The S.C. Department of Natural Resources reported earlier this month that the harvest for the spring wild turkey season was off almost 10 percent from 2007 levels, and that reproduction this past summer was nothing to brag about.
Hunters took 17,304 birds last spring – about one-third below the record harvest of 2002. Top counties in terms of total harvest were: Berkeley (985), Colleton (838), Williamsburg (795), Orangeburg (653) and Fairfield (598). In terms of the number of turkeys harvested per square mile, Bamberg led with 1.9, followed by Pickens (1.6), York (1.3), Cherokee, McCormick and Chester (1.2 each).
Charles Ruth, the turkey project supervisor for SCDNR, said that the drop in harvest was likely due to poor reproduction by turkeys in five of the past six summers.
This past summer wasn't a lot better. Ruth's brood-survey report, also released earlier this month, indicates just fair reproduction – 2.1 poults per hen, overall. He called the hatch "break even" at best.
The best reproduction was in the Lowcountry, where 2.6 poults per hen were observed. The ratio was 2.1 in the upper coastal plain and midlands. Hunters in the piedmont and Upstate will probably suffer next spring; the reproduction was only 1.1 poults per hen.
Ruth said that cold, rainy weather during the hatching period could not be the culprit this year. He feels that the drought may be to blame – as well as an overall decline in habitat.
"Perhaps we have reached a point in time where the relationship between the turkey population and habitat is simply not as good as it was when turkeys were expanding across the state," Ruth said. "We have seen a decline in the deer population in most areas over the past six to eight years, and this is likely linked to the amount of habitat in pine plantations that are greater than 10 years old. This type of habitat simply does not have the high productivity, and it may be playing a role in turkey reproduction."