The harvest data from the 2013 turkey season is in, and according to Charles Ruth, the deer and turkey project leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, hunter success fell appreciably from 2012 levels.
Ruth said that, based on data from surveys, hunters killed an estimated 17,101 adult gobblers and 2,110 jakes this past spring for a total of 19,211 birds – down more than 2,000 birds from 2012 harvest levels.
"This figure represents an 11-percent decrease in harvest from 2012 … and an overall 25-percent decrease from the record harvest established in 2002,” 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, it was much better in both 2010 and 2011, which led to a substantial increase in harvest in 2012.
"However, reproduction returned to lower levels following the 2012 season," he said. “Since birds produced in 2010 and 2011 were subjected to harvest in 2012, there were fewer birds available in 2013. This undoubtedly led to the significant decrease in harvest during the season. (Next season) may be tough as well, because the last real good crop of turkeys in 2010 have been hunted now for three years. Those that have survived are certainly old, smart gobblers. This association between changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolina’s turkey harvest and reproductive data sets.
The statewide harvest rate this past spring was 0.9 gobblers per square mile. The top five counties in harvest per unit area were: Newberry (2.0), Cherokee (1.9), Union (1.9), Abbeville (1.8) and Laurence (1.7).
In terms of total harvest, Newberry, Laurence, Fairfield, Union and Spartanburg were the top five counties, in that order.
Ruth said this year’s survey indicates that approximately 50,752 turkey hunters spent an average of five days a field in South Carolina this past spring. Total effort by all hunters was approximately 240,256 hunter-days. Hunter success was approximately 20 percent, with 37 percent of all birds being tagged during the first week of April.
Ruth said South Carolina's spring wild turkey season opens April 1 and closes May 1 in most areas of the state and on all public lands with turkey hunting. The season opens March 15 on private lands in 12 Lowcountry counties.