2023 South Carolina Turkey Camp
April 28, 2023
South Carolina backroads in early spring are always overlaid with beautiful green foliage and sweet wild jasmine starting to bloom. Just an hour away from the state’s capital, Columbia, a primitive seasonal camp lays between a 170,000 acres of untouched public hunting land. Hills and ridges to rolling creek and river bottoms lays out the background. Oaks, willows, and sweet gum are just a few of the trees that flood these bottoms. Up on the hills are pines. This stretch of land is known as the Sumter National Forrest. More specifically, the Enoree Ranger District. Here, a group of 10 women gathered in hopes of harvesting a turkey.
The 2023 South Carolina Turkey Camp began on a Sunday afternoon. After setting up camp and getting through introductions, we began to partner up and head out to scout in preparation for the next day’s hunt. Some headed to the woods in hopes of roosting a bird while others checked out recent controlled burn locations for any type of activity. Turkey hunting on public land with limited knowledge of the layout and topography can be a challenge. Growing up, I always hunted private land and only dabbled in public land hunting, so this was all new to me.
One of the great things about turkey camp is that we all arrived with different levels of experience and backgrounds of knowledge but left knowing a little bit more. For example, while out scouting that evening one of the hunters ran into a local game warden. His advice to her was, “whatever time you think you should be in the woods in the morning, get there an hour earlier,” which I found out to be true.
When we returned to camp that evening, we had wild venison and sausage soup stewed over the fire waiting on us. After a long afternoon setting up camp and scouting, it was just what we needed to warm us up. We also had the chance to eat some snow goose hearts as an appetizer which I would never consider eating unless I had the group of women there for encouragement. It was delicious by the way. The community built around the campfire made it feel inclusive of all.
Following the evening meal, we continued to sit around the fire and discussed our plans for the morning. All the women except myself, partnered up for the morning. We shared our locations of where we planned to start in the morning, so no one was double crossed. It was interesting to see how spread out we were from one another. With that in mind, I felt at least one group had a good chance of seeing or hearing some birds in the morning. The game plan was to stay high on ridges and listen below for birds. We felt that would be our best chance. As the night neared an end, the group around the fire slowly dwindled down till everyone was tucked in their tents.
I wanted to hunt a location that I found while scouting. It was a recently burned block of woods with parts still smoldering and we saw birds there the day prior. Controlled burn areas make excellent habitat for birds foraging. Smoldering logs drive insects out. In the morning, I set out early, 4:30 am to be exact. And believe it or not, someone was already in my parking spot when I arrived; the game warden was right. Since my spot was taken, I backtracked and traveled to another location. It was not ideal but left me with plenty of ground to cover without being disturbed by another hunter. Unfortunately, I did not encounter or hear a bird, but it was a beautiful morning in the woods.
As we returned to camp, stories began swirl around the mid-morning fire. Some of the women heard birds, worked birds, and had birds jump into their laps off the roost (not literally but close enough). Many ladies headed back out that evening to hunt again, like myself, but still no birds were harvested. To my dismay, I had to return home that evening but almost everyone else stayed till the following day to hunt in the morning once again. Smiles and laughs were shared and overall, everyone had a great time Although, no birds were taken over the weekend the fellowship made it a successful trip and only furthers the encouragement of conservation when it comes to hunting public lands and our turkey.