Times have been tough on turkey hunters in recent years and results from the 2015 turkey harvest indicate that pattern did not change this past spring. According to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the 2015 spring turkey harvest was down 6 percent over 2014, and was just 60-percent as large as the record harvest in 2002.

According to biologist Charles Ruth of SCDNR, the estimated harvest was 15,237 birds, a decline that was expected because of low reproduction and recruitment in recent years.

“Reproduction in wild turkeys has generally been poor during the last decade, and the spring harvest following each year of low recruitment has been down,” Ruth said. “The overall effect has been a significant decline in turkey harvest.” 

Ruth said that recruitment in 2013 was the lowest on record, which put fewer gobblers in the woods this past season. Recruitment was slightly better in 2014, and that would have put more jakes in the woods this past spring but won’t affect the harvest until 2016.

“Since hunters most frequently have success calling and harvesting 2-year-old gobblers, it was a given that harvest figures would be down in 2015,” said Ruth. “But we also expected an increase in the harvest of jakes, or juvenile gobblers, with a 36-percent increase compared to 2014. Jakes comprised 16 percent of the total harvest in 2015, which is the highest proportion of jakes in a number of years. This association between changes in reproduction and its effects on harvest are rather remarkable in South Carolina’s turkey harvest and reproductive data sets.”

The harvest data for 2015 reveals the most-recent trend in the most productive counties for turkey hunting.

According to harvest data the top 10 counties for total harvest were Williamsburg: Berkeley, Fairfield, Colleton, Newberry, Orangeburg, Laurens, Spartanburg, Charleston and Hampton. Taking into account the size of the county, the top counties for harvest per square mile were: Cherokee, Spartanburg, Pickens, Anderson, Newberry, Edgefield, Fairfield, Charleston, Laurens and Union.

Steve Cobb of Union, a pro-staff member with Hunter Specialties, said that during times when turkey population numbers are low, hunters can work on calling and woodsmanship skills to enhance their odds of success.

“Practice calling and get very proficient with a couple of calls,” Cobb said. “Also, more scouting is needed to find gobblers when populations are low.”