It’s the time of year that we look at deer harvest trends across Tennessee. Call it our annual take on just how well Volunteer whitetail hunters succeeded during last year’s deer hunts and the prospects for hunters across the state to fill some tags this season.
STATE OF THE UNION
Last year, Daryl Ratajczak, Tennessee’s big-game coordinator, told us it would take a couple of seasons or so to return to the record harvest levels we’ve enjoyed over recent years. He also predicted the 2008 harvest would be similar to that of 2007. Ratajczak has been right so far, and the best news is the 2008 deer harvest was still strong considering the lingering effects from the biggest EHD outbreak in a century. In the down year of 2007, hunters harvested 164,856 deer and a comparable 164,414 last year.
In the way of predictions, Ratajczak said state biologists are expecting Tennessee deer hunters to have a comeback year with the 2009 deer harvests. He said they are predicting a bit better harvest — in the neighborhood of just over 170,000 deer — this season.
Ratajczak said it will be more difficult to compare the harvest numbers in 2009 with any other year, however. This season will be the first that Tennessee hunters are allowed to check in deer online through a link on the TWRA’s Web site. Hunters are still encouraged to take deer to checking stations, but will be allowed the online convenience if stations are inaccessible, as can be the case on weekends or evenings after a hunter has had to spend time recovering a deer.
Ratajczak said the Unit L counties have actually started to see reductions in harvests. Those reductions, however, were as expected, since the purpose of the more liberal limits in some counties was to manage the expanding deer herds within them. Nevertheless, the Unit L counties are the driving force behind Tennessee’s deer harvest, with 15 of the top 20 county harvests coming from within Unit L. Three additional counties, Chester, Haywood, and Henderson have been moved into Unit L for the coming season. That brings the Unit L total to 44 counties of 95 statewide.
Now let’s take a look at where the deer numbers came from in 2008 and give you an idea and some tips on where to focus your hunting efforts this fall. If you’re looking to fill a deer tag, here’s a region-by-region forecast of the best places, based on the latest data from the TWRA.
THE TOP COUNTIES BY HARVEST
The annual battle between Hardeman and Henry Counties that raged for years as to which was the top deer producer statewide appears to be over. For two consecutive seasons now, Henry County’s whitetail harvest has been less than Hardeman’s. That means Hardeman County reigns supreme — at least for another year. However, Fayette County is charging hard up the ranks and may threaten its west Tennessee neighbor for top honors in a season or two.
But for now, the king of deer counties is safe with a statewide leading harvest of 5,748 whitetails. That’s just slightly off Hardeman’s totals from 2007. But just as impressive is what’s happening in Fayette County. The hunters in Fayette County have continued to kill more deer in recent years and, last year, that county’s harvest was the second highest in the state for the first time in memory. Hunters there harvested a strong 5,402 deer. Giles County went from second in the overall deer harvest in 2007 to third in 2008, with 5,110 deer tagged.
Henry County is getting more familiar with the fourth place spot among the top 10 deer harvests in Tennessee. There were 5,066 deer taken in Henry County in 2008. That’s slightly better than their 2007 figures, which didn’t break the 5,000 mark for the first time in years. Keep in mind, though, Henry County was hit hard by the EHD outbreak. The decease in harvest probably has more to do with that short-term disease issue than in permanent long-term problems, such as loss of large areas of habitat.
The top 5 was once again rounded out with Lincoln County, where hunters tagged 4,416 deer. The sixth spot went to another county that’s quickly moving up the top 10 rankings: Weakley County rose from the ninth spot in 2007 to take over the sixth place in 2008 with a deer harvest of 3,766. In the seventh spot last year, Carroll County produced 3,679 deer.
Franklin County, where hunters bagged 3,615 whitetails last year, fell from the sixth spot two seasons ago to take the eighth position in 2008. You’ll find a comeback county in the ninth spot. Madison County broke back into the elite deer harvest counties with a take of 3,490 whitetails. Montgomery County was in unfamiliar territory with a kill of 3,359 deer to take the final spot in the top 10 deer producers statewide in 2008. The only other change in the top 10 statewide was the falling out of McNairy County. Madison County, which had been in the top 10 before 2007, was replaced in 2007 by McNairy County. In 2008 Madison County hunters once again shot more deer than McNairy County hunters.
Looking at the top counties in each region, we see that Hardeman was obviously number one in Region I with its harvest of 5,748 deer. Fayette County was second in that region with 5,402 whitetails. Henry County was third in Region I with a take of 5,066 deer. The fourth spot there went to Weakley’s harvest of 3,766 animals. The fifth spot in Region I was held by Carroll County, with 3,679 whitetails.
In Region II, Giles was once again the top deer producer with its harvest of 5,110 deer, followed by Lincoln’s 4,416 whitetails. Franklin County was third in the region with its take of 3,615 deer. Montgomery County was next with 3,359 deer harvested. The fifth position in Region II went to Maury County’s harvest of 2,979 whitetails.
As one moves east from Region II to Region III, the habitat changes in various ways so that Region II supports fewer deer than do the more western parts of the state. However, the deer herd in Region II seems to be slowly increasing.
As it has in the past, Roane County produced the most deer in Region II last season, with 2,697 deer taken. The second position was taken over by Cumberland County with a harvest of 1,997 whitetails. Not far off that pace, the Region III third spot was filled by Jackson County’s take of 1,975 deer. The fourth spot in the region was grabbed by Rhea County’s production of 1,865 deer. Meigs County claimed the fifth position in Region III with a harvest of 1,850 deer.
Hawkins County continues to be the deer harvest leader in Region IV with a take of 2,409. Hawkins County held this distinction of being the highest-producing county east of the state capital for years, until 2007, when Roane County surpassed it. The second spot in Region IV was
again held by Claiborne County with its harvest of 1,409 deer. Sullivan County was again third in the region with a take of 1,320 whitetails. The fourth position was claimed by Johnson County hunters with their harvest of 1,301 deer. The last and fifth position in the region respectively went to Greene County with a harvest of 1,198 whitetails.