South Carolina Sets Later Turkey Season Opener, Restricts Gobbler Limits

GON Staff | December 18, 2019

As game managers and researchers try to figure out why wild turkey populations seem to be suffering in many areas of the Southeast, the state of South Carolina is taking action, namely by restricting hunting opportunity and bag limits. The hope is that more gobblers still around to breed hens during the nesting season will result in larger clutches of eggs and better nesting success—and ultimately more wild turkeys.

Any regulation changes in South Carolina could be a foreshadowing of what’s to come in other states, which is why GON has a VOTES survey question about Georgia turkey regs on the January cover.

In 2020, South Carolina will be split with two turkeys seasons: The Upstate Game Zones 1 and 2 will be open for turkey hunting April 1 to May 10. In the midlands and lower part of the state, Game Zones 3 and 4 will run March 22 to April 30. The South Carolina state agency had originally pushed for the Upstate turkey season to open on April 10.

The moves are supported by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

The NWTF said, “The National Wild Turkey Federation applauds the South Carolina legislature for passing a bill addressing declining turkey populations. The bill will restructure season dates and limits for residents and nonresidents. The NWTF is pleased with the later season opener in the upstate as it more closely coincides with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ original proposal of April 10 as a start date.”

In addition to the later starting dates to the season, gobbler harvest in South Carolina will be restricted with the following new regulations:
• Daily bag limit is now one gobbler.
• There is a one-bird limit in the first 10 days of the season.
• State residents can still kill three birds a season, but nonresidents will be limited to two gobblers.
• A fee for turkey tags will be implemented to support future wild turkey research and management. For residents, a set of three turkey tags will require a $5 fee. Nonresidents will be charged $100 for a set of two turkey tags.

The hope is that the changes will help reverse a statewide decline in wild turkey populations in South Carolina. Poults-per-hen numbers have dropped dramatically. The moves in South Carolina are being championed by researchers and wildlife biologists who believe too many gobblers being killed while hens are still nesting is impacting the success rates of hens and their eggs clutches. Other states including Georgia and Alabama have begun to experiment with later opening dates on some of their state-managed WMAs, including Cedar Creek WMA in middle Georgia. 

A wild turkey hen lays one clutch of eggs a year, and an average clutch is 10 to 14 eggs per nest. The hen lays only one egg each day, so if she lays 14 eggs it takes two weeks to lay them all. Meanwhile, the hen is still being bred until the last egg is laid, and then she sits on the nest to incubate the eggs, which will all hatch at the same time even though some were laid up to two weeks earlier.

Hunters in Georgia have been worried about turkey populations in many areas. A very successful hunter in middle Georgia documented a large flock on an unhunted tract of land that got smaller and smaller until the turkeys simply disappeared completely. His worry was the chicken litter used as fertilizer on pasture land was the cause, but there’s no research or evidence of this. Other hunters have long worried that coyotes have a negative impact on turkey populations. Unlike other predators that were around when turkeys were plentiful and flocks were flourishing, coyotes are a non-native, invasive species in Georgia. Other hunters have lamented the large prescribed fires during the turkey nesting season, even though biologists contend that any nests lost to fire are more than mitigated by the benefit to the habitat.

According to Emily Rushton, Georgia’s state turkey biologist, “Our hunting regulations are on a two-year cycle, and last year the board approved hunting regulations for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons without any changes to the statewide turkey regulations. So, the earliest we would see any major changes, if our agency drafts any and the board approves them, would be the 2022 spring gobbler season.”

Even though Emily says no changes will be coming for this season in Georgia, GON believes it pays to be way early with discussions. So we’ve included a VOTES survey question in the January issue of GON to get hunters’ opinions about potential regulation changes for Georgia’s turkey season.

NWTF also has the following statement from Dr. James Kennamer on its website: “Dedicated turkey hunters want healthy wild turkey populations they can hunt this year and far into the future. They want many hens fledging many poults. Knowing the facts, hunters should endorse later spring seasons and support biologists and state wildlife agencies when they show the need to hold off hunting until most hens are nesting — not just laying eggs, but tending nests and out of harm’s way. Thanks to the NWTF, state agency and university research, nesting data has been widely documented for more than 30 years. Support common sense regulations that help both the hunting experience and protect the wild turkey.” James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., former NWTF chief conservation officer

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  1. BASS1FUN on January 22, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    If you won’t manage your property and take out the coyotes, foxes, bobcats, opossums, armadillos and raccoons then don’t expect to hear gobblers. I hunt public land 95% of the time and in 2015-2017 I hardly heard any gobbling but I was seeing them and I did manage to kill a couple in that time period in which I was usually limiting out. I’m limited to harvesting predators mainly because I only hunt deer and turkeys but when given the chance I’ll take them out, unfortunately we cannot do anything with the hawks , owls and eagles (where I hunt ). I don’t think reducing the numbers or shortening the season is going to matter unless the area one is hunting has gone through habitat or land development changes. I went scouting the other day trying to find a way on the backside approach on a gobbler I was hunting last year and I walked up on a flock of at least 50 turkeys, so go figure just because they’re not gobbling doesn’t mean that they’re not there. one more thing I believe that they are breeding earlier and my reasoning is from my understanding is the longer the day is triggers it but we have daylight savings earlier and I’ve had some hunters from SW Georgia tell me that they have seen some breeding in late January. These are my 2 cents if it means anything to whoever reads it

  2. garyh on January 22, 2020 at 8:19 am

    I sure wish Georgia would follow suit. The turkey limit needs to be reduced to 1 bird and the season needs pushed back a minimum of 2-3 weeks.

    I never did see the results of the Cedar creek study. They pushed the season back 2 weeks but no data to my knowledge was ever published showing the results of that change.

    Bottom line, Georgia hunters dont like change to anything. Most people there are human lemmings….

    Kudos to SC for pulling their heads out of their a$$.

  3. T.R. on December 19, 2019 at 2:51 am

    I have been guiding hunters in Florida for Osceola’s for over a decade. We have noticed a steady decline in turkey numbers over the past few years. We have always had 100% success but this past season was our toughest ever. Everyone got their birds, but slithering around on the ground wearing my B mobile decoy like a hat is a desperation tatic IMO. The one glaring exception to this decline is a large property with aggressive predator management. Maybe that speaks to the core of the problem.

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