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2019 Turkey Season Draw Hunt Deadline Approaching

Deer, dove and duck seasons have just wrapped up, and Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day prediction is for an early spring. Small game season remains in effect for February, but warming temperatures can end hunting plans before a specific calendar date arrives. Big game hunters are already dreaming of full strut toms and opening day of wild turkey season on March 20. Turkey populations are lower than average in many places across the state right now, but certainly not everywhere. Turkey draw hunts on Wildlife Management Areas can provide an extra opportunity to hunt and the February 22 deadline for online applications is approaching.
The public lottery hunt program is administered by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, providing access to hunt public lands managed for all wildlife. This program is well suited for hunter recruitment, serving those who do not have hunting access elsewhere. All applications are processed online on the SCDNR website, and hunters can choose between five properties in the multi-site draw hunt. There is a non-refundable fee of $5 per applicant, and if drawn a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) permit is required during the hunt.
Three of these public hunting properties are in the Lowcountry including Bonneau Ferry WMA, Donnelly WMA and Santee Cooper WMA. The remaining two public hunting properties in the Midlands include Belfast WMA and Wateree River Heritage Preserve. These same five properties also offer a separate youth only turkey draw hunt lottery, requiring a separate application. No turkey hunt is ever a sure thing, but access to these properties is limited and a high quality experience in the outdoors is more than likely. All hunters, including youth, are required to have turkey tags in their possession, and they can be ordered by calling 1-866-714-3611.
SCDNR allows public hunting access for turkey hunters without a drawing at over 30 other WMA’s statewide during April 1 – May 5. The limit for turkeys on WMA lands is no more than two per day, and only three turkeys are allowed per hunter all season long. The main difference between the draw hunts on WMA land and the all access hunts is the chance of encountering another hunt party. Different hunt tactics are required hunting where turkeys are pressured by increased human traffic, causing them to alter daily routines. A draw hunt WMA property only sees a small level of disturbance, keeping the entire ecosystem in a more natural state.
Turkey season regulations in South Carolina changed in 2016 in response to declining populations. The season was changed to a standardized set of dates statewide beginning March 20 and ending May 5. The bag limit per season was decreased from five down to three per hunter. SCDNR turkey hunt data records that more than 50,000-hunters went looking for turkeys in 2018, and that overall statewide harvest went down about 6-percent. If turkey populations do not rebound, hunters can expect for the regulations in South Carolina to continue to evolve.
The top counties for total turkey harvest in 2018 were the usual suspects including Williamsburg, Berkeley, Orangeburg, Fairfield and Colleton. But for turkeys harvested per square mile in 2018 the top counties were Union, Spartanburg, Cherokee, Anderson and Fairfield. These upstate properties saw their early season hunting dates increase when the 2016 date changes went into effect, and hunter success rates went up. An indirect result from the 2016 date changes in certain areas may be that there are less mature gobblers present to mate each Spring because they are being harvested sooner.
The good news for turkey hunting enthusiasts is that turkey populations have shown the ability to rebound in the past, and that begins with poult production and survival. SCDNR is offering a new online voluntary survey for observers to help biologists during the summer dates of July 1 – August 29. Whether reporting turkey hens with poults, or hens without poults, this data can be used to document reproduction trends. Everything from predation by coyotes to tropical rains can affect poult survival, and similar effects can vary from region to region, This statewide network of reporting conditions on the ground, is a way for turkey hunters to help themselves by sharing information with SCDNR biologists.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com.

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (353 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com