South Carolina Turkey Hunting Forecast for 2014

South Carolina Turkey Hunting Forecast for 2014

Sometimes it would be nice if numbers and statistics lied and didn't add up to the truth. But for people going South Carolina turkey hunting in 2014, that's just not likely going to be the case: The numbers don't add up to paint a pretty picture of this season's likely harvest. The fact is the turkey harvest in 2013 dropped noticeably from 2012 and, according to Charles Ruth, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor, the odds are stacked against turkey hunters again in 2014.

He said the problem is simple to see but severe in terms of impact.

"Poor recruitment to the total turkey population has simply reduced the number of gobblers we have to hunt," Ruth said. "Plus, there's other impact factors to consider as well. Of those birds we have available, many were generated from a good recruitment year in 2010 and a decent year in 2011. Those birds, specifically the 2010 recruitment birds, have now been hunted in 2011, 2012 and 2013. They been harvested for three seasons and those not harvested have likely been educated to hunters and hunting. That, combined with the poor reproduction in 2012 and the preliminary reports I've received on recruitment in 2013 that have been generally poor, simply force me to project a tough year for hunters in 2014. I'm not big on making forecasts, but just based on recruitment numbers in recent years and hunting pressure since our last good recruitment year — there's simply little room for optimism for having a highly productive season."

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Ruth did add that there are of course a reasonable number of gobblers in the woods and naturally hunters should hunt and expect to hear and harvest turkeys. But it simply does not stack up as potentially being a great season. In fact the total harvest may be down again from the 2013 season, which was also down from 2012.

Ruth said that during the 2013 spring season, based on data from surveys, it is estimated that a total of 17,101 adult gobblers and 2,110 jakes were harvested for a statewide total of 19,211 turkeys.

"This figure represents an 11 percent decrease in harvest from 2012, when 21,552 turkeys were harvested, and an overall 25-percent decrease from the record harvest established in 2002 of 25,487 turkeys as estimated by survey," Ruth said. "The overall reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributable to one primary factor: poor reproduction."

Ruth said that although reproduction in wild turkeys was generally poor between 2003 and 2009, it was much better in 2010 and somewhat better in 2011. The relative success in reproduction and poult survival those two years led to a substantial increase in harvest in 2012.

"However, reproduction returned to lower levels following the 2012 season," he said. Since birds produced in 2010 and 2011 were subjected to harvest in 2012, so there were fewer birds available in 2013. This undoubtedly led to the significant decrease in harvest during the 2013 season and that's why the prognosis for 2014 is not better. This association between changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolina's turkey harvest and reproductive data sets."

While forecasting statewide trends is one thing, there are some numbers and data that can help hunters plan on where to invest their turkey hunting time for highest potential returns.

Ruth said comparisons can be made between turkey harvests from the various counties in South Carolina if a harvest per unit area is established.

While this is not conclusive data on where the best hunting will be in 2014, the odds of the top producing counties in 2013 being among the more productive ones in 2014 is logical and certainly a good starting point for hunters to consider in 2014.

"Harvest per unit area standardizes the harvest among counties regardless of the size of individual counties," Ruth said. "One measure of harvest rate is the number of turkeys taken per square mile (640 acres). When considering the estimated turkey habitat that is available in South Carolina, the turkey harvest rate in 2013 was 0.9 gobblers per square mile statewide. Although this harvest rate is not as high as it once was, it should be considered good and is similar to other Southeastern states."

The data Ruth has also uses another form of harvest per unit area. the acres per turkey harvested. Some counties will have the same per square mile figure by rounding off. But the acres per turkey harvested will depict an accurate view of the leading counties in the correct order.

The top 10 counties for harvest per unit area in 2013 was led by Newberry County with 312.4 acres per turkey harvested and a 2.0 turkeys harvested per square mile. Second was Cherokee County with 329.1 acres per turkey harvested and a 1.9 turkeys per square mile harvest rate, just ahead of Union County, which also recorded a 1.9 turkeys per square mile harvest and a 330.9 acres per turkey harvested.

In the fourth spot was Abbeville County with 351.9 acres per turkey and 1.8 turkeys harvested per square mile. Laurens County was fifth with a harvest rate of 1.7 turkeys per square mile and 368.8 acres per turkey harvested.

The sixth most productive county in 2013 was Spartanburg County with (376.7 acres per turkey; 1.7 turkeys harvested per square mile). At number seven was Saluda County (394.6 acres per turkey; 1.6 turkeys per square mile). Coming in at number eight was Anderson County with 1.5 turkeys per square mile and 414.9 acres per turkey harvested.

The ninth best turkey-producing county in 2013 was Edgefield County with a 420.7 acres per turkey rate and a 1.5 turkeys per square mile harvest. Rounding out the top ten was Chester County with 474.9 acres per turkey harvested and a 1.3 turkeys harvested per square mile rate.

There is an obvious concentration of better turkey hunting based on 2013 harvest results when you look at a map of these ten counties. However, Ruth added that localized hotspots can occur anywhere in the state.

Ruth said that simple total turkey harvest is not comparable among counties because there is no standard unit of comparison: Some counties are huge while others are quite small; a huge county with a higher harvest is not necessarily better hunting than a small county. However, he said that some hunters are interested in this type of ranking, so the following is a list of the top 10 counties by total harvest.

The top county in 2013 was Newberry County (same as harvest per unit area) with 1,017 turkeys. In second was Laurens County with 862 gobblers, and in third was Fairfield County with 782 turkeys harvested.

The fourth spot belonged to Union County with 780 turkeys taken and the number five slot went to Spartanburg County with 706 turkeys.

The number six county was Williamsburg with 683 birds harvested followed by Orangeburg County in seventh with 637 turkeys. At number eight was Berkeley County with 635 turkeys, followed by Abbeville County at 634 turkeys harvested. The last spot in the top 10 was Chester County, with a total of 633 turkeys harvested.

Notice that Chester County produced only one less bird than Abbeville, and Abbeville produced just one less than Berkeley, and Berkeley's was just two fewer than Orangeburg: all of these counties had essentially the same harvest.

Obviously some counties make the total harvest list and the harvest per square mile list — for example, Newberry County topped both — and these should be among the better places to hunt in 2014.

In other words, another way to use this data to better nail down turkey hotspots is to see which counties are included on both lists. Each list is indicative of potentially good areas. Counties that rank in the top 10 on each list have an overall high harvest and also a good harvest rate per square mile of land.

There are six counties that overlap on harvest data comparisons. In addition to Newberry County, Union County, third on the per unit area and fourth on total harvest, certainly has to be considered a highly productive county. Abbeville County was fourth on per unit area and ninth on total harvest and Laurens County was fifth on per unit area and second in total harvest by county. In addition, Spartanburg was sixth in per unit harvest and fifth in total numbers and the final duplication was Chester County, tenth in both lists.

You can make your own decisions on which combinations are best in terms of providing the best turkey hunting opportunities for you. Of course hunters must take into consideration proximity to where they live. The closer you are, the more likely you are to spend time in the woods, and the more time you spend in the woods, the more likely you are to take a turkey. But the odds are good any of these counties in the top 10 lists are among the better bets for turkey hunting in 2014.

Ruth also emphasized that there are localized hotspots that can be found throughout the state. Isolated areas where reproduction and recruitment was better than the rest of the county are possible to find anywhere in the state. Some large areas that are intensely managed with wildlife practices that favor wild turkeys can also have a significant influence and these can include both WMA's as well as private lands. For instance, planting a lot of chufa plots and other attractive turkey forage can be a big boost to a local population.

And, of course, as some areas simply having better localized habitat. If you have access to areas specifically managed for turkeys, there are really no bad counties to hunt turkeys in South Carolina and 2014 would be a good year to focus on such areas.

Ruth said other interesting statistics from the 2013 survey indicate that there were approximately 50,752 turkey hunters in South Carolina, with the average hunter spending about 5 days in the field. Total effort expended by all hunters was approximately 240,256 hunter-days in 2013. The season long success rate was about 20 percent in harvesting at least one gobbler during the season.

Ruth said South Carolina's spring wild turkey season opens April 1 and closes May 1 in most areas of the state and on all public lands where turkey hunting is permitted. The season opens March 15 on private lands in 12 Lowcountry counties in the state. Annually, spring turkey hunters contribute more than $30 million in direct expenditures to South Carolina's economy.

Use the above data to help you plan your turkey hunting strategy this spring. Comparatively speaking, there will be more older gobblers in the woods in 2014 because of poor recruitment recently. Some hunters may have to adapt their tactics to these wise old wizards of the spring woods.

But there will be turkeys gobbling this spring and turkey hunters will be there to hunt them.

Share your best turkey photos with us on Camera Corner now for your chance to win free gear!
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