A bill to expand the spring turkey season while shrinking the statewide gobbler limit did not pass during the regular session of the South Carolina Legislature and, since 2014 was the second year of a two-year session, it must be reintroduced next year.
Although the legislation will have to go through the entire process again, supporters believe it will have a strong chance of passage in the 2015 legislative session.
“We worked really hard on it, but our turkey bill kind of took a nosedive at the end of the session,” said Emily Cope, deputy director of wildlife and freshwater fisheries for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
While the bill failed to be brought up for a final vote on the last day of the legislative session, Cope said it has tremendous support, both in the legislature and among turkey hunters, and it will be one of the agency's top legislative priorities in 2015.
The bill introduced by Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) would have standardized the statewide spring turkey season to run March 20-May 5, while reducing the season limit from five to three gobblers. The bill would have cost hunters on private lands in Game Zone 6 one day, while hunters in the other 34 counties and on Wildlife Management Areas would gain 17 days.
The legislation would have established a new statewide season to run March 20-May 5 while reducing the season limit from five male turkeys 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 also would have:
• Allowed hunters to take a fourth gobbler by archery means with a special archery tag.
• Designated the Saturday before March 20 each year as South Carolina Youth Turkey Hunting Day.
• Increased 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.
• Allowed SCDNR to promulgate emergency regulations when necessary to control the harvest of wild turkeys.
Campsen's bill passed three favorable votes in the Senate and was sent to the House, where it was approved, nut with amendments. The major House amendment would have set a sunset provision after three years and require SCDNR to complete studies on how well the changes worked before it could be made into permanent law.
Almost everyone expected the Senate to vote favorably on the bill, with the House amendments, but Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg), sought some adjustments to the bill, and the Senate simply ran out of time, Cope said.
“We thought it was going to happen, and we were very, very close. We have a lot of support. There are a lot of people who want to see this done,” she said. “We've talked with people who have to work all week and can't take time off to turkey hunt. This gives them another Saturday to hunt. They like that extra opportunity.”