South Carolina turkey hunters would get an expanded turkey season – with a reduction in the season limit – if two identical bills on the fast track in the S.C. Legislature this session are passed and signed into law.
Both a Senate bill to revise the turkey season and limit and a companion House bill were introduced March 4. The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Chip Campsen III of Charleston, was reported favorably by the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee on March 19 and could get first reading on the Senate floor as early as next week. The House bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pitts of Laurens and 15 other House members, is currently being considered by the House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.
The legislation would standardize the spring turkey season statewide, eliminating the March 15 opening on private lands in Game Zone 6, which includes Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties. Hunters in those counties would lose one day in the new season format – from 48 hunting days to 47 – while hunters in the other 34 counties and on Wildlife Management Areas would gain 17 hunting days.
The legislation would establish a statewide season to run March 20-May 5, while reducing the season limit from five to three gobblers. Currently, the statewide gobbler season runs April 1-May 1 with the exception of private lands in Game Zone 6.
The legislation would also:
· Allow hunters to take a fourth gobbler by archery means with a special archery tag;
· Designate the Saturday before March 20 each year as South Carolina Youth Turkey Hunting Day;
· Increase the maximum fine for illegally taking or attempting to take a wild turkey from $100 to $500 and require a person convicted to also reimburse the agency up to $500 for each illegally harvested turkey;
· And allow the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to promulgate emergency regulations when necessary to control the harvest of wild turkeys.
SCDNR officials said the proposed change will guarantee all turkey hunters in South Carolina the same hunting opportunity, while attempting to address the issue of declining turkey populations.
“I think we will have the support of hunters on this,” said Emily Cope, deputy director of SCDNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “We have had close communication with the National Wild Turkey Federation, and they are supporting it.”
Larry Bachman of Columbia, an avid turkey hunter, agreed.
“The main good I see out of it is that the Upstate hunters will not be traveling to the lower part of the state to hunt since their season will open at the same time. They kill a lot of birds in the lower part of the state, so I think that will help us a lot,” said Bachman.
Bachman said the later opening and closing dates might also help hunters because the strutting and breeding season is often later in the spring.
Although he historically has harvested his season limit of five gobblers most seasons, Bachman agreed with Cope that the reduced limit will probably have little effect on hunter success.
“When you look at our data, a majority of hunters don't harvest more than three turkeys. It takes a lot of work to get five turkeys in a season,” said Cope. “And we think if we can get the bag limit down it will be enough to offset the expanded opportunity to hunt and help our turkey population build back up some.”
“Some hunters I have talked to are upset about losing that fourth and fifth bird, but I can live with going to three,” Bachman said.
Cope is hopeful the legislation will pass this year.
“It has got a lot of positive response, both from turkey hunters and from members of the General Assembly,” she said.