An estimated 50,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming turkey season, generating an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina's economy.

The 2012 wild turkey season begins April 1 on private lands in 34 counties that make up Game Zones 1-5 and on April 2 for all Wildlife Management Areas statewide where turkey hunting is allowed. The season opens March 15 on private lands only in Game Zone 6: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties.

The season closes May 1 throughout the state.

Saturday, March 31 is Youth Turkey Hunt Day in areas where the season opens on April 1. On this day, youths 17 and under who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult (age 21 and older) may hunt turkeys. Only the youth can take or attempt to take turkeys. Tagging requirements remain in place for this special youth day.

This year, most hunters will receive their turkey tags by mail during the weeks before the season opens. Hunters can determine if they will get tags by mail by checking their hunting license. If "Turkey Tags" appears on their hunting license the tags should be mailed to them. If "Turkey Tags" does not appear on the license then they will need to order the tags. Turkey tags can be ordered online or an application for the tags can be downloaded (Pdf file). Hunters should remember to specifically request their turkey tags each year when they get their hunting license. For those hunters who do not get tags by mail, handwritten tags will be available in early March at S.C. Department of Natural Resource (DNR) offices and some local businesses that were formerly Big Game Check Stations. Turkey tags are free.

DNR is no longer publishing a standalone spring turkey hunting brochure because the rules and regulations pertaining to turkey hunting are now included in the annual Hunting and Fishing Rules and Regulations brochure that is published each summer. The brochure describes all areas open for turkey hunting, current regulations, and special restrictions for certain Wildlife Management Areas. Turkey hunting regulations apply to both public and private lands in most cases. No turkey hunting is permitted on any Wildlife Management Area not listed in the turkey regulations. The 2011-2012 Hunting and Fishing Rules and Regulations is available at most locations that sell hunting licenses. To obtain a copy by mail write: 2011-2012 Hunting and Fishing Rules and Regulations, SCDNR, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202, call the DNR Columbia office at (803) 734-3886 or visit the DNR website to get information specific to turkey season.

The outlook for the 2012 spring season is better for most areas of the state than it has been the last few years, according to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project supervisor for DNR. Annually since the early 1980's, DNR conducts a Summer Turkey Survey to estimate reproduction and recruitment of turkeys in South Carolina. The survey involves agency wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers, as well as many volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the general public. Indicators from the survey were better in both 2010 and 2011 compared to previous years.

What does better reproduction mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth indicated, "Harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years and we have seen an over 30 percent decline in turkey harvest since 2002. With better reproduction the last two years the number of turkeys during the spring of 2012 season should be higher. However, although reproduction in wild turkeys was better the last two years most areas of the state will have to overcome less than desirable reproduction that occurred for a number of years prior to 2010. The bottom line," Ruth said, "we need several successive years of better reproduction to get turkey numbers back up in the state."

For more information on wild turkeys including how to order turkey tags online, the 2012 Turkey Regulations, the 2011 Summer Turkey Brood Survey or the results from the 2011 spring gobbler season.