Tennessee'™s Best Draw Hunts For Deer

Are you overlooking the best draw hunt opportunities near you? (July 2007)

Photo by Ralph Hensley.

Tennessee residents now have available to them many different ways of entering all kinds of lotteries.

The lottery we're going to talk about -- Tennessee's deer draw hunt lottery -- won't make you a millionaire. However, it might just get you out on a productive deer hunt, and there are much worse things than that. Also, your odds are quite a bit better of getting drawn to a successful draw hunt for deer in Tennessee than the odds are that you'll win a million bucks in the other kind of lottery.

LOOKING BACK AT LAST SEASON

The participation in Tennessee's draw hunts from the TWRA to federal lands may not be up, but the success is definitely on the rise. TWRA's big-game coordinator Daryl Ratajczak said last year's new online registration program for applying for draw hunts had a tremendous effect on participation. He said the agency saw a significant drop in applications, but they expect to see a rebound this year.

Despite the drop, the number of deer taken on draw hunts and WMA hunts overall was up in 2006, with 7,158 deer killed. That's a decent increase over the 6,653 deer taken on management hunts in 2005. Before the 2005 seasons, the WMA harvest has not been over 6,000 deer since the year 2000. Also, Tennessee hunters had not breached the 7,000 deer harvest mark since the mid-1990s. Let's look closer at where the increases are coming from and what can be expected in 2007.

Some draw hunts in Tennessee are just simply popular; some have legend and history behind them; and then there are those up-and-coming areas that you don't need to overlook. It's no secret that Presidents Island is the top draw hunt in Tennessee. The bucks found there are truly trophy-class, and for hunters successfully drawn on a Presidents Island hunt, the odds that they will kill a trophy buck are orders of magnitude better than the odds on any other public land hunt in the state.

Even so, many other public-land areas in Tennessee offer many opportunities for decent deer, as well as a much better chance of actually being drawn for a hunt.

Ratajczak said management areas like the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Land Between The Lakes (LBL) are still quality places to take a good buck as well as top draw overall. Bigger bucks are going to be found at areas like Catoosa, Oak Ridge, and of course, Presidents Island. Ratajczak said it's just a matter of deciding what you want to hunt.

If you want to see more deer and aren't worried about whether they're sporting horns or not, Ratajczak said AEDC in Region II and Chuck Swan in Region IV are good options. AEDC's reputation is well known among hunters and Chuck Swan has a rich history. AEDC remains strong and Chuck Swan is on the rebound. Ratajczak said Chuck Swan is still a quantity destination for hunters in East Tennessee for seeing deer. AEDC and Chuck Swan still produce some pretty decent bucks for those willing to put their applications in the draw hunts there.

And, of course, there are still the popular draw hunts at Fort Campbell. This military installation is known for its fighting men first and its deer population next. Ratajczak said Fort Campbell opportunities for Tennessee hunters are good because it lies along the Kentucky border. The soils there are relatively rich and help produce big, healthy deer. Many of the bucks taken there are young deer that are just simply bigger at an early age than those found elsewhere.

THE BEST MANAGEMENT HUNTS FROM 2006

Looking at the harvest figures from last season, you can easily see which ones produce the greatest numbers. Fort Campbell was back on top with 693 deer harvested in the Volunteer State. LBL was a not so distant second with 617 deer tagged, followed closely by Tennessee NWR (the 2005 leader) with 615 deer killed. AEDC was next with a total deer harvest of 483 whitetails, and AEDC was fifth with 469 deer harvested during 2006 hunts.

When it comes to harvesting bucks, Fort Campbell produced 520 overall in both Tennessee and Kentucky. The breakdown of how many came on this side of the border wasn't available. LBL produced 338 antlered deer, and Chuck Swan had a respectable take of 244 bucks. Catoosa was just as strong with 242 bucks tagged, and Eagle Creek saw 202 bucks harvested. You can look at the total deer harvests by clicking the Big Game Harvest link on the TWRA Web site at www.tnwildlife.org.

Taking a peek at the odds, here are percentages found at some of the more productive draw hunts. The first November gun hunt at Yuchi Refuge saw 64 percent of the hunters participating harvesting a deer (32 out of 50). At the Tennessee NWR, the first gun hunt in October had 39.8 percent of hunters taking deer (199 out of 500). The November gun hunt there was also good with 32.6 percent of hunters harvesting deer (163 out of 500 hunters).

At Presidents Island, 30 percent of the hunters drawn on the December archery hunt harvested deer (nine out of 30 hunters). Also, 23.4 percent of hunters took deer on the November gun hunt at Oak Ridge (117 out of 500). Oak Ridge hunters also had a success rate of 22.8 percent on the first December deer hunt (114 out of 500). The Hatchie NWR had a 27.3 percent success rate on the November gun hunt (68 out of 250). Last and most impressive was the November gun hunt at Cross Creeks Refuge with a harvest of 78 percent (78 out of 100 hunters).

REGION-BY-REGION ADVICE

Region I

Region I TWRA biologist Alan Peterson said Presidents Island is clearly the best chance for a great big buck and the hunt of a lifetime in his region. It not only stands far above the WMAs in Region I, it's the most highly sought draw hunt in Tennessee. However, just as obviously everyone knows, thousands apply for just 80 spots. Thus, the chances of taking a big buck are really good if you are drawn, but the chances of being drawn are minuscule.

The WMA that Peterson points to as one to keep an eye on in 2007 is also one of the best of all time. Peterson said he thinks LBL has been underutilized in recent years. He said the area doesn't get the huge numbers of East Tennessee hunters that it used to.

If he had to pick a WMA to be drawn at personally? As you'd guess, Peterson said Presidents Island would be his choice. However, since that option would only allow him to hunt once every 20 or 30 years, Peterson would consider some of the Kentucky Lake federal refuges (Tennessee National -- any unit, or Cross Creeks) if his main concern was the chance to take a deer. He said they take many deer on those refuges. For big bucks, he would look at WMAs and refuges along the Mississippi Ri

ver like the Lower Hatchie NWR, Chickasaw NWR, John Tully WMA, Moss Island WMA or Ernest Rice WMA.

Region II

Russ Skoglund, one of the deer biologists working out of Region II, said most Region II WMAs are showing signs of harvesting better bucks due to the low buck bag. As for any one WMA standing out among the rest in the region, he said specifically Laurel Hill WMA is seeing some very nice deer since they have a spike or 9-point or better regulation.

Deer harvest numbers at the Region II WMAs are relatively constant, and Skoglund said the ratio of older age class bucks is increasing. There are plenty of choices for taking bucks as well as just a chance to put deer meat in the freezer, but his picks for optimum success would be Cheatham and AEDC WMAs.

Region III

Ben Layton, one of Tennessee's most noted big-game biologists now working in Region III, said the best WMA for killing a mature buck (defined as those 2 1/2 years old or older) is undoubtedly the Catoosa WMA. He added that since the Quality Deer Management (QDM) program started on the area in 1998, one of the goals of the program was to harvest over 200 adult bucks. In the 2006 season, Catoosa hunters harvested 222 bucks 2 1/2 years old or older and for the first time broke the 200-buck barrier in that category.

As far as a Region III WMA that has an increasing deer herd, Layton said most of the WMAs have deer herds that are relatively stable. Catoosa is showing some growth, but it is slow. The main attraction for Catoosa, however, is the population of older bucks rather than the density of the deer population as a whole.

On the other hand, Layton said the agency is trying to decrease the number of deer on the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant in Chattanooga. The area has two quota archery hunts, but those may be expanded to increase the harvest. He said some good bucks have been seen on this area, but none greater than 120-inch-class bucks have been harvested.

Another WMA that produces good bucks and is "under harvested" is Fall Creek Falls WMA. Layton said this WMA is open for one quota hunt and one non-quota hunt in November around the time of the statewide muzzleloader hunt. Both of these hunts are archery only. Most years, at least one Pope and Young buck is taken off this area.

As for just killing a deer for the freezer, probably the best in the region would be the Oak Ridge WMA. This area has quota archery and quota gun hunts. Higher deer populations are found in the archery areas than the gun areas. The archery areas are designated as archery-only due to safety concerns over using guns in these sensitive regions. Layton said a hunter wanting to see a good number of deer would be best served by applying for hunts in the archery areas. Oak Ridge also has a good population of older aged bucks due to the combination of the QDM program in place and the lack of hunting pressure in some of the archery areas.

Layton said if he had to pick a WMA for himself to hunt, he would pick Oak Ridge for the deer numbers and the chance of killing a mature buck. His second choice would be the VAAP because of deer numbers. This area has a denser deer herd than Oak Ridge, and there are some good bucks there also.

Region IV

TWRA's Region IV deer biologist Dan Gibbs said if you're looking for a WMA that stands far above the rest, you might have to look outside of as well as within Region IV. However, it all depends on what you want out of a hunt.

If your goal is just to see deer, Gibbs said he would consider hunts at Chuck Swan or Cheatham WMAs. These two areas have traditionally been high-harvest WMAs and have the reputations of being good places to see many deer while hunting.

Gibbs has also seen really nice deer come out of Campbell and Anderson counties in Region IV (Royal Blue/Sundquist WMAs) the last couple of years.

He said if you're looking for an older buck, then Oak Ridge and Catoosa are places to consider. At these highly productive WMAs, antler restrictions have been able to protect a large number of 1-year-old deer: About 60 to 70 percent of the deer taken here are 2-year-olds, and 15 to 20 percent are 3-year-olds in any given year.

In Region IV, a WMA that's on the comeback trail is Chuck Swan. Legendary in its heyday, this WMA was once a top destination and is now making its way back to its once lofty status. Gibbs said there were over 400 deer taken at Chuck Swan during last season's hunts, and the harvest figures for Chuck Swan are definitely on the increase. Gibbs noted that while recent harvest numbers don't rival those from the late '80s, they are much better than the WMA saw in the last decade, when the harvest had fallen well below 300 deer per year.

GET IT RIGHT

Ratajczak said you want to make sure you get your application done correctly and submitted on time. Mail-in quota hunt applications are no longer an option. A list of quota hunts is available at license agents and online. Hunters may also walk into any license agent (including TWRA regional offices) and apply. You will need your TWRA number and required fees, if any. Annual Sportsman and Lifetime Sportsman license holders and seniors with a type 167 permit are not required to pay the fee.

Using the 2007 Quota Hunt instruction sheet, select the hunt choices for the areas you wish to apply. After applying, the license agent will give the applicant a receipt listing name, address, hunt choices and fees. Be sure to verify all information (including address) on the application receipt to ensure you will receive quota hunt information after the drawing.

Hunters with Internet access may go online to www.state.tn.us/twra/ and apply for a quota hunt. Click on "On-Line Hunting/Fishing Licenses & Boat Renewals" and follow the on-screen directions. The beauty of the system is that you can check your application status later through a link on the same page.

The deadline for applying for the TWRA's quota hunts has for years been set in stone as the third Wednesday in July. The best news for applicants is many of the mistakes made on their annual applications can now be avoided thanks to the online form. Mistakes may be noted immediately as required fields have to be filled in.

On the WMA Quota Draw Hunts, you either have priority or you don't. Getting priority is easy; keeping it is tough. To obtain priority status, you had to have been unsuccessful in the draw the prior year. If you are drawn for any of your choices, the next year you would have no priority status.

Many hunters want to know how long it takes to be drawn on a desired hunt once they obtain priority status. If you have a specific WMA that you want to be drawn for, it's best to only list that WMA on your application. Once you have priority status, you should submit an application each year.

Ratajczak said he expects the quota hunt priority status to change from a one-year priority to a two-year priority this year and wants to see the status taken out to

five years in the near future. What this means is that your chances of being drawn at a premier spot like Presidents Island will be increased greatly.

Finally, if you are drawn for a quota hunt, plan to hunt on an area's non-quota dates. If you need hunt information, or want to inquire about future hunts, here are some links and phone numbers for details.

TWRA Quota Draw Hunts -- www.tnwildlife.org or consult the TWRA's 2006 Tennessee Hunting & Trapping Guide.

Milan Army Ammunition Plant -- www.milanarsenalhunting.com/ -- Plenty of information about hunt dates, regulations on the site's Hunting Notice Page.

Oak Ridge -- To see the 2004 harvest figures and to research this year's hunts, go online to www.ornl.gov/rmal/huntinfo.htm/.

Fort Campbell -- For more information about Fort Campbell's hunts call (270) 798-2175. You are required to have a hunter's safety certificate to hunt Fort Campbell.

LBL -- You can call the main office for hunt information at (270) 924-2065 or get details on the draw hunt at http://www.lbl.org/RecreationLinks.html/.

Holston Army Ammunition Plant -- The Hunt Information Line for Holston Defense is (423) 578-6291.

Find more about Tennessee fishing and hunting at: TennesseeSportsmanMag.com

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