Turkey Season Opens Amid Concerns Over Dwindling Numbers

Upstate Outdoors
March 15, 2019 - 9:10 am

Phillip Gentry

The long awaited 2019 Wild Turkey hunting season will officially open on private lands across the state next Wednesday, March 20. This year marks the fourth year since the opening dates were aligned across the state by state legislators.

Opening day for public Wildlife Management Areas, which was not affected by the changing legislation in 2015, will open on April 1.  

The past legislation changes included a sunset clause which required the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to study the season timing  and report back to the legislature during fourth quarter 2018. 

Wildlife biologists across the southeastern United States have remarked about an overall decline in wild turkey populations beginning around the turn of the century. Numerous factors have been identified as working together to cause a decline in southeastern states by as much as 35%. Those factors included habitat change, predators, over-hunting and invasive non-native species. 

The 2015 legislation change that aligned the season dates also reduced the bag limit for turkeys from five to the current number of three per hunter per season. Biologists are now concerned that the early season date is additionally adding to poor reproduction of the Eastern wild turkey.

“We did a full blown study of both turkey hen nesting and male turkey gobbling over the four years since the past legislation,” said Jay Cantrell, assistant Big Game coordinator with SCDNR. “The study was conducted in the southernmost portion of the state to take into account when hens began nesting at their earliest in the state. What we found was that, on average, hens don’t go to nest until around the 8th of April.”

Pursuant to the study, which has been published on the SCDNR website, wildlife biologists with the agency have made a recommendation that the season dates, moving forward after the 2019 season, be changed to April 10 – May 15 to encompass a 36 day season. The recommendation also includes adding a statewide youth day that would be the Saturday prior to April 10.

The recommendation has been met with much resistance from state turkey hunters who argue that individual experience with turkey sightings varies greatly. Some hunters report a more severe decline in turkey numbers while others claim to have seen nowhere near the decline.

“It all depends on who you talk to, some hunters say they are seeing the same numbers they’ve always seen while others say their numbers are way down,” said Cantrell. “This is what we are trying to address with this recommendation, to give gobblers more time to breed the hens before the hunters get to them.”

Officials with SCDNR feel strongly that moving the start of the season back will help alleviate hunter impact on the wild turkey decline. Many hunters feel the earlier start makes for easier hunting conditions before gobblers become occupied with breeding hens.

As a compromise, an alternate proposal submitted by the Department would allow for a 36 day April 5 – May 10 season, also with a youth day the Saturday before April 5.

While recommendations are frequently made by the DNR regarding game and fish regulations, all game and fish laws in South Carolina must be proposed and voted upon by the South Carolina State Legislature. 

2019 Turkey Season Regulations

Season Dates: March 20-May 5 on private lands statewide.  April 1-May 5 on WMA lands statewide.

Bag Limit: 3 gobblers per season, no more than 2 may be harvested per day.

Youth Turkey Hunt Dates: March 16-17 on private lands; March 30 for designated WMA properties.

Note: All hunters, including hunters younger than 16 or those assisting youth hunters, must possess a valid set of turkey tags. All harvested turkeys must be tagged and validated as prescribed on the tag form before being moved from the point of kill. No person may possess more than one set of turkey tags. 

***************************

Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. The show can be streamed live online at 1063word.radio.com or via podcast anytime. 

**************************

Photo Caption – The Eastern Wild Turkey Season opens across South Carolina next week, possibly the last opening day during the month of March. Photo by Phillip Gentry

Comments ()