Wildlife - Wild Turkeys

2017 Wild Turkey Summer Survey

Wild Turkey Reproduction Holding Steady Across the State

Turkey Hen with Poults

Annually since the early 1980s, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has conducted 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. This year over 300 observers recorded 1866 unique observations, seeing over 10,000 turkeys across the state in July and August. This was the best participation in the survey in ten years. More observations lead to higher quality data and better confidence in the information collected.

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 fall population.

Reproduction in turkeys has generally been low for the last twelve years. This year, average brood size of 3.4 poults remained good, but the Total Recruitment Ratio (TRR) was 1.5, a less than desirable figure. This low figure was driven by a high percentage of hens (55%) that had no poults at all by late summer. TRR has averaged 1.5 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. Total Recruitment Ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. Although this observed measure of reproduction was poor in most of the state and definitely lower than we would like to see, the good news is the recruitment index has been stable over the past 5 years. Although we are not seeing an increase in these numbers and we are not where we need to be to see widespread increases in the turkey population in South Carolina, it is encouraging that things seem to have leveled off and the downward trajectory of the population has stalled the last several years.

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, skunks, armadillos, 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. Additionally, feral hogs are expanding on the landscape and can be a significant nest predator. Turkeys naturally have high reproductive potential and are therefore able to maintain populations in spite of predation and other mortality factors.

What does reproduction last summer mean for the spring turkey hunter? 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 led to an increase in turkey numbers in many parts of the state. The 2017 spring harvest (19,171) was up 14 percent over 2016. 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 and the 2016 summer recruitment numbers (TRR=1.8) being the highest since 2012, we can expect to see another increase in the harvest in the spring of 2018.

Finally, the gobbler to hen ratio during last summer's survey was 0.58 which is average for the past 5 years. 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 is this year's turkey harvest was 25 percent below the record level that we saw 15 years ago. However, that 2002 record was a one-time peak and the 2017 harvest estimate is dead on with the average gobbler harvest over the last 22 years. That fact combined with 5 years of stability in the summer survey data offers encouragement that the long term population trend is leveling off and moving toward static. It is possible that following restocking and restoration efforts and the tremendous population growth we experienced following those endeavors that we are now settling into a "new normal" of population levels, reproductive rates and harvest numbers. Fluctuations up and down are not unexpected given the reproductive strategy of turkeys and the multiple factors that influence their success and survival. This inherent instability is the reason that annual monitoring is critical for this species.

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 2017 Summer Turkey Survey

Map of physiographic regions for 2017 Summer Turkey Survey.

Table 1. Summary of reproductive data for 2017 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 0.55 691 807 (54) 2,278 3.3 1.5
Midlands 0.52 185 293 (61) 700 3.8 1.5
Northern Coastal 0.55 151 142 (48) 501 3.3 1.7
Southern Coastal 0.67 382 495 (56) 1,353 3.5 1.5
Statewide 0.58 1,409 1,737 (55) 4,832 3.4 1.5

Table 2. Statewide Summer Turkey Survey reproductive data 2013-2017.

Year Gobbler Hen Ratio No. Hens w/Poults No. Hens w/o Poults (%) No. Poults Avg. Brood Size Total Recruitment Ratio
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
2017 0.58 1,409 1,737(55) 4,832 3.4 1.5
Average 0.57 1,034 1,455 (58) 3,807 3.7 1.5

Table 3. 2017 Summer Turkey Survey Results by County

County Region No. Observ. No. Poults No. Hens w/ Poults No. Hens w/o Poults Total Hens % Hens w/o Poults No. Gobblers No. Unid. Total Turkeys
Abbeville PMT 22 54 13 11 24 46 12 3 93
Aiken MID 92 79 26 87 113 77 75 11 278
Allendale SCP 41 100 34 47 81 58 29 19 229
Anderson PMT 20 56 25 8 33 24 20 2 111
Bamberg SCP 31 71 16 54 70 77 13 1 155
Barnwell SCP 51 98 22 19 41 46 30 17 186
Beaufort SCP 1 0 0 6 6 100 0 0 6
Berkeley SCP 139 263 86 106 192 55 191 65 711
Calhoun MID 27 79 26 53 79 67 30 11 199
Charleston SCP 89 183 66 90 156 58 82 32 453
Cherokee PMT 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chester PMT 65 201 42 80 122 66 93 39 455
Chesterfield MID 14 42 9 23 32 72 24 0 98
Clarendon NCP 37 139 37 30 67 45 49 0 255
Colleton SCP 43 85 26 51 77 66 39 25 226
Darlington MID 30 155 28 8 36 22 13 1 205
Dillon NCP 15 44 11 0 11 0 4 9 68
Dorchester SCP 16 51 13 9 22 41 31 12 116
Edgefield PMT 93 217 76 88 164 54 110 12 503
Fairfield PMT 96 298 77 54 131 41 122 14 565
Florence NCP 9 37 11 2 13 15 8 3 61
Georgetown NCP 27 113 36 38 74 51 37 3 227
Greenville PMT 6 12 6 15 21 71 17 0 50
Greenwood PMT 51 161 55 26 81 32 30 2 274
Hampton SCP 53 307 62 50 112 45 83 14 516
Horry NCP 19 42 18 9 27 33 6 22 97
Jasper SCP 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kershaw MID 24 71 22 29 51 57 14 0 136
Lancaster PMT 10 49 20 1 21 5 5 0 75
Laurens PMT 39 49 27 32 59 54 28 7 143
Lee MID 19 42 16 22 38 58 20 0 100
Lexington MID 12 7 4 31 35 89 4 0 46
Marion NCP 13 21 7 5 12 42 22 3 58
Marlboro MID 2 6 2 3 5 60 0 0 11
McCormick PMT 74 125 60 68 128 53 40 20 313
Newberry PMT 51 105 28 37 65 57 59 10 239
Oconee PMT 52 134 36 32 68 47 33 12 247
Orangeburg SCP 55 195 57 63 120 53 92 15 422
Pickens PMT 99 233 79 126 205 61 63 8 509
Richland MID 38 179 42 15 57 26 45 0 281
Saluda PMT 44 89 33 44 77 57 47 1 214
Spartanburg PMT 59 182 37 55 92 60 66 15 355
Sumter MID 14 40 10 22 32 69 25 3 100
Union PMT 111 279 72 100 172 58 68 10 529
Williamsburg NCP 48 105 31 58 89 65 36 2 232
York PMT 15 34 5 30 35 86 11 4 84
State Total   1866 4832 1409 1737 3146 55 1826 427 10231

The 2017 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.