Tennessee's Top Draw Hunts for Deer

Ready, set, draw! Now's the time to decide where to put your faith in Tennessee's quota deer draw hunts. Before you roll the dice, let us help you make a logical choice.

By Larry Self

It's July, and quite possibly the closest thing on your mind to deer hunting is the deer burger smoking on the grill. But for a little while right now, you need to forget vacation planning, fishing trips and cookouts. That's because for Tennessee hunters, July contains an important deer-hunting date: the quota draw hunt application deadline on the third Wednesday of the month.

For more than a few Volunteer whitetail hunters, Tennessee's quota draw hunts represent a great chance to take a deer; for some lucky hunters, that deer will turn out to be a trophy.

When it comes to deciding which draw to put in for, you can consider a location in proximity to you, reputation, or count on blind luck. In deer hunting, all of these things can have their advantages, but you shouldn't rely on any of them to give you your best chance at a whitetail.

After all, the educated hunter is the successful hunter. To help make the decision and before you simply roll the dice, let us help you make the logical pick for this year's Tennessee draw hunts for deer.

Photo by Jerry Amos

INSIDE ADVICE

So where do you go for top advice? The answer is: You get the inside word. That word this year comes from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's (TWRA) Tabitha Lavacot, Wildlife Manager I, and Sally Gumm, the Quota Hunts Supervisor.

The two veteran managers know the quota system as well as anyone. They note that before you put in on one of the draw hunts, you need to understand the priority system. With the deer draw hunts, it's simple.

On the WMA Big Quota Hunt, you either have priority or you do not. Lavacot and Gumm said if you're drawn for any of your choices, the next year you would have no priority points. Also, priority status is by application not applicant: If someone has priority and someone on the same application does not, then the application would be in the regular draw instead of in the priority draw.

Many hunters want to know how long it takes to get drawn on a desired hunt once you attain priority status. Gumm said if you have a specific WMA that you want to get drawn for, it's best to only list that WMA on your application. The key is once you have priority, you should submit an application each year. Persistence pays off here.

To maintain the same priority, everyone on your application must have priority. That's the golden rule of priority status. However, it's impossible for her to say how long it might take to get drawn in the high-demand/low-quota areas. Simply put, once you are on priority status, it then just becomes the luck of the draw.

Of course, the main question for most hunters is: Where should I apply if I want the best chance at a good buck?

Gumm and Lavacot were quick to respond with WMAs that all feature quality management efforts with antler restrictions. They said Catoosa, Presidents Island, Laurel Hill and Oak Ridge are all WMAs that have antler restrictions and are producing some nice deer. AEDC and LBL also have their fair share of 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-point bucks harvested.

Some WMAs offer better opportunities at taking some freezer meat than others. Interestingly, some of the top buck areas also feature good chances at taking a doe on specified hunts. Featured buck producers like AEDC, Fort Campbell, Holston Army Ammunition Plant, LBL, Oak Ridge and Yucihi WMAs also produce high numbers of does for hunters.

It's probably not an accident that high doe harvests correspond with bigger bucks; killing does is an important part of managing strong deer populations.

At AEDC, for example, over half of the 595 deer taken in 2002 were does. Likewise, at Fort Campbell, almost half of the 887 whitetails tagged on quota hunts were does. More than half, 135 of 218 deer, at HAAP were does as well. Hunters at Yuchi killed a total of 203 deer and over half of those deer were does. LBL and Oak Ridge were slightly off this trend, but still had about a third of their harvests featuring does.

Taking does is not only important to many hunters, it's also important to the deer herds. Maintaining a good doe-to-buck balance helps to create some of the quality deer hunting we're seeing at several WMAs. Many draw hunts offer the chance at harvesting a buck, a doe, or both. Check the application carefully for areas offering these opportunities.

Gumm added there are also a couple of WMAs that are often overlooked and receive less pressure. She said Prentice Cooper and Yanahli WMAs are two of the most overlooked and make good second choices for draw hunts on your application.

TWRA's Allen Ricks, information and education officer for Region IV and a veteran whitetail hunter himself, said the most valuable move you can make regarding your quota hunt application is to get it in the mail early. That may seem like simple advice, but if you're one prone to make mistakes, it's worthwhile.

Early applications that have errors in them will be sent back to the applicant for correction. Applications that have errors but are sent just at the deadline cannot be corrected.

"The two most common mistakes are adding someone to the party that does not have priority and transposing numbers in the social security number," Ricks explained.

Some hunters also let the third Wednesday in July deadline slip by and then send the application in with an invalid postmark.

One tip Ricks suggests is to make a copy of the application before putting it in the mail so it can be used as a reference point next year when you've forgotten all the details involved with applying. He also advises hunters to put down several choices, even if on priority. In the deer drawings, there is only one year of priority.

NUMBERS SPEAK LOUDLY

When we put this plan together, the 2003 TWRA deer harvest figures were still being calculated. That means we'll rely on the 2002 harvest data for a look at the top WMA draw hunts by the numbers.

In 2001, quota draw hunt figures dropped to 4,979, in large part because several public lands were closed to hunting following the attack on the World Trade Center. The 2002 WMA harvest wasn't quite back to the norm of 6,000 deer tagged, but the 5,605 total was encouraging. Tennessee hunters will probably have to

live with the fact that there will be tighter security on many federal land hunts from now on.

As you deliberate where to cast your lot in the Volunteer quota draw, you'll want to consider many factors in choosing which hunts appeal to you. Location and time of year of the hunt are important, but so are the harvest figures on individual public lands.

Fort Campbell continued its dominance as the top managed destination with a more respectable harvest of 887 deer in 2002 - the highest harvest there since 1997. LBL fell to third in 2002, behind second-place finisher AEDC. AEDC saw 595 deer taken, while LBL hunters tagged 568 deer.

With hunts reopened at federal facilities in 2002, Oak Ridge and Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP) returned to the Top 10 WMA section. Oak Ridge had its best harvest since 1997 with 421 deer tagged for the fourth slot. HAAP posted its highest harvest since 1999, putting it in the eighth position. With its Quality Deer Management program, Catoosa remains a top WMA destination and increased its harvest again in 2002 with 315 and a fifth-place spot, despite stricter harvest regulations.

Eagle Creek increased from 156 deer in 2001 to 223 in 2002, good enough for the sixth spot. At Chuck Swan, the TWRA removed the January either-sex hunt in 2002 and lowered quotas on the December archery hunt. The area still managed to surpass its 2001 totals by producing 222 deer for a seventh-place ranking. After just two seasons, the Yuchi Refuge increased from 2001's 150 harvest to 203 last year and moved quickly into the Top 10 public hunts at ninth. The Cheatham WMA totals fell slightly in 2002, but the poplar site held on to the 10th spot with 202 deer tagged.

Some hunters are most interested in going on a hunt that holds the best chance for a big buck. The reopening of hunts cancelled in 2001 led to new buck opportunities for many. A complete season at Fort Campbell and re-opened hunts at Oak Ridge and the army ammunition plants had many hunters drawn the prior year anticipating big-buck success.

The 2002 WMA buck harvests increased over the previous year.

In 2001, despite limited hunting, Tennessee hunters still managed to harvest 1,014 bucks with 7 or more points. But the 2002 7-point-or-better harvest in 2002 was even higher, with 1,260 big bucks harvested.

The top four WMA big-buck hunts were Fort Campbell, Catoosa, LBL and Oak Ridge in that order. The rest were far back in the pack in the big-buck category.

Fort Campbell hunters took 171 bucks with 7 and 8 points, 58 bucks with 9 and 10 points, and topped things off with 16 bucks carrying 11 or more points. Catoosa's quality regulations, which require that all bucks taken have at least 4 points is creating some tremendous buck numbers each season. The number of bucks with 7 or more points in the Catoosa harvest increased from 160 in 2001 to 190 in 2002.

LBL's numbers were slightly off the 2001 pace. The most likely reason for this was that LBL was not closed in 2001 and therefore had a larger number of hunters - but in 2002, hunters returned to reopened hunts on public lands, such as Fort Campbell, in 2002. In 2001, LBL produced 161 bucks with 7 or more points; but in 2002, "only" 142 bucks in that category were taken.

Another WMA that you'll want to follow each year and consider is Presidents Island, which produced eight quality archery bucks in 2002. Bucks on the island hunt have to be sporting nine or more points to be considered legal takes, so any buck taken here is a trophy.

Oak Ridge's 2002 comeback was anchored by its harvest of 116 bucks with 7 or 8 points. One of the greatest surprises came from Chuck Swan where the increase in the number of 7- and 8-pointers to 34 bucks taken in 2002 nearly doubled the 2001 total.

PARTING SHOTS

The great thing about the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's draw hunts isn't just the opportunity that they present for hunters to harvest deer. The beauty of the draw is that if you prefer to hunt with a particular weapon, you have a multitude of choices.

You'll want to look over the quota application carefully for hunts that appeal to you. Keep in mind time of year, weather conditions and rutting conditions, as well as your personal hunt preferences.

Here's a personal tip: Don't count entirely on the application in front of you for making your quota hunt selection. The TWRA offers resources to help you determine where you'd like to put in for the quota hunts. You can even go on their Web site at www.tnwildlife.org to find a wealth of information on deer hunting in Tennessee, as well as more specifics on the quota hunts.

One of the best references you can have is the TWRA's Tennessee Hunting & Trapping Guide. In it, the WMAs are broken down by region and each description provides you with plenty of details prior to filling out your application.

Such details as acreage, hunting seasons and dates, phone numbers, and regulations are there for you to review. That means if you take last year's hunting and trapping guide, you can do a little homework before the new one is released in July. Again, pay particular attention to which weapons are allowed on the property and make sure the timeframe you want is a part of that WMA's quota hunt.

The summaries of each WMA in its own region will prove very valuable as you make your final hunt choices. Not only can you look for a hunt featuring your favorite weapon and check exact dates for scheduling time off work when you're drawn, you can look to see exactly what the quota number for hunters drawn for a particular hunt is to review your odds.

And if you're really feeling adventurous, nothing says you have to put in on a big-buck area or a WMA that produces a lot of doe harvests. There are plenty of smaller WMAs that many hunters may think they have to themselves. These overlooked, hardly mentioned hunts could be the place for you to take an isolated trophy.

Finally, choose your hunt wisely. If you don't really like to bowhunt, don't put in for an archery quota hunt at Presidents Island just because it sounds like the best bowhunt. Likewise, putting in for a muzzleloader hunt at Oak Ridge and not hunting regularly with blackpowder may take you out of your hunting game plan. The more comfortable you are with the draw you're given, the better your odds for success. Not having to worry about your weapon will let you concentrate on your hunting skills and naturally take your animal when the opportunity comes.



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