Nowadays, I absolutely love March. Being bitten by the turkey-hunting bug about 20 years ago didn't hurt, especially when I discovered the early season in the Lowcountry and an occasional foray to neighboring Georgia the last week of the month. Now, I start looking forward to turkey season in February, which gives my wife an extra month of hearing strange noises coming from the basement when I make sure the rubber is still pliable in my mouth calls or take out some sandpaper and tune up my box calls.
This promises to be a very interesting season for South Carolina's turkey hunters. For the first time in quite a few years, we should expect to see more birds than the previous year. At least that's what the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' summer brood survey would seem to indicate.
The survey is a statistical look at what people are seeing, people who live around turkeys, be they biologists, game wardens, park rangers or landowners. During the summer, when hens are raising their broods, these people keep count of how many turkeys they're seeing and what kind: hens, poults or gobblers.
At the end of the summer, Charles Ruth, who heads up SCDNR's wild-turkey project, collects the numbers, crunches them and comes up with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down look at the job the hens did.
For most of the first decade of the 21st century, they didn't do such a bang-up job, but through no fault of their own. Environmental factors are largely responsible for how well young turkeys survive, no matter how hard the momma hens try. Last spring, however, they apparently did a great job, and that has hunters across the Palmetto State excited.
In layman's terms, if every hen in South Carolina hatches two poults in the spring that make it through to Labor Day, the hatch is a push - neither great nor bad. If 50 hens get 75 poults through the summer, that's bad. If, on the other hand, those same 50 hens get 125 poults through to the fall, that's great - and that's what happened last spring.
Ruth's numbers look awesome. The average hen in South Carolina had 2.6 poults survive, which is a great hatch. Even better, observers saw fewer hens that did not have any poults than in previous years - the lowest number in six years - and the number of poults in any specific hen's brood rose by a significant percentage. Better yet, the increase was across the board, in every corner of South Carolina.
The bottom line in all this is that there should be more turkeys in the woods this spring - coyotes be damned. In a local flock, that might mean a half-dozen more jakes and a half-dozen more jennies this spring. The big bump is a year down the road, when those jakes are 2-year-old gobblers who run their mouths a lot and act like the woods are their singles bar, and those jennies are hens getting ready to breed.
"The bottom line is, this type of reproduction is exactly what we need to overcome less-than-desirable reproduction the last few years," Ruth said. "That is the nice thing about turkeys, though; given the right conditions, they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time."