Deer Hunting on Tennessee's Federal Lands

Deer Hunting on Tennessee's Federal Lands

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, some military bases and other federal lands were closed to deer hunting. We asked managers how these closings have affected our deer hunting.

On many federal lands in Tennessee, bowhunting opportunities have actually improved since the terrorist attacks of September 11. Photo by Mike Bleech

By Larry Self

September 11, 2001, affected everyone's lives in some manner or another. Tennessee deer hunters - in addition to any other adjustments they made in their lives - have come face to face with cancellations, postponements and restrictions on many of Tennessee's federal lands. From draw hunts to other non-quota open deer hunts, the plans of many hunters have had to change over the last couple of years. But, as with most adversities, some good can be gleaned out of the situation.

We've talked with several federal land managers to see how the fallout of September 11 has affected the deer hunting, deer populations and seasons overall on the lands they manage. With terror alerts at home and America's sons and daughters sacrificing all on foreign soils constantly on our minds, deer hunting seems trivial. But the outdoors still offers a temporary escape from current concerns. Let's see which escape avenues still remain open at places like Fort Campbell, Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP), Land Between The Lakes (LBL), Milan Army Ammunition Plant (MLAAP), Oak Ridge and others.

CORPS OF ENGINEERS
One section of designated areas that deer hunters often depend on throughout the season have so far been unaffected by the fallout of September 11. Although many dams on Corps of Engineers lakes have been closed or blocked from access by road and even by on-the-water boundaries, the deer hunting on Corps land has continued. Resource managers at Corps-operated lakes in Tennessee have not had to make major changes to the deer-hunting opportunities on lands surrounding these lakes - nor have Tennessee hunters changed their methods.

FORT CAMPBELL
Van Stokes and George Heath of the Public Affairs Office at Fort Campbell took time away from their busy schedules handling information regarding a little conflict in Iraq to help with this section. Stokes says following 9-11, Fort Campbell experienced a reduction in available areas for approximately two months as they implemented various Force Protection measures on the installation. Fortunately for hunters, since that time the area has had virtually no cancellations.

Better yet, areas that were restricted or off-limits in the immediate months following the terrorist attacks have been reopened. Stokes notes after 9-11, Fort Campbell established a buffer zone around designated areas, which limited accessibility to some of those areas. However, even those areas with buffer zones have since been opened and no areas are permanently closed.

Changes do remain in effect regarding getting on post for hunts. For identification purposes, hunters are now required to have area assignment documents in their possession at all times while hunting. Also, Fort Campbell has gone to a photo identification card for post permits. Additionally, Stokes says they have U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel working with them, which has been highly beneficial to their operation with recent and current situations.

The temporary restrictions when early deer hunts were closed in 2001 and then reopened later had little effect on the area's deer population. Stokes has found that data shows a relatively stable deer population. He feels Fort Campbell's Natural Resource Management Office oversees the data and manages the population in a great way. Thus, the limited restrictions and buffer zones led to no increases in hunts or changes in bag limits.

One positive that Stokes points out is the hunter reaction to the military installation's situation. He says hunters have been very understanding about the situations that affect their opportunities. They are supportive of Fort Campbell's military training requirements and appreciate the chance to hunt on the installation. Stokes feels such an attitude is something that directly contributes to the morale of our soldiers.

LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES
Although LBL lies on federal land, its situation is far different from that of military installations discussed here. In fact, the effects of 9-11 have nearly had an opposite effect on LBL when compared to the other federal faculties.

Steve Bloemer of the LBL management office reminds everyone that LBL is a national recreation area managed by the USDA Forest Service. They are a federally managed area but not a military facility and did not cancel any hunts as a result of 9-11. There were also no areas with hunt restrictions or any areas that were temporarily or permanently closed in response to the terrorist attacks or any other terror alerts.

In turn, 9-11 has had no effect on the deer population or scheduling of deer hunts at LBL. For hunters, getting in and out of LBL has not changed at all. There are no new safety checks, orientations or photo IDs required at this time, and Bloemer says none are currently anticipated.

Although the repercussions of September 11 have had no direct effect on the deer hunting at LBL, there are indirect links related to that day and hunting on the LBL property. Bloemer says overall that all outdoor recreation including hunting has seen a very small decrease in visitation at LBL. He says people tend to be pursuing outdoor activities closer to home, but for LBL in the foreseeable future, any decrease in visitation from people farther away is likely being somewhat offset by an increase in hunting trips by people who live closer to LBL.

The managers no longer require check in prior to deer hunting on LBL, so he can't say for sure if show-up rates for the hunts changed after 9-11, but harvest rates didn't change much. Bloemer speculates that another possible offsetting factor for LBL is that as hunter opportunities declined on some of the military installations in Tennessee, some hunters may have shifted to other public lands, like LBL, that remained open.

MILAN ARMY AMMUNITION PLANT
Steve Stephenson, the Natural Resources manager at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant (MLAAP) in Milan, says the installation did experience cancellations relating to 9-11. The MLAAP hunting/fishing program was totally shut down following 9-11 and remained closed until March 2002.

Higher headquarters now approves individual hunts based upon current Threat Condition Levels. He says it's felt this will continue into the foreseeable future as long as the war on terrorism continues.

During terror alerts, restrictions are not relat

ed to specific areas. Instead, restrictions are more likely to take the form of hunt regulations - for example, archery-only hunting might be allowed during deer gun seasons. No areas have been permanently closed since 9-11. But security levels have increased as a result of 9-11, including additional proof of identification and specific hunt security briefings. Applicants must attend Hunter Orientation before they can purchase a MLAAP hunting permit.

The changes, although not permanent, have had a subtle effect on the MLAAP deer herd. Stephenson says the herd population has increased, but not so much that the deer are experiencing any declines due to overpopulation - at least, not yet.

Stephenson agrees that, all things being equal, less hunting pressure should increase the age structure of the herd and potentially improve the quality of the bucks at MLAAP. The facility has had only one deer hunt (archery only) since 9-11, however, and the quality of bucks harvested increased only slightly. Conclusions are difficult to draw from that hunt's results because hunter restrictions were tight and the hunt produced a very low harvest. And that's definitely not enough of an indicator to increase hunts or bag limits in response to the cancellations and restrictions at this point.

Hunters seeking access or hunt permits at MLAAP have generally had good reactions to the changes. Stephenson says most hunters know and expect that security conditions would be much higher following an attack such as 9-11 and during a period of warfare.

OAK RIDGE WMA
Warren Webb oversees the deer management at the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area (WMA). He's well aware of the consequences of September 11 in relation to deer hunting at the property. The 2001 deer hunts were cancelled, but were resumed last year in the fall of 2002. Most recently, with the increased terror alert in relation to the Iraq War, the turkey hunts for the spring of 2003 were cancelled.

Although Webb aids in the management of the deer population, the actual decision as whether to cancel or allow deer hunts comes solely from the Department of Energy (DOE) and isn't something that even he can predict. Whether or not a given hunt takes place depends on the state of affairs across the nation and world.

Since September 11, there are certain limits and restrictions that haven't been lifted. Webb says entry through the guard portals on Bethel Valley Road is still restricted. And the west portal is closed to hunter access. That's something he doesn't expect to change.

Hunters entering the WMA can also expect more safety precautions than in the past. Bowhunters with archery permits west of the east portal on Bethel Valley Road must clear the check point with their permit, have their photo IDs, and face a potential vehicle search. Webb reminds hunters that guns are not permitted in this area of the WMA. Hunter reaction to the changes and cancellations has been what Webb calls, "understandable so far."

Webb says it's too soon to say how the changes, cancellations and restrictions have affected the Oak Ridge deer population. The decreased harvest rates, he notes, won't automatically result in hunters killing better quality deer when hunts are resumed. However, the data from the 2002 deer harvest were promising for hunters in search of horns. Webb says in the fall of 2002 more bucks and fewer does were harvested overall since 1985. Over 70 percent of the deer harvested in 2002 were sporting antlers. Of the 421 deer taken, 297 were bucks. The biggest buck weighed in field dressed at 211 pounds and had 10 points. Three 12-pointers were also harvested. After only one season of data, Webb obviously can't say deer this size are a trend, but the closure in 2001 did affect the overall harvest in 2002.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency manages the hunts held at the Oak Ridge WMA, and Webb does expect a slight change in bag limits resulting from the effects of the previous and current situations facing us. He expects the TWRA to increase the doe harvest, but the three-hunt quota structure will be retained if allowed by DOE.

HOLSTON ARMY AMMUNITION PLANT
Like most federal installations, the Holston Army Ammunition Plant wasn't exempt from the effects of 9-11. Bruce Cole, the area's natural resources specialist, says all of the deer hunts that were scheduled prior to September 11 were cancelled after that fateful day due to security issues. In addition, no spring turkey hunts were planned the following spring because of security issues. Although Cole anticipates having hunts as normal during the upcoming 2003 season as did occur during the 2002 season, any significant world event that would potentially elevate the security on the plant would certainly have the potential to affect the hunting program and possibly result in future hunt cancellations.

Other than the hunt cancellations on the facility in the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2002, no additional areas have been restricted or cordoned off permanently due to 9-11 or recent and current terror alerts. Cole says HAAP hasn't closed any areas to hunting that were not already closed prior to September 11 because of standard safety or security issues. However, the way you check in and what you're allowed to bring on site has changed significantly.

Cole said that hunters on Holston are now required to present a photo ID and have their vehicle, weapons and any backpacks inspected prior to entering the facility. In addition, hunters are also limited to the amount of ammunition they can bring on shotgun hunts, and must carry their weapon in a case at all times except while actually hunting from their stand.

The restrictions have had other effects. Cole says skipping a year's worth of hunting has increased the deer population dramatically. Although HAAP has had a year of hunting since the cancellation of the hunts in 2001, it is still too early to determine the overall effect on the deer herd with regard to individual weights, antler size, adult sex ratios and fawn reproduction. Biological data from last fall's hunts has not been analyzed at this time.

What Cole does know is the installation has added some hunts based on the current deer population. The increase in the deer herd may or may not be directly related to the effects of the cancellations, but whatever the cause, there could be more opportunities ahead for hunters. HAAP increased the number of hunts at the plant last year by three hunts and has proposed two additional special antlerless-only hunts to the TWRA for this year. Assuming these hunts take place, there would be a total of six special antlerless-only hunts in addition to the regular season hunts that the installation itself announces.

The hunter reaction to the new security requirements has been very positive.

Cole says hunters have been very willing to comply with the new requirements in order to have the opportunity to hunt on the installation. He adds September 11 really drove home the point that Holston AAP is an army facility with a required military mission and not a wildlife management area that exists for the purpose of providing a place for the public to hunt.

Cole also feels the temporary closure of Holston AAP to hunting following that day caused a large number of hunters to realize that, considering the mission of the plant, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to hunt on the facility. And with the implementation of the new security requirements, they also realize that there is a tremendous amount of effort and coordination involved in allowing hunts to take place on the plant while still maintaining the required safety and security measures.

DESTINATION AND HUNT INFORMATION
Whether you've been drawn on a quota hunt, plan to hunt on an area's non-quota dates, need hunt information or want to inquire about future hunts, here are some links and phone numbers to gather details.

Milan Army Ammunition Plant: hunters will find plenty of information about hunt dates and regulations on the Hunting Notice Web site at www.milanarsenalhunting.com.

Oak Ridge: To see the 2002 harvest figures and to research this year's hunts, go to the Web at http://www.ornl.gov/rmal/huntinfo.htm.

Fort Campbell: For more information about Fort Campbell's hunts, call (270) 798-2175.

Land Between The Lakes: You can call the main office for hunt information at (270) 924-2065 and also on the Web at http://www2.lbl.org/lbl/DeerHuntingGuide.html.

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



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