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 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.
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"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?
"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," Ruth said. "Not only is the number of adult gobblers expected to be down, 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 bottom line, is it will take a couple of years of better reproduction to overcome poor reproduction the last three years, Ruth said.
In York County (game zone 2), turkey season runs from April 1st to May 1st.