Pat Robertson reports elsewhere in the magazine about a piece of legislation making its way through the general assembly that would make two big changes in turkey hunting regulations: setting a unified statewide season and reducing the bag limit from five to three birds.
These are changes that are long overdue, especially as South Carolina hunters come to grips with the fact that things ain’t what they used to be. The spring wild-turkey harvest has been dropping for about 10 years, and the statewide hatch has been poor for a half-dozen or so years.
You can debate why this is happening — habitat change, drought, coyotes — but you can’t debate that states across the Southeast appear all to have turkey populations that are in decline. North Carolina is the exception, because its turkey restoration program only ended a few years ago and its flock is still expanding and growing in new areas.
One part of the legislation would put in place a uniform statewide season that begins March 20 and ends May 5. That eliminates the two-week jump that hunters get in the Lowcountry, and it should effectively end the practice that biologists often refer to as “hunter migration.” In other words, hunters from the Upstate have been invading the Lowcountry for two weeks before their own season has been opening on April 1. It puts more hunters in the woods during the last week of March, which is considered a peak in the gobbling. It extends the season five days on the back side after almost all the hens have gone on the nest; if you can talk a reticent gobbler into walking into shotgun range, his death won’t have any effect on the number of hens bred.
The statewide bag limit of three bearded birds is an even better idea. Data from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ mail surveys indicates that an extremely small number of hunters take more than three gobblers in a season; in many cases, those accomplishing that feat are hunting the entire March 15-May 1 season that’s already in place. A fourth “bonus bird” restricted to bowhunters is an interesting idea. How it might affect the harvest remains to be seen, but it’s not likely to add too many birds to the harvest.
It’s been reported that SCDNR and the National Wild Turkey Federation are on board with the proposed changes. Those two groups doubtlessly know more about the statewide flock than any other group, the complaints of individual hunters notwithstanding. They’re also more aware of how South Carolina stacks up with what other Southeastern states are experiencing. This change is nothing but a step in the right direction.