According to Charles Ruth, the deer and turkey project leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the 2012 harvest was surprisingly good.
"During the 2012 spring season it is estimated that a total of 18,977 adult gobblers and 2,575 jakes were harvested for a statewide total of 21,552 turkeys," Ruth said. "This figure represents a 20-percent increase in harvest from 2011 when a total of 17,085 turkeys were harvested.
"The harvest increase represents what we felt would happen, although the 20-percent increase over 2011 did surprise me. I had thought, based on the recruitment in the previous two years, we'd see a 10- to 12-percent increase, so this is somewhat better than anticipated. But turkeys have the potential to do that. With a couple of good years of recruitment, we can enjoy a big harvest increase. If a change, up or down, of that magnitude occurred in the deer harvest in one year, it would have me concerned. But not so with turkeys."
Ruth said that although the harvest was up substantially in 2012, it's far from a record harvest.
"This harvest level still represents a 15-percent decrease from the record harvest established in 2002 of 25,487 turkeys, as estimated by survey," Ruth said. "The overall reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributable to one primary factor, poor reproduction."
Ruth said that although reproduction in wild turkeys was generally poor between 2003 and 2009, but it was much better in both 2010 and 2011.
"This undoubtedly led to a significant increase in turkeys available during the spring of 2012 and resulted in a significant increase in harvest," Ruth said. "Also, the data documents that most of the harvest increase in 2012 was from adult gobblers, which would have been from the 2010 recruitment class. The 2010 recruitment years was better than 2011, although both were positive for population growth. From a percentage of total harvest, the harvest of jakes, or 1-year old juvenile gobblers, in 2012 actually dropped from about 17 percent of the total in 2011 to 12 percent of the total in 2012."
Ruth said that the recruitment in the summer of 2012 was down so there will not be as many birds entering the population as the past two years.
"Recruitment was down this year but not devastatingly bad," he said. "But that will likely have more impact the following year than in 2013.
"But there are still plenty of adult gobblers in the woods for the 2013 season," Ruth said. "I think we will have a good 2013 season based on that. I don't have a crystal ball, but based on the harvest data from the past two years and the recruitment data since 2010, I think we could with end up with a higher harvest than 2011 but not quite up to the 2012 level if weather and other external factors are equal. That would still make it a pretty good year."