CHECK STATIONS NO LONGER REQUIRED FOR SOUTH CAROLINA TURKEY HUNTERS
Though turkey hunters in South Carolina will still be required to possess and use turkey tags, taking harvested turkeys to check stations will not be required in the future.
At the request of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the South Carolina General Assembly recently amended the law specifying that all harvested turkeys must be checked at an official check station on the day the turkey is harvested. DNR's decision to request this change came after several years of study and for several reasons, according to Charles Ruth Jr., DNR Deer/Turkey Project supervisor.
Many hunters believe that the reason turkeys were required to be checked is so turkey-hunting laws could be enforced, but this is not the case. "The primary reason for checking turkeys in the past is so the DNR could get turkey harvest information," Ruth said. "In reality, turkey tags, not check stations, form the basis for wild turkey hunting enforcement, and no changes are being made to tagging requirements."
In preparing for the change in the check-in requirement, DNR Wildlife Section biologists have been using survey research the last few years in order to develop harvest figures to compare with check station figures, according to Ruth. Extensive surveys, using both mail and telephone techniques, indicate that far more turkeys are being harvested annually than are reported at check stations. "This is partially explained by the fact that about 20 percent of hunters admit to not checking harvested turkeys," Ruth said. "If this many hunters admit to not checking birds, the actual percentage could potentially be much higher.
"The bottom line is information coming from check stations represents only a minimal turkey harvest," Ruth said, "and today there are more reliable and cost effective methods for getting this type of harvest data. This is exactly the reason surveys will be the primary tool used to gather turkey harvest data in the future."
The recovery of the wild turkey in South Carolina has been a great success story. The bird was rare throughout much of the 1900s, but through trapping and relocating more than 3,500 turkeys on some 200 sites statewide as part of a restoration program DNR began more than 30 years ago, turkeys are now present in all 46 South Carolina counties. The statewide wild turkey population is estimated at more than 100,000.
In hindsight, the wide distribution of turkeys now may account for some of the decline in compliance with the check-in requirement. Compared to 20 years ago when turkeys were not widely available, today's hunters can hunt closer to home; therefore, it is not as convenient to find a check station.
"We saw this same phenomenon with deer check stations in the Piedmont more than 10 years ago," Ruth said. "As the distribution of the resource increased, hunters stayed closer to home and check-in compliance decreased. The deer check-in requirement was eliminated following the 1996 season, and the DNR has used an annual survey to get deer harvest figures ever since."
Hunter convenience, as well as the DNR's recent manpower and financial situation, entered into the decision to eliminate the turkey check-in requirement, as well. Even with more than 300 check stations in the state, there have been complaints by hunters that it can be difficult to conveniently locate an open check station in some cases. Also, servicing the check stations involves labor and supplies that will represent savings to the DNR.
Even though harvested turkeys will no longer have to be checked, DNR would like to maintain its relationship with those businesses that have been turkey checks stations. "We will still need sites for turkey tags to be issued," Ruth said, "and any of the check stations that would like to continue this part of the program will be welcomed."
Annually, more than 40,000 hunters participate in the spring gobbler season, contributing more than $16 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina's economy