Annually since the early 1980’s, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 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. Although reproduction increased over last year it remained lower than desirable.
Although wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May in South Carolina, the survey does not take place until late summer, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator. Therefore, the survey statistics document poults (young turkeys) that actually survived and entered the fall population.
“Reproduction in turkeys has generally been poor for the last decade,” said Ruth. “This year, average brood size of 3.9 poults remained relatively consistent and the total recruitment ratio of 1.6 was actually up about 23 percent from 2013. However, 2013 was the lowestrecruitment ratio since the survey began in 1982, therefore, a modest increase is still below what is considered good. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population. This figure was driven by a high percentage of hens (59%) that had no poults at all by late summer. At the regional level it appears that with the exception of the lower coastal plain, reproduction was poor in most of the state.”
Get more information on the 2014 Summer Turkey Survey.
Unlike deer, wild turkeys are much more susceptible to significant fluctuations in reproduction and recruitment. Lack of reproductive success is often associated with bad weather (cold and wet) during nesting and brood rearing season. However, there are a host of predators that take advantage of turkey nests and broods including; raccoons, opossums, snakes, foxes, bobcats, and numerous avian predators. Coyotes which are not native, but are now well established in the state, can be added to the list of turkey predators. Turkeys naturally have high reproductive potential and are therefore able to maintain populations in spite of predation and other mortality factors. The problem is that we have not been getting much “bounce back” amid years of poor survival.
What does poor reproduction in 2014 mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth indicated, “Spring harvest trends have followed trends in reproduction for many years. As was expected, with poor reproduction in 2012 and 2013 the spring harvest in 2014 was down significantly. The percentage of jakes (juvenile males) harvested in 2014 was the lowest on record supporting the record low reproductive data from last year. The record low reproduction in 2013 will not be felt until the 2015 spring season because 2 year old gobblers in 2015 would have been hatched in 2013 and that simply did not happen in most parts of the state. Also, the gobbler to hen ratio during this summer’s survey was 0.60 which is the lowest since the year 2000,” said Ruth. “Low gobbler to hen ratios can affect the quality of hunting because hens are extremely available which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters.”
“The bottom line,” Ruth said, “is the state’s turkey population is about 35 percent below record levels of 12 years ago. 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.”
Anyone interested in participating in the annual Summer Turkey Survey is encouraged to sign-up. The survey period is July 1-August 29 annually and those who participate typically spend a reasonable amount of time outdoors during that time period. Cooperators obviously must be able to identify wild turkeys and must be comfortable in telling the difference between hens, poults, and gobblers. If you would like to participate in the survey, send your name and address to Summer Turkey Survey, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202. You will be added to the cooperator list and receive materials at the end of June annually.