If the 2011 turkey season is any indication, the 2012 season does offer turkey hunters some reasonable hope that more mature gobblers will be in the woods than in recent years. With the reproduction numbers up in 2010, the number of gobblers harvested in 2011 were correspondingly higher. However, the bulk of the increase was attributed to the harvest of juvenile gobblers, or jakes. But, that also means that the better year of recruitment of turkeys into the statewide flock will present more of the gregarious 2-year-old adult gobblers we all love to hunt.
According to harvest figures from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Palmetto State turkey hunters enjoyed a harvest increase in 2011. According the SCDNR Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor Charles Ruth, the harvest increase was only slight.
â€śDuring the 2011 spring season our harvest surveys estimated a total of 14,183 adult gobblers and 2,902 jakes were harvested for a statewide total of 17,085 turkeys,â€ť Ruth said. â€śThis figure represents a 1 percent increase in harvest from 2010, when a total of 16,924 turkeys were harvested.â€ť
Ruth said that while the increase is step in the right direction, the overall harvest is still down from the record harvest experienced in 2002.
â€śAlthough the harvest was up slightly, this harvest level still represents a 33 percent decrease from the record harvest established in 2002, when a total of 25,487 turkeys were estimated taken,â€ť Ruth said. â€śThe reduction in harvest seen since 2002 is likely attributable to one primary factor: poor reproduction.
â€śReproduction in our wild turkey population has been poor seven of the last nine years and the spring harvest following each year of low recruitment has been down,â€ť he said. â€śOn the other hand, reproduction in 2010 was up substantially compared to previous years, resulting in more birds available for harvest in 2011. As expected, the increase in harvest in 2011 was related to the harvest of juvenile birds or jakes rather than mature gobblers. In fact, the harvest of jakes as a percent of the total harvest in 2011 was 17 percent, the highest since 2005, when the jake harvest was 24 percent. The 2005 season followed outstanding reproduction that occurred in the summer of 2004. This association between subtle changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolinaâ€™s turkey harvest and reproductive data set.â€ť
Ruth said that compared to, for example, deer, wild turkeys are much more susceptible to significant fluctuations in reproduction and recruitment â€” and these measures of production have generally not been good in most of the last nine years for South Carolina turkeys.
â€śLack of recruitment success is typically associated with bad weather, particularly cold and wet weather during nesting and brood rearing season,â€ť Ruth said. â€śAlso turkey habitats are continually changing in South Carolina. Although timber management activities stimulated the growth in South Carolinaâ€™s turkey population in the 1980s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old, a situation that does not support turkeys as well.â€ť
Ruth said comparisons can be made between turkey harvests from the various counties in South Carolina if a harvest per unit area is established. Harvest per unit area standardizes the harvest among counties regardless of the size of individual counties. One measure of harvest rate is the number of turkeys taken per square mile (1 square mile is 640 acres) and another is the number of acres per turkey harvested.
Overall in South Carolina, the turkey harvest rate in 2011 was 0.8 gobblers per square mile of habitat. Ruth said that although the turkey harvest has trended down the last few years, this harvest rate should be considered good and is similar to other Southeastern states.
To figure out where to hunt in 2012, one way to plan your strategy is to look at where the most gobblers were taken in 2011. With a slight upswing in the harvest, the areas in South Carolina where there was positive growth can be even more crucial to good planning. Weâ€™ll look at the top 10 areas and to break it down more precisely, we have to look at the actual acreage-per-turkeyharvested figures, since several counties will have rounded figures with the same turkey per square mile harvest rate.
Weâ€™ll also look at the number of jakes harvest by percentage in each of these top counties. That will also give you an idea of how many juvenile gobblers were there in 2011 and the potential for more longbeards in 2012.