Wild Turkey Reproduction Poor This Summer

Heavy rains across most of the state appear to have negatively impacted wild turkey reproduction this spring and summer.

Based on a S.C. Department of Natural Resources survey, heavy rains across most of the state appear to have negatively impacted wild turkey reproduction this spring and summer, according to a state wildlife biologist.Annually, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts a Summer Turkey Brood 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. Unlike survey results from last year, this year’s survey indicates the poorest turkey reproduction in at least six years, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Turkey Project supervisor.

For more information on the Summer Turkey Brood Survey, see the following link on the DNR Web site: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/turkey/2005BroodSurvey.html.

In 2004, wild turkey brood size and recruitment ratio were outstanding, and that likely accounted for the near record harvest of 14,353 gobblers during the spring 2005 season. Turkey hen numbers should have been high going into the spring/summer reproductive cycle; however, survey results indicate that more than 50 percent of hens failed to successfully raise poults (young turkeys). Additionally, those hens that were successful had below-average brood sizes and the overall turkey recruitment ratio was very low. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population.

“In the Southeast,” Ruth said, “Mother Nature plays a much greater role in turkey populations than in deer populations, for example. Turkey reproduction and recruitment can be greatly affected by environmental conditions during the spring nesting and brood rearing season with heavy rainfall and/or cool temperatures leading to poor reproductive success.”

What does poor reproduction by turkeys this year mean for the spring turkey hunter? Since reproduction was good in 2004, there should be fair numbers of mature gobblers (2 years old) available during the spring 2006 turkey season. However, what will likely be missing next spring are large numbers of jakes (immature gobblers), which can make up 25 to 30 percent of the spring harvest following years of good reproduction. Also, poor reproduction this year combined with the harvest of gobblers next spring will likely lead to a slim season for many hunters in spring 2007.

“The bottom line,” Ruth said, “is that it will likely take a couple of years of better reproduction to overcome this year’s poor reproduction.” Hunters often wonder why DNR does not promote or schedule a fall turkey season, and although there are a number of considerations, poor reproduction like that experienced this spring is a very important factor.

“Bear in mind that hunting turkeys in the fall differs drastically from spring gobbler hunting, which is familiar to most hunters,” Ruth said. “Not only do hunting and calling techniques differ, fall seasons typically allow hunters to take hens or gobblers. Although DNR monitors turkey reproduction annually, the information is not available until about the same time a fall turkey season would be underway, so it is too late to schedule a fall season based on reproductive success or sound biology. DNR could simply schedule a fall season without regard to reproductive data, but harvesting hens following a summer with poor reproduction would further depress the number of hens potentially leading to a rapid decline in turkeys.”

South Carolina’s turkey population is estimated at about 120,000 birds, and turkey hunting contributes around $16 million to the state’s economy annually.