poults No. Gobblers No. Unid. Total Turkeys Observed
Abbeville 39 65 25 43 68 63 25 0 158
Aiken 79 50 14 42 56 75 53 14 173
Allendale 30 66 20 57 77 74 26 23 192
Anderson 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bamberg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Barnwell 61 200 44 22 66 33 38 38 342
Beaufort 17 87 26 26 52 50 24 2 165
Berkeley 73 333 85 32 117 27 101 14 565
Calhoun 1 18 4 0 4 0 0 0 22
Charleston 40 122 32 35 67 52 51 0 240
Cherokee 15 35 12 53 65 82 2 0 102
Chester 64 124 27 78 105 74 32 12 273
Chesterfield 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Clarendon 1 8 4 3 7 43 0 0 15
Colleton 49 85 28 27 55 49 59 47 246
Darlington 8 35 8 8 16 50 5 0 56
Dillon 13 41 11 8 19 42 3 20 83
Dorchester 16 31 6 7 13 54 23 3 70
Edgefield 14 34 13 10 23 43 1 8 66
Fairfield 56 139 51 70 121 58 50 15 325
Florence 4 4 1 10 11 91 13 11 39
Georgetown 43 70 22 38 60 63 15 0 145
Greenville 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Greenwood 40 131 38 26 64 41 34 0 229
Hampton 10 90 14 2 16 13 0 0 106
Horry 14 53 16 18 34 53 6 7 100
Jasper 5 17 4 0 4 0 8 0 29
Kershaw 6 13 4 5 9 56 0 0 22
Lancaster 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Laurens 22 89 34 17 51 33 16 4 160
Lee 2 3 1 1 2 50 0 0 5
Lexington 1 0 0 1 1 100 0 0 1
McCormick 12 34 13 3 16 19 10 1 61
Marion 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marlboro 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Newberry 48 221 39 24 63 38 33 13 330
Oconee 14 23 8 10 18 56 6 1 48
Orangeburg 9 53 14 3 17 18 3 2 75
Pickens 32 120 41 41 82 50 28 4 234
Richland 17 10 2 25 27 93 16 0 53
Saluda 17 73 22 11 33 33 7 18 131
Spartanburg 40 129 38 40 78 51 44 4 255
Sumter 10 18 6 31 37 84 14 0 69
Union 121 579 124 78 202 39 99 6 886
Williamsburg 70 163 41 98 139 71 65 38 405
York 3 4 1 0 1 0 1 6 12
State Total 1,116 3,370 893 1,003 1,896 53 911 311 6,488

The 2016 Summer Turkey Brood Survey above is provided in Adobe® Acrobat® (PDF) format. Adobe® Reader® is required to open this file and is available as a free download from the Adobe® Web site.