Not only does April Fool's Day fall on Monday, but April 1 also marks opening day in most counties for South Carolina turkey hunters to take to the woods and do some fooling of their own, hoping to call in a long-bearded gobbler.
The number of mature gobblers among the Palmetto State's population of wild turkeys should be good during the upcoming season, says Charles Ruth, Deer and Wild Turkey Program Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
While turkey season opened on March 15 in Game Zone 6, which includes the Lowcountry counties of Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg, the season opens in the other 34 counties on April 1. The season closes May 1 throughout the state.
Ruth's reasoning for expecting nice numbers of mature gobblers dates back to turkey recruitment, or reproduction, during the spring and summer of 2010 and 2011.
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After a record harvest in 2002, Ruth noted a 30 percent decline in harvest occurred from then through the 2011 season. But thanks to good reproduction revealed by the annual Summer Turkey Survey in 2010 and 2011, harvest numbers were up a year ago. The 2012 harvest was up 20 percent from the previous year and was the best in 10 years.
“If you look at the harvest last year, those two reproductive cycles are responsible for the increase,” said Ruth. “Reproduction in 2012 kind of went back down again but I still think you've got carryover birds going into this spring from those two good years.
“The birds that were hatched last year would be jakes this year and most hunters aren't interested in jakes. The carryover from 2010 and 2011 are the adult birds and that's what hunters are interested in. I'm fairly optimistic for the harvest this year but I don't think it's going to be as strong as last year.''
Ruth is quick to note that one good harvest year doesn't immediately turn around the trend of the last decade as it relates to the overall population.
“The  harvest was up 20 percent but that was still 15 to 20 percent below the record harvest in 2002,” said Ruth. “We don't need to get overly optimistic based on one year but again I do think this will be a good season.”
There is plenty of pressure on the state's turkeys from hunters, as only deer hunters are more numerous in the Palmetto State. Ruth estimates 40-45,000 hunters will attempt to take a turkey this season.
But the turkey hunters, as a group, aren't as successful as the deer hunters.
“Unlike deer hunting, turkey hunting is an inherently unsuccessful endeavor,” said Ruth. “Deer hunters [in the state] have a 70 percent success rate. For turkeys it's under 30 percent, like 28 percent. it's a great recreation this time of year, and a lot of people hunt with other people. It's a little different social dynamic than deer hunting.”
Despite the overall decrease in the population over the last decade, Ruth knows the wily wild turkey can bounce back quick.
“The good thing about turkeys is they are highly reproductive and if things go right they can come back,” said Ruth. “If you get a couple or three years [of good reproduction] it's like nothing happened. They're right back on the landscape like they once were.”
Saturday is Youth Turkey Hunt Day in areas where the season opens on Monday. Youth ages 17 and under who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult (age 21 and older) may hunt turkeys.
Only the youth can take or attempt to take turkeys.
Tagging requirements remain in place for the special youth day.
The Conway High School duo of Fred Courtney and Reid O'Quinn finished in sixth place at the 2013 SAF High School Fishing State Championship Tournament held recently on Lake Hartwell. Courtney and O'Quinn weighed in four fish for an aggregate weight of 8 pounds, 13 ounces.
Carter McNeil and Tucker Smith of Abbeville took first place with a five-fish aggregate of 16-3.
Conway anglers Colin Drew and Brody Lavoie finished 14th with an aggregate of 5-11, while Jacob Barfield and Bradley Thompkins were 25th with a two-fish weight of 2-8. The Conway team also finished 5th overall in the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Sportsman Classic State Tournament held on Lake Murray March 23.