Why now is the best time for turkey hunters to pounce

The spring turkey season is in the third consecutive season with an earlier start date of March 20 in South Carolina.
The spring turkey season is in the third consecutive season with an earlier start date of March 20 in South Carolina. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

The vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring, occurred on Tuesday and coincided with the arrival of spring turkey hunting season.

If one wasn't aware of opening day, a good glance at social media made it clear - plenty of turkey hunting enthusiasts took to the woods in South Carolina and had success calling in gobblers.

Spring turkey hunting is clearly a passion for many in the Palmetto State. Besides, South Carolina designated the wild turkey as the state wild game bird in 1976.

"We've got a good turkey population and obviously South Carolina is a hotbed of turkey hunting," said Charles Ruth, Turkey Project Supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Ruth expects 50,000 hunters to talk turkey in the Palmetto State's woodlands and swamps during the season, contributing an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures to the state economy.

"There are some very avid hunters among those 50,000 and most of them want to take advantage of the season as soon as it opens," said Ruth.

The 2018 season marks the third season with an earlier March 20 start date, set beginning in 2016, after years of the season opening on April 1. It's no wonder why hunters want to hit the woods as soon as the season opens.

"It's the opening-week phenomenon," said Ruth. "Typically with any type of hunting season, the animals are naive the first week. What we've seen over the years, regardless, within reason, no matter when we set the season, 40 percent of the birds (harvested in the season) are going to be killed the first week. After opening week, there are not as many are out there to harvest."

The turkey season dates for private lands are March 20 to May 5 statewide. For all Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) where turkey hunting is allowed, the season will open on April 2 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.

The earlier start to the season results in a 50 percent increase in hunting days for 34 of the 46 counties in South Carolina, as 12 Lowcountry counties already had the March 20 start date in place.

The result has been an increase in the number of man/days of hunting effort, which reached an all-time high in the 2017 season and represented a 27 percent increase over 2015, the last season prior to earlier start date being initiated.

Not surprisingly, the number of turkeys harvested has increased by 24 percent since the earlier start date was instigated statewide in 2015.

Meanwhile, turkey reproduction has improved slightly over the past two seasons but not enough to account for the increase in harvest.

"Are there more turkeys on the landscape or is it people having more time to harvest them?" said Ruth. "From my perspective, it's increased effort rather than the slight increase in reproduction we've seen."

S.C. DNR will report to the S.C. Legislature on the impact of the earlier and thus longer turkey hunting season this November.

"That was part of the law (mandating the earlier start date) when it was put in place that we report to (the legislature) in November, 2018," said Ruth. "They will deliberate that and either keep the new season or make some kind of adjustment for the future, but that (adjustment) may not take place until 2020."

S.C. DNR staff is in the fourth year of a major study in Hampton County related to determining the optimum time to set the turkey hunting season in the state.

The study involves 50 sophisticated recording devices put in place for three months, from early March through early June.

"(The recording devices will be) going way beyond turkey season," said Ruth. "This will help us paint a picture of the gobbling season."

During the course of the study, DNR staff has placed GPS tracking units on a number of turkeys.

"We've been able to monitor females as to when they start to nest, incubate and come off the nest with young," said Ruth. "All of that information will give us an indication of when the best time to start the season is - when you can allow hunting and not interfere with breeding but also afford hunters a good frequency of gobbling by the toms."

Southern Anglers Radio Show

The popular local radio show focused on fishing is on the move.

The show will continue to be aired on Saturday mornings, but in a later time slot, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and a different station, now WGTR, Gator 107.9 FM, beginning on March 31.

Featuring Kenny Moore, Capt. Englis Glover and Tony Carter, the show focuses on saltwater and freshwater fishing along the Grand Strand, with plenty of good times and fishing humor mixed in.

"We have a great audience that we have deemed 'The Fish Heads' and we hope that our school will grow as we move to the much larger audience of Gator 107.9," said Glover, also host of the local television fishing show Reelin' Up The Coast. "Our new time slot will be so much better as people are up and stirring and on the water."

The show discusses fishing trends and provides fishing reports for the entire Grand Strand, plus has fishing experts as guests, including celebrity anglers such as George Poveromo and Mark Sosin.

CCA Banquet

The Waccamaw Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina will host its annual banquet Saturday at 6 p.m. at Sunnyside Plantation, located at 3741 Hwy. 17 Business in Murrells Inlet.

Tickets are $75 for individuals, $100 for couples and include a year’s membership to CCA.

For more information, call 843-455-0371 or e-mail chawley24@gmail.com.