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Forecast By Kyle Orman

The aroma of fall in the Volunteer State is in the air and ever whitetail hunter knows what that means. The 2013 deer season is upon us.

Most hunters are busy practicing with their archery equipment, scouting some familiar areas or getting to know new ones. They also get back in touch with their firearms, be they a smokepoles or favorite modern deer rifles.

With the cooler nights and the leaves changing, deer hunters start to get the “fever” to get in to the woods and hopefully get a chance at harvesting Tennessee’s favorite big game animal.

While many hunters have the privilege of hunting private property, whether by leasing the rights to hunt or just getting permission from the owner, others must rely on public land. Many hunters simply cannot afford hefty prices to join a hunting club or lease land outright in today’s economy and must hunt public land exclusively. There is nothing wrong with that because our state boasts some great opportunities to fill the freezer and even take a nice buck on public ground.

These areas are spread throughout the state with each region holding multiple lands available for the public to hunt. For instance, I can drive 15 to 20 minutes from my home and can be hunting more than 6,000 acres of good public hunting property.

Tennessee deer hunters have ample chances to harvest whitetails all across the state and as the statistics show from 2012, the state is holding approximately 900,000 whitetails. According to TWRA the overall whitetail population is expected to increase 1 to 2 percent per year for several years, with the biggest population increase in counties closest to the Mississippi River and those in the easternmost portions of the state.

Archery season traditionally begins on the fourth Saturday in September and continues to the last weekend of October, which is reserved for youth hunters. Muzzleloader and archery hunters get the next chance at punching a tag, with the primitive weapon action usually beginning the on first or second Saturday in November, and then running for two consecutive weeks.

The popular modern firearms season opens the weekend before Thanksgiving and ordinarily accounts for high harvest numbers in those first few days because of its popularity. Last year more than 92,000 hunters were successful either by taking a deer with a bow, crossbow, muzzleloader, or modern firearm.

The state is divided into three deer management areas: Unit A, Unit B, and Unit L. Units A and B have more conservative limits because their overall deer density is lower than counties that are in Unit L. The L counties have the most liberal limits, henceforth the “L,” because of their higher concentrations of whitetails. The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency also has the state divided into four regions to help better manage each portion and their unique habitats and wildlife.

Check out this Volunteer State giant! Photo via North American Whitetail.

The 2012-13 deer season total harvest numbers were 176,952 deer taken, with 88,543 being antlered and 76,640 does. Another 9,042 deer harvested were button bucks and 2,727 were considered antlerless. Region 1 and 2 again had the highest overall harvest numbers and all the top 10 counties came from one or the other. Gun hunters put up the biggest numbers overall with 110,770, plus another 3,230 deer were taken with firearms from WMAs and other public hunting areas.

Archery hunters also had good numbers with 12,460 deer harvested by bow and 6844 with crossbows. Bow and crossbow hunters took a combined total of 962 deer from public lands in 2012.

The smoke pole hunters also fared well last year with 41,340 whitetails taken and another 1345 from public hunting areas.

As you can see it was another stellar year in the whitetail woods and the numbers reflect the resurgence of our favorite game animal from the effects of the 2007 EHD outbreak. It looks as though the population has rebounded nicely and that should lift the spirits of deer hunters across the Volunteer State.

 

WHICH COUNTIES TO HUNT

Let’s get a rundown of the top 10 counties in harvest numbers from the 2012-13 deer season and see if any have lost or gained ground from the previous year.

Giles County from Region 2 sits atop the list once again with 5501 deer taken. Of that figure, 2,558 were antlered. It had an overall harvest increase of nearly 200 whitetails from the previous season, with the majority being taken during the gun season. The doe harvest totaled 2,567 for the 2012 season.

Henry County takes the first runner up position with 5,460 deer harvested and 2,429 of those were bucks. Hunters in the county took more than 700 more whitetails than they did in 2011, which also helped it gain two spots from the previous year. Does accounted for 2,684 of last season’s total harvest.

Fayette, another Region 1 county takes the third place spot with 5,252 total deer taken last year and bucks accounted for 2,385 of that figure. The county dropped one spot from 2011, even though it had an increase of more than 200 deer bagged than in 2011. On the other hand, it had the most deer harvested with guns, at 4,353. Hunters bagged 2,595 does during last season, which was a slight increase from 2011.

Hardeman County was next with 4,832 deer harvested during 2012, and bucks tallied more than 50 percent of that number, with 2174 being taken. It dropped one place from the previous year, even with a slight harvest increase. The doe harvest increased some, with 2,327 being bagged by hunters during all of last season.

Lincoln County stayed in the fifth spot with 4,633 whitetails reported taken during 2012, with 2,299 sported antlers. It had an increase of 36 deer and is still one of Region 2’s powerhouses. The doe harvest went over the 2000 mark, with 2,118 recorded for 2012.

Montgomery jumped up two positions to take the sixth spot with 3,815 deer bagged and bucks accounted for half that number with 1,677 being harvested. It also had an increase in harvest numbers of more than 200 deer from the 2011 season. The harvest of does exceeded the taking of antlered deer with 1,865 shot.

Weakley County fills the seventh place spot 3,632 total deer harvested in 2012 and bucks totaled 1,681, which accounts for a little less than half of its total harvest. Hunters took 3,121 deer there in 2011 so it also had a significant harvest increase from the previous season. Hunters brought home 1,693 does, nearly equaling the antlered harvest.

Hardin finished eighth, just two deer behind Weakley with 3,630 deer taken during 2012. There was 1,518 whitetail bucks harvested and just as all the others it had an increase in harvest numbers by more than 250. It had a good doe harvest in 2012 with 1,880 females taken by hunters. It jumped two spots from its 10th place position from the year before.

The ninth position is filled by Franklin County with 3,614 deer harvested last year and of that 1,706 were antlered. It dropped three spots from its 2011 position and was the only county that had a decrease in harvest numbers with a little more than 200 fewer deer being taken than it had from the year before. Doe harvest numbers for last season totaled to be 1,678 for this Region 2 county.

Rounding out the top 10 is Carroll County that tallied up 3,581 deer in the 2012 season, which is more than 500 more than 2011’s total. Hunters bagged 1,550 bucks from the Region 1 county that is in Deer Unit L like the rest of the list. The doe harvest surpassed the bucks taken with a total of 1,780 during the 2012 season.

Region 3 counties also had good harvest numbers last year, considering they have less deer density and more rugged terrain compared to areas in the middle and western parts of the state. Roane County had 2,520 deer harvested last season and 1,411 were bucks. Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, and Rhea counties all totaled more than 1,800 whitetails each in 2012. Out of the five counties, only Rhea had a buck harvest of less than 1,000, with 974.

In Region 4 Hawkins County was the frontrunner with 2,448 deer taken and the buck harvest accounted for way more than half of the total with 1,580.

Sullivan, Johnson, Claiborne, and Carter counties were the rest of the top five in this region. Each had good harvest numbers ranging from 1,295 to 1,766. They also had more than 50 percent of the total harvest in bucks.

 

BEST PUBLIC LANDS

Our state’s WMAs provided hunters with another outstanding season in 2012. The top spot is held once again by the Cherokee WMA (North and South units combined) in the extreme eastern portion of the Volunteer State. It had a total harvest of 467 deer taken, of which 382 were bucks. That  was an increase of 15 deer from 2011. These two areas offer hunters plenty of territory with nearly 650,000 acres combined. But, you need to be aware of its rugged features and be physically prepared to hunt those tracts.

In the second position for another year is the popular Land Between the Lakes WMA. Hunters harvested 453 whitetails there last season, with 305 being antlered and does accounting for 148 of the take. Firearm hunters accounted for the majority of the harvest, but bowhunters did quite well too, with more than 100 deer being taken.

Next is the 12,000-acre Yanahli WMA in Maury County that jumped up two spots from the previous year That tract gave up 407 deer. Bucks accounted to more than half of the total, with 211 animals sporting antlers. Hunters took 196 does from this WMA’s diverse habitat. It is one of the more popular WMAs because of its size, land features, and it is open suring the statewide seasons.

The Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge takes the next position with 311 whitetails taken in 2012. The number of bucks harvested totaled 120 and this area implements the “earn a buck” incentive. A hunter must kill a doe before legally harvesting any antlered deer. Hunters bagged 191 does last year, which is no surprise for this sleeper deer factory that has some great whitetail habitat.

The Arnold Engineering Development Center, or AEDC as it is commonly referred to, sits in the fifth spot with 284 deer taken in 2012. The buck harvest totaled 18. This 32,000-acre WMA is usually a favorite amongst hunters when applying for their quota hunts.

Another favorite destination for Tennessee deer hunters is the Catoosa WMA, which holds the sixth spot for harvest numbers in 2012. The 79,000-acre area gave up 274 deer last year, with 167 bucks and 107 does harvested. It dropped two positions due to a small decrease in harvest numbers of only 16.

The Natchez Trace WMA that straddles Interstate 40 in Benton, Carroll, and Henderson counties in Region 1 ranks seventh for the 2012 deer harvests. Deer hunters bagged 269 whitetails, of which 153 had antlers. This 48,000-acre WMA is popular because of its location and being open with statewide seasons.

We have to travel eastward to get the eighth place finisher, Oak Ridge WMA. It dropped the most places from the previous season, when it held the No. 3 positions. It also had a slight harvest decrease from 2011, giving up  323 deer to 258 harvested in the 2012 season. Bucks amounted to more than half of the harvest with 160 being taken from this 37,000-acre area. The doe harvest barely missed the century mark with 98 taken.

In the ninth slot is the Cross Creeks NWR, which dropped one spot from the 2011 season. Hunters bagged a total of 246 deer, with 87 being bucks, on the more than 8,000-acre wildlife refuge. It also has the “earn a buck” program were you must take a doe before legally harvesting a deer with antlers. The doe harvest amounted to 159 during 2012, which is to be expected with the rule of taking antlerless first.

Rounding out the top 10 public hunting areas in harvest is the Chuck Swan WMA. It’s 24,000 acres gave up 181 whitetails last year and of that 125 were bucks and 39 were does.

Whether you hunt on land you own, hold a lease or take advantage of one of the many public areas provided for hunting, you have a good chance at taking home a deer in Tennessee. But you have to get out there to be successful!

Don’t forget to upload your best deer photos to our Camera Corner!