By Larry Self
Time: 1970. Total Tennessee Deer Harvest: 8,630.
A little more than 30 years ago, seeing a deer, let alone harvesting one, was considered quite an accomplishment. Hunting success was more often than not measured by whether you were lucky enough to see the white flag of a spooked deer in the woods.
Skip forward to modern deer hunting. Total 2002 Deer Harvest: 156,142.
More than a handful of hunters these days harvest in excess of 10 whitetails per year, as Tennessee’s deer herd has expanded to nearly 1 million animals. New hunts and limits have been added just this year. There was a time when shooting a doe was almost considered a sin. That’s no longer the case, as the modern deer herd in the state not only can absorb considerable doe harvest, but might grow unchecked if hunters refused to shoot does. If your freezer isn’t quite full or you want to improve the quality of the deer on your property, the solution may lie in taking a doe this December.
TWRA’s state deer coordinator Mark Boersen says that in most of the state, deer populations are at high but sustainable levels. However, in several areas hunters typically do not kill enough does, and in those areas the deer herd is tending to exceed the long-term carrying capacity of the habitat.
There are a few exceptions: In parts of East Tennessee, the herd is still growing, and Boersen says biologists believe that the herd has room to grow in that part of the state.
In 2002, deer hunters harvested an amazing 33,428 deer on the special season antlerless hunts – a substantial portion of the overall deer harvest. The majority of the antlerless hunt harvest by far occurs in Region I and Region II.
In Middle and West Tennessee, the TWRA would like to stabilize the whitetail herd, and that’s also where you’ll see more adjustments to hunting seasons and quotas as needed. Boersen says that there are counties in Middle and southern Middle Tennessee where hunters are not harvesting enough does to adequately manage the population.
During the 2003 whitetail season, Volunteer hunters will have the opportunity to participate in special antlerless hunts in 59 of the 95 counties statewide. The majority of the 59 counties are found in Region I and Region II, but there have been additions in recent years to Region III and Region IV. They vary in number of hunts and bag limits, depending on the deer population in each county.
Counties having this special hunt for the first time are: Blount (west of Hwy. 411 and east of Hwy. 129), Carter (outside Cherokee WMA), Grainger, Johnson (outside Cherokee WMA), Loudon and Sullivan (outside Cherokee WMA).
More than 30 of the 59 counties will have quota hunts, some with as many as 1,100 hunters drawn per hunt. Most of the quota hunts allow for the taking of one doe per permit, but others allow as many as four deer. There will be 47 counties participating this year in the non-quota hunts, where two antlerless deer can be taken per hunt in most instances.
However, this year, Giles, Hardeman, Henry, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Moore, Rutherford and Williamson counties will allow hunters to harvest three does per permit. In Lincoln and Fayette counties, where Boersen says doe populations are high, hunters will be allowed to tag four antlerless deer per non-quota hunt. Be sure to check the TWRA 2003 Hunting & Fishing Guide for open counties and hunt dates.
I hadn’t seen that many deer in several seasons in East Tennessee and jumped at the invitation to come down to help eliminate some of the overcrowding the does were putting on the quality bucks on his place.
December rolled around and I coupled an invitation to deer hunt with fellow outdoor writer Rob Somerville of Kenton along with the duck and deer trip to the Powers’ farm. The non-quota antlerless hunt going on was running in unison with the late gun hunt in Unit A.
The night before, they had counted 147 deer in the wheat field. On this designated evening, Powers put me on stand overlooking what appeared to be a guarantee of seeing more deer in one sitting than I’d seen in several seasons combined. Of course, the evening I was there, the wind picked up and blew like a hurricane. Instead of 147 deer, only six showed up. But that was five more than my muzzleloader and I needed, and I tagged a big doe.
Late the next morning, after some duck hunting, Powers turned to me and asked if I still wanted to take a doe. It was 11 o’clock in the morning and I was sure the deer were already in cover. I laughed, but he was serious. And I had an unused tag.
“I know where they’re bedded,” he grinned. Soon we were headed across the wheat field in my truck. The plan was to do a quick stalk into the woods separating the large wheat fields. Less than 30 yards in, deer started standing up everywhere and bolting off into thicker cover. There were a few shots available, but it didn’t feel right. Powers had a tree stand a few hundred yards on into the woods, so we headed for it. I was to get on stand and he would do a little push to send a good doe my way.
Powers had barely slipped over the nearby levee to the rear of my stand when a button buck eased past my position. Two minutes later, a good, young doe came down the same path. I dispatched her and put my gun down, trading it for a camera. The deer drive hadn’t started. I was tagged out and the fun was about to start. Within the 15 to 20 minutes it took Powers to circle back to my stand, I counted over 100 whitetails going past. The six big bucks that drifted past were hard to turn down, but I’d prom
ised the landowner – doe only.
After field dressing and tagging my doe, I loaded the two does on my deer hauler on the back of my rig for the trip back home to East Tennessee. Less than a quarter of a mile from the Powers farm, a deer darted out of the thick roadside brush and T-boned my truck. The doe apparently wasn’t happy about my West Tennessee deer excursion and did $2,300 worth of damage. Final score – does 1, Larry 2.
Applications for the quota antlerless hunts in Tennessee can be acquired through a variety of channels. They’re available through regular means at most licensing agents after the first of August or at all TWRA regional offices.
Most wildlife management areas (WMAs) are closed during the quota hunts. You’ll need to refer to the TWRA’s 2003 Tennessee Hunting & Trapping Guide for specific WMA listings for open dates and quota and non-quota antlerless hunt regulations.
Public land is not available in all counties. On the non-quota hunts, no drawing is conducted, but hunters other than those defined as landowners will need to possess a Type 94 Special Season permit, Lifetime Sportsman License or Sportsman License.
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