An estimated 50,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming turkey season, generating an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina's economy.
Season dates for private lands are March 20 to May 5 statewide. For all Wildlife Management Areas where turkey hunting is allowed, the season will open on April 1 and close on May 5. The statewide bag limit is three gobblers per hunter with no more than two taken in one day. Possession and use of Turkey Tags remains in effect for all hunters.
Hunters on WMAs should consult the annual Turkey Regulations Guide for seasons and bag limits on specific WMAs as they may be more restrictive.
Saturday and Sunday, March 18-19, are Youth Turkey Hunt Days on private lands statewide. On WMA lands open to turkey hunting the Youth Turkey Hunt Day is Saturday, March 25. On these days, youths 17 and under who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult (age 21 and older) may hunt turkeys. Although adults may call or guide, only the youth can take or attempt to take turkeys. There is no license requirement for youths; however, tagging requirements and bag limits remain in place for these special youth days.
The outlook for the 2017 spring season is fair for most areas, according to Charles Ruth, Big Game Program coordinator for S.C. Department of Natural Resources. This is based on recent turkey harvest and reproductive trends. Annually since the early 1980s, 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.
"Reproduction in turkeys has generally been low for the last decade, leading to significant declines in harvest," said Ruth. "However, recruitment (into the turkey population) has been somewhat better the past few years in many parts of the state and the spring 2016 harvest responded with about a 10 percent increase. Although the total recruitment ratio of 1.6 during summer of 2016 was still low, it was slightly better than 2015. Therefore, if trends hold the harvest in 2017 should be similar to that in 2016.
"The bottom line," Ruth said, "is the state's turkey population remains about 30 percent below record levels around the turn of the century. We need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up. That is the nice thing about turkeys, though--given the right conditions they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time. Finally, South Carolina turkey hunters should keep in mind that this 'decline' in turkeys is shared by most Southeastern states. Research is ongoing in a number of states including South Carolina in an effort to determine why turkey numbers have decreased."
For more information on wild turkeys including how to order turkey tags online, the 2017 Turkey Regulations, the 2016 Summer Turkey Survey or the results from the 2016 spring gobbler season, see the following link on the DNR Web site: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/turkey/index.html.