Well, they got it half of it correct this time. That’s about the best that can be said for the state legislature, which passed a bill in May that will change turkey hunting regulations for the better across South Carolina. That’s the glass half-full view.
The glass half-empty view is that the legislature once again had the opportunity to step in and do something to help South Carolina’s deer herd by addressing the fact that our harvest is off by more than one-third over the past dozen years. It failed, tabling legislation that passed one chamber but didn’t make it through the other.
We’ll go with the half-full view first. Turkey harvests across the Southeast have uniformly been down over the past decade or so. Coyotes are a problem across the region, and South Carolina is also faced with a loss of habitat caused by development and by the cycle of timber harvest across the state.
With the backing of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the legislature set uniform, statewide turkey season dates at March 20 through May 5, and it set a three-bird season bag limit. It made the annual Youth Day Hunt a two-day Youth Hunt Weekend on the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding March 20. The bill also increases fines for turkey hunting violations and sets a $500 fee for reimbursement of turkeys taken illegally, and it gives SCDNR the ability to establish emergency regulations when necessary to control the harvest of wild turkeys.
The legislation eliminates the “split season” that had been in effect for decades, opening the season in 12 Lowcountry counties on March 15 and opening the season in the rest of the state on April 1 — with both seasons ending May 1. One thing ending the split season should do is eliminate much of what biologists call “hunter migration” — hunters leaving their home areas when their season is closed and heading across the state to hunt where the season is open.
The drop from a five-bird to a three-bird season limit won’t affect the great majority of turkey hunters in South Carolina, but it will wind up saving quite a few birds from showing up as special guests for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. SCDNR’s report on the 2014 spring season said that only 22 percent of all active turkey hunters actually harvested a bird. Less than one hunter in 25 filled his five-bird limit in 2014.
Now, the legislature’s job is to take the deer bill back up in next year’s session and show some movement toward letting SCDNR address the problems facing our whitetails without continuing to tie biologists’ hands behind their backs.
Most deer hunters agree that South Carolina needs a statewide bag limit on whitetails and some restrictions on the number of bucks that can be killed. Why wait any longer?