Walk on the Wild Side

Brad Harvey: Turkey hunting legislation may be changing

March 28, 2014 

I’ve heard all kinds of complaints from turkey hunters for years.

Some have said our season should start earlier based on when the birds in our region actually begin their courtship.

Others have protested that it’s simply not fair the Lowcountry season hits in mid-March while the Upstate doesn’t get an opportunity to enter the woods until April 1, giving our hunting brethren a longer season.

My biggest complaint has always been that with declining turkey numbers for more than a decade, the state has done nothing to boost our population of gobblers.

Another problem that has faced both landowners and hunters is trespassing and poaching, because the fine is $50 to $100.

The “slap on the wrist” does not deter these criminals, and not a year passes that I don’t hear of at least one local case that usually involves the same lawbreakers.

Finally, it looks like we’re going to get what we want.

Two identical bills appear to be on the fast track through the South Carolina Senate and House that could change the face of turkey hunting for the better.

Introduced by Sen. Chip Campsen III of Charleston into the Senate and by Rep. Mike Pitts of Laurens along with 15 others into the House, this legislation would bring uniformity to the turkey hunting season statewide and create a 47-day hunting period from March 20 to May 5.

Under these proposed changes, folks in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties would lose one day of their season, but would welcome the change to keep those of us residing in the Upstate from infiltrating their grounds in the early part of their season.

Those of us in the remaining counties of the state would gain 17 days, but added time in the woods is not all the new law would bring.

The current bag limit of wild turkeys allowed in the Palmetto State is five birds per hunter, per season. With a steady decline in population during the past 12 years, we have to do something to boost the number of birds roaming our lands.

In an effort to do that, the new limit will be cut to three gobblers with the opportunity to take a fourth bird with a newly introduced archery tag.

Another part of this proposal designates the Saturday before March 20 as Youth Day, when young hunters can get first crack at bringing home a longbeard.

One of the key elements of the new law would change the way our wild turkey populations are managed.

Currently, DNR biologists study our statewide populations and propose changes to our legislators.

The problem is, by the time the lawmakers do anything , the suggestions are outdated and no longer apply to the real world.

With the proposal, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources can to make changes to bag limits “on the fly” so that the action to save our natural resource happen in real time.

And with the proposal, the “slap on the wrist” for poachers will come with a bit more sting.

Instead of facing a maximum fine of $100, those choosing to disregard state regulations by illegally taking or attempting to take a wild turkey, poachers could be fined $1,000 or more if there is more than one bird involved.

The fine would be $500 per conviction, plus the offender would be required to pay as much as $500 restitution to the state for each bird illegally harvested.

It is great to see our state finally make some moves to make things better.

Don’t expect a stellar spring

DNR has just released its forecast for the upcoming turkey season and, as expected, it doesn’t offer a lot of promise to hunters.

Annually since the 1980s, DNR conducts a Summer Turkey Survey to estimate reproduction and recruitment of turkeys in S.C. The survey involves agency wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers, as well as many volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the public.

“Although reproduction in turkeys has been somewhat better the last couple of years, indicators plummeted in 2013,” said Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project supervisor for DNR.

What does that mean for hunters?

“Spring harvest trends have followed trends in reproduction in recent years. With reproduction way down during the summer of 2013, the outlook for the 2014 spring season is not terribly encouraging,” he said.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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