Following upon the release of discouraging harvest data for the 2014 turkey season, there is at least a glimmer of hope in the poult recruitment for 2014, but not quite enough to jump-start a recover of South Carolina’s statewide flock.
According to biologist Charles Ruth of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, this year’s hatch was slightly better than in 2013, but still below average and not what the population needed to recover from a series of down years.
“Reproduction in turkeys has generally been poor for the last decade,” said Ruth, SCDNR’s deer and turkey project leader. “This year, the average brood size of 3.9 poults per hen remained relatively consistent, and the total recruitment ratio of 1.6 was actually up about 23 percent from 2013. However, that is tempered by the fact that the 2013 recruitment was the lowest … since the survey began in 1982.
“This figure was driven by a high percentage of hens, 59 percent, that had no poults at all by late summer. At the regional level, it appears that with the exception of the lower coastal plain, reproduction was poor in most of the state.
Ruth said that lack of reproductive success is often association with cold, wet weather during nesting and brood-rearing season. However, there are a host of predators that take advantage of turkey nests and broods.
“Turkeys naturally have high reproductive potential and are therefore able to maintain populations in spite of predation and other mortality factors,” Ruth said. “The problem is that we have not been getting much ‘bounce back’ amid years of poor survival.”
Ruth said poor reproduction in 2014 means more bad news for turkey hunters.
“Spring harvest trends have followed trends in reproduction for many years,” Ruth said. “As was expected, with poor reproduction in 2012 and 2013, the spring harvest in 2014 was down significantly. The percentage of jakes, juvenile males, harvested in 2014 was the lowest on record, supporting the record low reproductive data from last year. The record low reproduction in 2013 will not be fully felt until the 2015 spring season because 2-year-old gobblers in 2015 would have been hatched in 2013, and that simply did not happen in most parts of the state. Also, the gobbler-to-hen ratio during this summer’s survey was 0.60, which is the lowest since the year 2000. Low gobbler-to-hen ratios can affect the quality of hunting because hens are extremely available, which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters.”
Ruth said the bottom line is the state’s turkey population is about 35-percent below record levels of 12 years ago.
“We need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up,” Ruth said. “That is the good thing about turkey populations. Given the right conditions they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time.
“But based on our harvest in 2014 and three-straight years classified as poor recruitment does not bode well for a increased harvested in 2015,” Ruth said.