Monday, March 24, 2014
It's almost a given: drive just about anywhere in Williams-burg County and you will come across turkeys. In fact, fields can be the stage for a crop of 60 or more hens and jakes meandering along while they scratch for bugs and seeds.
Behind deer hunting, spring gobbler hunting is the second most popular hunting pursuit in the state. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates 50,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming spring turkey season, generating an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina's economy.
A 2013 DNR Turkey Hunter Survey of the spring season harvest of 19,211 jakes and gobblers taken in South Carolina represents a 20 percent decrease from 2012 where 21,552 birds were harvested.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), in recent years national turkey populations have been declining. The NWTF, which has been a champion in wild turkey restoration, estimates the population in 1973 was approximately 1.5 million birds in North America, has seen a 15 percent decline since its historic high of 7 million birds.
South Carolina is one of nine states to see 30 percent or more in population decline. The main reasons for the decline are bad weather and a loss of quality habitat. Wild turkey recruitment (young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population) decreased substantially in 2013 likely due to record rains statewide this summer.
In addition, the NWTF estimates 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat is lost every day. That is equal to an area the size of Yellowstone National Park every year.
According to the DNR, although timber management activities stimulated the growth in South Carolina's turkey population in the 1980s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old - a situation that does not support turkeys. Add that to Winter Storm Pax that wiped out thousands of acres of timber; hunters may be in for an unproductive season.
The DNR is looking for volunteers to participate in the annual Summer Turkey Survey. The survey period is July 1-August 29, annually and those who participate obviously must be able to identify wild turkeys and must be comfortable in telling the difference between hens, poults, and gobblers.
To participate in the survey, send your name and address to Summer Turkey Survey, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202. You will be added to the cooperator list and receive materials at the end of June annually.
Or you can download the instructions and survey forms at www.dnr.sc.gov/ wildlife/turkey/volunbroodsurvey.html.