After several consecutive years of having to hunt turkeys on a lengthy down cycle in their population, gobbler chasers in South Carolina will finally have more turkeys to hunt in 2012 than in several years.
According to Charles Ruth, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor, the turkey population has finally been given the boost it needed, with two consecutive years of good recruitment of turkeys into the population. Ruth says this bodes well for hunters in this 2012 season and even in to 2013.
Ruth notes that overall recruitment numbers from poults born last spring were up in 2011 and were almost as good as the numbers in 2010, which were the best numbers in several years.
“This is the first time since 2001 and 2002 that we’ve had positive recruitment numbers for consecutive years,” Ruth said. “This certainly enhances the outlook for a good harvest in the 2012 turkey season. We already have a good number of birds that were jakes in the 2011 season in the population and now we have a good crop of young birds in 2011. That should also translate into potentially good hunting for 2013 as well.”
Ruth said that the overall record harvest for turkeys was in 2002 when the population was flourishing, but habitat conditions since that time have changed.
“Having two good years after several poor ones will not likely translate into a super-sized harvest in 2012,” Ruth said. “There are other habitat and total number of turkeys reproducing that are factors now. Some key things are different than nine or ten years ago. However, I’d say the number of jakes and gobblers in the woods should be up for the next couple of years.
“We’re not predicting a record harvest by any means — too much habitat change has occurred and the overall population of turkeys is down considerably, so even with two good years, we’re not back where we were,” he added. “But on the positive side we’ll have a lot of 2-year-old gobblers in the woods this season and typically when we have a good recruitment year, a lot of the harvest the following year is of juvenile birds, or jakes. That will likely be the case in 2012. Combine the two and with decent weather for the hunters, we should have a very good season in terms of harvest. Hunters should definitely encounter more gobblers in the woods this spring.”
Ruth said that annually since the early 1980’s the SCDNR 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.
He said that although wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May in South Carolina, the survey does not take place until late summer, because that way the survey documents only the poults that actually survived and entered the population going into the fall.
“Reproduction in 2010 was the best in a number of years and although indicators were not quite as strong in 2011, the indicators remained good this year,” said Ruth. “The average brood size of 4.2 poults and the total recruitment ratio (TRR) of 2.3 were down only slightly from last year, which was the best year since 2004. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. These solid figures were driven by the second lowest percentage of hens that had no poults (46 percent) in 6 years. At the regional level it appears that reproduction was generally good in most of the state, with the lower coastal plain being an exception. For reasons I cannot explain, the lower coastal plain did not have as good a year. The best recruitment by far was in the Piedmont portion of the state with a TRR of 2.7. The Midlands had a TRR of 2.1, the Northern Coastal Plains a 2.0 TRR and the Southern Coastal Plains a 1.6 TRR.”
Ruth said he is unsure why reproduction in turkeys improved the past two years.
“In the Southeast Mother Nature often plays a big role in turkey populations, with heavy rainfall coupled with cool temperatures during the spring nesting and brood rearing season leading to poor reproductive success,” he said. “Reproduction was generally poor between 2005 and 2009, however, it has been much better the last two years. Is difficult to say that there was anything related to the weather that contributed to the previous decline or recent improvement in reproductive success.
“Harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years and we saw a slight increase in harvest in the 2011 spring season, which coincided with the better reproduction in 2010,” he said. “With two successive years of better reproduction the number of turkeys available during the spring of 2012 season should the best in a number of years. More importantly, the number of mature gobblers, 2 year old birds, should be the highest we have seen for a while.”