Are Carolinas’ turkey flocks headed in different directions

I was thinking the other day when I saw the data on the spring wild turkey harvest in the Carolinas, that sometimes not getting what you want turns out to be a really good thing.

If you missed it, South Carolina’s unofficial wild turkey harvest for the 2021 spring season was less than 10,000 birds. Biologist Charles Ruth of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said the official figures, when all the data is tallied, is likely to be a bit higher, but the downward trend that began in 2002 is still working itself out.

North Carolina hasn’t released its official harvest totals, but its up-to-the-minute data, available on-line, showed the second-largest turkey harvest ever, 21,974 birds, trailing only the record-setting harvest of 22,426 birds the previous season.

The thought of North Carolina, which got into the wild turkey business much later than its neighbors to the north and south, with twice the harvest of South Carolina, is shocking to a serious turkey hunter.

Damion Morgan killed this 20-pound gobbler, which sported a 10-inch beard and 11/4-inch spurs, on public land in eastern North Carolina this past spring.

South Carolina’s harvest numbers have been trending downward for a number of suspected reasons, including habitat loss, the expansion of coyotes across the Palmetto State and, for years, extra-long, early seasons and liberal bag limits. Also, with any regulation changes having to go through the state legislature — not necessarily matching the changes biologists like Ruth might want for the good of the flock — South Carolina hasn’t been able to turn things around.

That brings us to North Carolina and not getting what you wish for — unanswered prayers, as it were. Remember the old Garth Brooks song where a guy was praying to marry a certain girl, and years later, thanking the Lord for the wife he wound up with instead of the girl he’d prayed for?

That’s what I’m thinking about, only in terms of turkeys, not women.

Years ago, it was common knowledge that one member of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s policy setting board wasn’t happy with the matchless Mike Seamster, the Commission’s wild-turkey biologist who has long since retired. Seems this commissioner wanted North Carolina’s season to start way earlier than the traditional second Saturday in April. Apparently, one reason was that his South Carolina buddies got a head start on him of several weeks.

Back then, North Carolina hunters barely killed 10,000 turkeys in a season, and South Carolina hunters were at times almost doubling that number. But Seamster held firm, saying that North Carolina’s season shouldn’t open until the first peak of gobbling was finished, allowing for a lot of breeding to have taken place before the first gobbler was sent to that great oven in the sky. South Carolina’s season still opens before or during the first peak of gobbling, so a lot of toms die before breeding.

Turns out, Seamster, the person most responsible for North Carolina building an outstanding statewide flock through a great stocking program, was correct all the while. Next time I tag a gobbler, I’ll thank my lucky stars that commissioner’s prayers went unanswered.

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About Dan Kibler 860 Articles
Dan Kibler is managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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