Enquirer Herald

Brad Harvey: S.C. turkey harvest plummets

This past spring, more than 45,000 hunters took part in South Carolina’s annual turkey season and our state Department of Natural Resources has released the results of this year’s harvest.

As expected, the numbers were down considerably.

With an estimated harvest of 16,248 birds, the spring turkey harvest was down about 15 percent from 2013 and down cumulatively 36 percent from the record harvest established in 2002, said Charles Ruth, S.C. DNR Deer and Wild Turkey Project coordinator.

“This year’s decrease in harvest is likely due to decreased reproduction during the summer of 2012 and 2013,” according to a statement from the agency.

Other information provided by DNR showed that 45,949 hunters roamed the Palmetto State’s woods, each spending an average of five days in the field during the month-long season.

The rate of success was around 22 percent for harvesting at least one gobbler and 36 percent of all of the birds taken fell during the first week of April.

“Finally, hunter opinion on the turkey population indicated that it was viewed as decreasing and this opinion coincides with the declining harvest and reproductive trends,” the report stated.

Our state’s turkey season is April 1 to May 1, for all of the state except for 12 counties in the Lowcountry, where it opens in mid-March on private lands.

During July and August, DNR’s wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers, along with members of the public, participate in a turkey observation study to get an idea of the prior spring’s reproduction results.

This is a great indicator of the overall turkey population for couple of years that follow.

Despite a slight uptick in 2010 and 2011, reproduction and recruitment rates of wild turkeys have been relatively poor during the past decade or so and this has been evident in the significant decline in the overall turkey harvest of recent years.

The first rise in harvest numbers since 2005 was in 2012.

The top counties in the state for birds taken were Williamsburg, Laurens, Berkeley, Union and Fairfied.

That said, the agency believes that a better method for comparing areas is the “harvest per unit area” method, which breaks it down by the square mile.

Incorporating this method brings an entirely different result, showing the top counties to be Union, Laurens, Cherokee, Spartanburg and Greenville.

Safety can’t take a day off

During my nearly 47 years, I have both loved and lost a lot of people, and there’s not anything else that brings so much pain.

Even if you don’t value your own life, would you really want to put your family and friends through that if the choice were yours?

Deer hunting is an inherently dangerous sport if the hunter chooses not to follow a few common sense safety practices that I’ve preached about many times in this column.

You might be thinking that this is because the sport involves firearms, but the reality is that there are few accidental shootings in the hunting world.

The majority of the time the culprit is a careless hunter who chooses to climb into a treestand without wearing a safety harness.

If you read this column with any regularity, it’s quite possible that you’re asking yourself, “Didn’t he just write about treestand safety recently?”

I sure did.

It was in August during “Treestand Safety Month” that I tried to explain how important the use of a certified “Fall Arrest System,” often referred to as a safety harness, is and why no deer hunter should enter the woods without one.

This week, however, a local hunter found out the hard way why using one is so important, and he’s lucky to be alive.

I’m not sure that he feels very lucky at the moment. The word I’ve received is that his injuries include several broken vertebrae along with a broken sternum, pelvis and many other things.

After he didn’t return home from his hunt deep in the woods around Hickory Grove, his wife entered the woods in search of him and found him at the base of the tree where he landed following the 20-foot fall.

Once help arrived he was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, and now finds himself with a long road ahead just to get back to a normal everyday life.

This accident, like so many others, probably didn’t have to happen.

Although it’s impossible to know the true number of deaths from treestand accidents each year, since hospitals aren’t required to report the cause, it is known that the number exceeds 500 annually. Many more are seriously injured.

Remember: You can’t hit the ground if you’re attached to the tree. Please wear it.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.