Tennessee's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2
November 16, 2010
Trophy deer can show up anyplace in the Volunteer State, but some areas are in a class by themselves for producing big whitetails. Here, Tennessee Sportsman takes an in-depth look at what parts of the state are best for a trophy buck.
Over the past several years, Tennessee Sportsman Magazine has brought its readers the biological data from previous seasons' harvests as a predictor of "Where to get your trophy" buck. As an ardent fan of whitetails in the Volunteer State, I ask myself that same question every year and try to find my own trophy bucks.
Although pouring over mounds of biological data is interesting, as well as sometimes lending itself to finding hotspots, a history of what has already been killed can only shed some light on what you will find prowling the woods this coming season. Ask any biologist if two consecutive years compared to each other provide any kind of "trend" data. They don't. For this reason, we're going to diverge from the norm of just telling you where bucks with seven points or more were killed and add some information on which counties have produced some true wall hangers.
The best way to find historical data on Tennessee's trophy bucks is to review the Tennessee Deer Registry. Since the TDR is a voluntary registration of bucks with a minimum antler score, it doesn't include every buck that's been killed that qualifies. The database is large enough, though, to create some trend data. We all know that looking at long-term trends to predict the future is better than reviewing data "snap shots" from a couple of years harvest information.
Another question that begs asking is: What is a trophy buck in Tennessee? Not everybody agrees. Some hunters measure, quite literally, a trophy buck by the number of inches of antler on a buck's head by the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system. Other deer hunters measure the quality of a buck by its age, while others simply gauge a buck's quality by the number of "points" on his rack. There are other parameters for judging the quality of a buck, but we'll stick with the previous mentioned qualifiers. I'll be the first to say that a hunter's personal measure for success is just that, personal. No single measure of a buck's quality is right or wrong. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.
Although I've only been hunting deer in Tennessee for a short period of time when compared to others, I have hunted here long enough and in enough places to form a personal opinion of what "my" trophy buck looks like. I set my trophy goal for a buck that's at least 3 1/2 years old. When a buck reaches an age where he is coming into his fourth hunting season he represents a challenging quarry, is nearing his maximum potential for antler and body growth and you've got a reasonable expectation to find one where you hunt. If the buck is 4 1/2 or older, or, his rack scores enough to qualify for the TDR, then that's just icing on the cake.
From a statistical standpoint, killing a buck in Tennessee that's 3 1/2 years old is a reasonable goal. Of the bucks killed statewide last season, about 15 percent were 3 1/2 years old. On the other hand, it's my best guess based upon 19 years of studying Tennessee deer harvest data and 29 seasons hunting here, fewer than 1 in a 100 bucks killed are 5 1/2 years old. Put another way, a good deer hunter could spend a couple of lifetimes killing deer in this state and never pull the trigger on a 5 1/2-year-old buck.
The number of quality bucks produced in the Volunteer State is trending upward. Last season, 73 counties out of 95 had increases in the harvest of 7- and 8-point bucks. The number of 9- and 10-pointers harvested statewide stayed the same in 77 counties, which was more counties than in 2008. The number of counties reporting bucks with 11 points or more increased in 56 counties, and seven counties remained level for bucks in this class.
Region I, with 25 counties, saw an increase in 7- and 8-point buck in only 13 counties, which was down from the previous season. In the 9- and 10-point class, Region I had increases in 17 counties, which also was down from 2008. The number of 11-points-or-greater rose or stayed level in 13 counties.
Region II also has 25 counties, and saw an increase in 7- and 8-point buck in 23 counties, which was up from the previous season. In the 9- and 10-point class, Region II had increases in 23 counties, up from 2008. The number of 11-points-or-greater rose or stayed level in 20 counties.
Region III, with 24 counties, saw an increase in 7- and 8-point buck in 19 counties, which was up from the previous season. In the 9- and 10-point class, Region III had increases or stayed level in 17 counties. The number of 11-points-or-greater rose or stayed level in 16 counties.
Region IV, with 21 counties, saw an increase in 7- and 8-point buck in 18 counties, which was dramatically up from the previous season. In the 9- and 10-point class, Region IV had increases in 20 counties. The number of 11-points-or-greater rose or stayed level in 13 counties.
TENNESSEE DEER REGISTRY
Many of Tennessee Sportsman's readers are familiar with the Tennessee Deer Registry. It 's the statewide scoring and ranking of bucks using the B & C scoring method. A typical buck must score 140 if taken with a gun to qualify. A typical bow-killed buck must score a minimum of 115. A non-typical killed with a bow or gun must score a minimum of 145 or 165 respectively to qualify. Recently muzzleloader bucks were added as a category, with a typical minimum score of 120 qualifying, and a 140 non-typical qualifying for entry.
Using the TDR as a method to focus your hunting attention is just as good, or faulty, as relying on what was killed last season to gauge where to hunt next season. But, it does lead to some interesting conclusions with some judicious study.
When the Tennessee Conservation League started the TDR back in the 1970s the record keeping and scoring trudged along. Harvests were still low, and not many big bucks were killed or scored. Then, in the 1980, things picked up to the point where the league asked the TWRA to step in to manage and maintain the records and scoring. By then, harvest numbers were climbing and the number of bruiser bucks killed was keeping the same pace. Currently, there have been 2,285 bucks scored and qualified for entry.
One way to treat the TDR data is to lump all of the archery, gun and muzzleloader bucks scored. Then, let's look at the past three decades to compare where Tennessee's trophy bucks called home. From 1989 and earlier there are 796 bucks listed in the TDR. Between 1990 and 1999, a total of 771 are listed. Since 2000, 718 more bucks have been scored and entered into the TDR. This data isn't perfect, owing to about 30 records that have incomplete data, but it's still good enough for a comparison.
If we step back in time two decades, we can see that Ft. Campbell is the Mecca for big bucks. This huge big-buck hot spot produced 38 bucks for the record books from 1989 and earlier. Land Between the Lakes, which isn't very far from Ft. Campbell, produced 35 record-book bucks during the same period. Oak Ridge wasn't far behind, with 31 bucks in the "book." Next come Humphreys and Montgomery counties, which are tied for 4th place with 29 apiece. Stewart, Fayette, Giles, Cumberland and Morgan counties come next and round out the rest of the top 10 producers. Plot these on a map and you see that the northwest part of the state below the Kentucky line was really producing some quality deer. It makes a lot of sense when you look at deer management history in Tennessee. Ft. Campbell was a major area used for capturing deer to restock the state. The deer that were originally used to stock Ft. Campbell were from South Texas, well known for its big bucks. Soybeans were also a prevalent crop bringing $10 a bushel during the 1980s, too. Some will even argue that the soils are better for growing bigger racks in this part of Tennessee.
During the 1990s things are beginning to change. Williamson County rockets from the 16th place to a tie for No. 1 with Stewart County, with both producing 39 bucks for the TDR. Montgomery picks up a little steam and rises to third place. Davidson County basically Metro Nashville _ rockets from 23rd place in the previous decade to 4th place in the 1990s. Another relative newcomer to the top 10 is Fentress County in 5th place, with Humphreys, Cheatham, McNairy, Fayette, Dickson and Cumberland counties rounding out the top 10 for the 90s.
The big news in the TDR for bucks entered over the past 10 seasons is the relationship between Williamson County and Stewart County. Lying on the south edge of Metro Nashville, Williamson County is firmly in 1st place with 50 bucks making the record book. Stewart County has dropped like a rock to 12th place, and tied with Nashville neighbor Sumner County. Fayette County has really picked up the pace with 35 record book bucks and a solid 2nd place. Cumberland County, home of the state record typical that has reigned for 50 years, rises to 3rd place with 31 bucks for the book. Davidson County remains in 4th place with 28 bucks. Montgomery, not surprisingly, rounds out the top five. Henry and Fentress counties tie for 6th place. Robertson is in 8th place, and Morgan, Hardeman and Cheatham all tie for 9th place. Sumner, Stewart, Rutherford, Overton, and Haywood counties all tie for 12th place.
To no one's surprise, many of these counties correspond with top buck producers according to 2009 harvest figures. It does point out that more counties are capable of producing top-end bucks, though. Take for instance Davidson and Haywood counties. Both have produced state record non-typicals, but neither show up on the radar screen if only 2009 harvest figures are considered. Haywood County has really come on strong over the past few years if you look at the relative number of bucks that qualify for Boone and Crockett's all-time record book, too.
J.D. Emison bagged this record-book non-typical in Madison County last season. Photo by Jay Langston.
PUBLIC LAND FOR 2009 BUCKS
Deer hunters on WMAs experienced a slight 3.7 percent increase in total harvest numbers for bucks with 7 points or more last season. A total of 1,275 bucks with racks sporting 7 points or more were killed. The number of bucks with 7 or 8 points saw a 2-percent decline. There was a major 25-percent jump in the number of bucks taken sporting 9 or 10 points. And, bucks with 11 points or more saw a 4-percent drop. For comparison's sake, the number of bucks killed on Ft. Campbell was not included in these totals, owing to not having harvest data available.
Overall, 26 managed areas saw an increase in harvest of quality bucks. The numbers of 7- or 8-point bucks harvested rose on 22 areas. The number of WMA bucks with 9 or 10 points harvested rose on 24 areas. Just 11 WMAs had an increase in the number of buck with 11 or more points harvested.
In 2009, Catoosa ranked at the top with 177 quality bucks killed, up from the previous year's 173. A close second place finish went to Land Between the Lakes with 173 quality bucks harvested. North and South units of the Cherokee WMA combined to produce 139 quality bucks with 7 points or more.
Catoosa ranked first among managed areas for the harvest of bucks with 7 or 8 points with a total of 125.The LBL WMA followed with 104, and North and South Cherokee combined to produce 100. Chuck Swan and Oak Ridge tied with 55 each in this class.
In the 9- or 10-point category, LBL reigned supreme with 54 taken. Catoosa wasn't far behind with 47 bucks in this class.
In the 11-point or greater category, LBL was again on top with 15 bucks taken. That's a significant number, owing to the fact that only 69 bucks were harvested on public areas statewide in this class.
Even though Oak Ridge's total of quality bucks harvested dropped 18 percent last year, it's still a special place to hunt for trophies. And, Ft. Campbell's total harvest drop for all deer (as reported in last month's edition) shouldn't deter a hunter from trying their luck on this perennial hot spot.
The change in Laurel Hill's buck harvest regulations made a big difference in the harvest numbers last season. I've heard many stories over the past few seasons from hunters frequenting the area, and then lamenting the 9-points-or-better harvest restriction. Several hunters had watched mature big-racked bucks walk past their stands that just didn't have enough points on their headgear. That all changes when the regulations were changed to say that bucks with five points on one side of their racks or a minimum of a 15-inch spread were fair game. The harvest of quality bucks more than doubled, with 33 killed last season compared to 15 taken in 2008.