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2020 Turkey Season Changes and Draw Hunt Deadline

Everyone is hoping that hen turkeys have better nesting success in 2020.

Dove hunting and duck hunting seasons end on the last day of January, and for many, the spring turkey season is next on the outdoors to-do list. The small game season extends into February for quail, rabbit and snipe hunting but warmer than average weather can hinder those opportunities. The rules and regulations for hunting wild turkey in South Carolina continue to evolve with their populations lower than normal in many areas. The opening day for turkey hunting in the Lowcountry will be pushed back until March 22, with a new provision that no more than one gobbler be harvested during the first ten days of the season.
For veteran turkey hunters, the long time historical opening day for hunting Lowcountry longbeards on March 15, looks more and more like a thing of the past. The opening day for the 2019 opening season was pushed back until March 20, and now in 2020, the Sunday, March 22 date effectively shaves off the first potential Saturday of turkey hunting opportunity. The deeper dates on the calendar, and the new provision, are in tune with data from biologist studies that show mature gobblers being the most susceptible to turkey calling in the early season. The later start date and the trimming of the early harvest theoretically give the gobblers a better chance to breed with hens to increase reproductive success.
More date changes for the 2020 turkey season include a youth hunting weekend on March 14 and 15, with a limit of one bird per hunter, and that turkey counting toward their season limit. The season limit for turkey hunters is three birds per hunter, and 2020 marks the first year that turkey tags are no longer free. South Carolina residents will pay a $5 fee for three turkey tags, and non-resident hunters will pay $100 for their limit of two turkey tags per hunter. Tags may be purchased online or by phone and will be mailed out beginning in mid-February. Tags will be available over the counter at SCDNR regional offices in March, and turkey tags must be in your possession when hunting.
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. The lottery hunt application process is open from now until March 2 at 5 p.m.
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 high-quality experience in the outdoors is more than likely.
The SCDNR website makes lottery application hunts easier these days with several new features. You can now log in to view your current licensing, permits, and latest lottery hunt results. In most cases, it takes a multi-year application process to obtain a public lottery draw hunt, and this recent upgrade eliminates the need to stockpile past applications to keep up with your draw hunt status. As the SCDNR website becomes more efficient at gathering hunter fees, it also attracts the attention of those who would profit illegally from online commerce. The SCDNR home page now carries a warning stating that due to fraudulent websites in the natural resources realm, please ensure that when purchasing products that the URL address begins with dnrlicensing.sc.gov.
The top counties for turkey harvest in 2019 were Williamsburg, Orangeburg, Berkeley, Colleton, and Spartanburg. While Game Zones 3 and 4 will have turkey season dates on private lands from March 22 – April 30, the season for private lands in Game Zones 1 and 2 will run from April 1 – May 10. Hunters who purchase a WMA permit can hunt turkeys on designated Wildlife Management Areas from April 1 – May 5. The Savannah River Site offers a turkey draw hunt for hunters with disabilities in April, and the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge also holds a public turkey hunt drawing.
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis
Jeff Dennis, Contributor (386 Posts)

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