Charles Ruth, the wild turkey program leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said poult survival was down this spring and summer, according to the department's annual brood survey.
"Although reproduction in 2010 and 2011 were the best in a number of years, indicators were not quite as strong in 2012," Ruth said. "The average brood size of 4.2 poults remained consistent with recent years, but statewide, the total recruitment ratio of 1.9 was down about 15 percent. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. This was driven by data indicating (that) 55 percent of hens had no poults at all, a very high percentage – in fact the highest percentage of hens with no poults in 5 years.
"At the regional level, it appears that reproduction was only fair in most of the state, with the lower coastal plain showing slightly better indicators."
Ruth said the only 'fair' reproduction in 2012 will have an impact on turkey hunters in 2013 and beyond.
"Harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years, and we saw a slight increase in harvest last spring (that) coincided with the better reproduction in 2010," he said. "Although reproduction was down this summer, there should be a good carry-over of mature gobblers, 2-year and older birds, available during spring of 2013 due to the good reproduction in 2010 and 2011.
"Another positive note is the gobbler-to-hen ratio remained good with a statewide average of 0.78, the highest in a number of years. Many experts believe that when gobbler-to-hen ratios get below 0.5, the quality of hunting can be impacted because hens are extremely available, which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters."
Ruth said that the bottom line is the state's turkey population remains about 30 percent below record levels of 10 years ago.
"Although the harvest increased a little the last couple of years, we need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up," he said. "That is the nice thing about turkeys, given the right conditions they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time."
The total recruitment ratio was 1.7 for the Piedmont, 2.1 for the Midlands, 1.7 for the Northern Coastal and 2.3 for the South Coastal region.