The 2014 spring turkey season was poor for South Carolina hunters as the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has reported a 15-percent decline over the 2013 season – which was down from the previous year as well.

According to Charles Ruth, deer and turkey project supervisor for the agency, the estimated harvest, based on extensive surveys, was 16,248, including 14,649 adult gobblers and 1,599 jakes.

“This figure represents a 15-percent decrease from 2013 and a 36-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.

“Reproduction in wild turkeys was generally poor between 2003 and 2009; however, it was much better in both 2010 and 2011,” Ruth said. “This led to a substantial increase in harvest in 2012. However, reproduction returned to poor levels following the 2012 season, resulting in decreased harvests the last two seasons.

“Also interesting in the data is the percentage of juvenile gobblers in the 2014 harvest was the lowest on record and coincident with the lowest recruitment ratio on record, which occurred in the summer of 2013. This association between changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolina’s turkey harvest and reproductive data sets.”

Ruth said he believes think the jake harvest generally corresponds to the number of adult birds in the population, and poor reproduction the past two years has also influenced the number of jakes available.

"Most experienced turkey hunters would much rather harvest an adult gobbler,” Ruth said, “but with poor reproduction in 2012, we had fewer 2-year-olds, and compounded  by the worst recruitment in our record-keeping history in 2013 meant fewer jakes were available in 2014.”         

Ruth said another factor was fewer hunters in the woods. Only 42 percent of all hunters who obtained turkey tags actually hunted turkeys. Based on those figures, Ruth said 9-percent fewer hunters were in the woods, with a 5-percent drop in overall hunter effort.  

The overall harvest last year was 0.7 gobblers per square mile statewide, which Ruth said is still a good level and similar to harvests in other Southeastern states. In terms of harvest per square mile, Union and Laurens counties led with 1.6 turkeys per square mile, followed by Cherokee with 1.5, Spartanburg at 1.4 and Greenville 1.3.

In terms of overall harvest, the top counties were Williamsburg, Laurens, Berkeley, Union and Fairfield.

Ruth said he has the data he needs to make an evaluation for the 2015 season.

“I don’t like to make predictions, but this one is pretty easy based on the historically consistent harvest results based on turkey recruitment,” Ruth said. “With fewer adult gobblers available in 2014 because of poor reproduction in 2012 and the lowest jake harvest ever in 2014 because of the worst recruitment since we’ve kept records in 2013, leads me to the conclusion that I don’t see how we can expect an increase in harvest in 2015. We simply won’t have as many turkeys in the woods next year.”