By now, it’s no secret that the 2007 deer harvest totals were drastically affected by the major epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak that accompanied that season. Last year, Daryl Ratajczak, Tennessee’s big-game coordinator, predicted the 2008 harvest would be similar to that of 2007. Ratajczak was right: In the down year of 2007, hunters harvested 164,856 deer and a comparable 164,414 in 2008.
Ratajczak also predicted that with many deer taken out of the population by the disease outbreak that summer, there was more food available for remaining deer — a situation that ultimately would result in healthier bucks in 2008. He nailed that prediction, too. Less pressure and more food did equate to a healthier herd and bigger and better bucks.
Here are a few statistics to back up Ratajczak’s prediction a year ago. Overall, 65 of Tennessee’s 95 counties had increases in the number of 7- and 8-point bucks harvested in 2008. Also, 59 of 95 counties saw increases in the number of 9- and 10-point bucks taken. Last, 39 of 95 counties had harvest increases in the number of 11-point or better bucks killed.
Breaking down the increases in the number of quality bucks taken even farther, you’ll see that Region I, where the EHD outbreak in 2007 was the most devastating, hunters really reaped the rewards of bigger and better bucks in the woods in 2008. Incredibly, 24 of the 25 counties located in Region I had an increase in the number of 7- and 8-point bucks harvested. In addition, 20 of these 25 counties had more 9- and 10-point bucks taken in 2008 compared with 2007. And nearly half, 12 of 25 counties, had increases in the number of 11-point or better bucks tagged.
Likewise, many Region II counties also had harvest increases in the number of quality bucks harvested in 2008. In Region II, 16 of 25 counties saw more 7- and 8-point bucks killed. Twelve of the 25 counties there also had harvest increases in the number of 9- and 10-point bucks taken, but only five of the 25 counties in Region II saw increases in the number of 11-point or better bucks category.
Region III also had respectable increases in the number of quality bucks harvested in 2008. Sixteen of the 24 counties in Region III had an increase in the number of 7- and 8-point bucks tagged. Also, 14 of the 24 counties there had an increase in the number of 9- and 10-point bucks harvested, and 11 of the 24 counties there had harvest increases in the 11-point or better category.
Things trailed off a bit in Region IV, where only nine of 21 counties saw increases in the number of 7- and 8-point bucks taken. However, 13 of the 21 counties in Region IV had harvest increase in the number of 9- and 10-point bucks, and 11 of the 21 counties were equal or better than the prior year as far as 11-point or better bucks go.
In case you’re wondering, the effect was similar when it comes to public-land hunts. Among wildlife management areas (WMAs), 28 of 43 of them saw increases in the number of 7- and 8-point bucks harvested in 2008. Likewise, 21 of 43 WMAs had harvest increases in the number of 9- and 10-point bucks killed, and 20 of 43 had like or better numbers of 11-point or more bucks taken in the comeback year of the buck in 2008.
Although it still may be a year or two before we again set overall harvest records in Tennessee, Volunteer deer hunters did experience better hunting in 2008 when it comes to quality bucks. Tennessee keeps lots of statistics on where the biggest bucks come from. Here’s what the trends show as you hit the woods in 2009.
The 2008 Top Big-Buck Counties
Despite the effects of the EHD outbreak in 2007, the densest populations of Volunteer deer still reside in middle and West Tennessee, and that’s also where most of the state’s big bucks are taken year to year. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a trophy east of the state capitol, but the majority of quality bucks come from Region I and Region II historically.
Although Hardeman County led the state for another season in overall deer harvest, they did not when it to comes to bigger bucks. Hardeman did lead the harvest in the number of bucks with 7 and 8 points, but when looking at the real trophies, the spotlight fell outside of Region I into Region II, where Lincoln and Montgomery counties reign supreme.
Montgomery led the way with 68 bucks tagged with 11 or more points followed closely by Lincoln County’s take of 61 big bucks. Fayette County with 49 bucks with 11 points or better was a distant third, followed by Henry County hunters with a harvest of 47 big bucks.
The next closest rivals in the monster buck category were Hardeman and Williamson counties with their equal total of 43 bucks with 11 or more points.
Fayette County produced more 9- and 10-point bucks (284) than any other county in the state. Henry County was next at 278 bucks with 9- and 10-point bucks. Montgomery County hunters also made their mark with 272 bucks with 9 and 10 points. Honorable mentions in this group go to Lincoln County with 262 bucks and Giles County with 244 of these trophies.
Behind Hardeman County’s 1,071 bucks with in the 7- and 8-point buck category, you’ll find Lincoln County with 1,040 bucks followed closely by Giles County’s 1,017 bucks sporting 7 or 8 points. Fayette County also had a very respectable harvest of 7- or 8-pointers with 1,003 of them taken. None of these counties took more than a thousand bucks with 7 or 8 points in 2007. These all deserve your hunting attention in 2009 when it comes to bucks.
Looking at the statewide map and table of big bucks harvested accompanying this article will show you exactly where the big boys come from in each region. Again, things drop way off after you leave Region II. In Region I, Fayette led the way in the number of bucks harvested with 11 or more points, followed by Henry and Hardeman counties. In Region II, Montgomery was again tops in the bucks with 11 or more points followed by Lincoln and Williamson counties.
In Region III, respectable numbers of bucks with 11 or more points harvested are found in the neighboring counties of Cumberland, Fentress, and Scott. Cumberland County led the way in the plateau region with 33 big bucks harvested, followed by 20 in Fentress County and 17 in Scott County.
As always, things drop off even further in Region IV — but the region is improving each season. Campbell and Claiborne counties were best there with an equal total of 10 bucks harvested with 11 or more points. Johnson and Sullivan counties tied it up for the third spot in Region IV with eight big trophies each.
Cumberland County also led the way in bucks
with 9 and 10 points in Region III, with 123 of those quality whitetails harvested. And in no surprise, Cumberland County was also best in the 7- and 8-point bucks category, with 327 of them taken.