Ground Zero: Tennessee's Record Bucks
February 14, 2019
If you have recently read anything about deer, there is little doubt north-central Tennessee has had more than a mention. The recent buck killed in Sumner County called the Tucker Buck and the increase in Boone & Crockett entries are all pointing to this area as a region of the Volunteer State where there may be some good opportunities to harvest a trophy deer.
When the Tucker Buck was taken back in 2017, many hunters began reevaluating preconceived ideas of where to find a trophy deer. Located in the northern portion of the state, Sumner County is fairly crowded, with limited locations to hunt. It’s proof that you should never overlook even non-traditional hunting sites and that it can certainly be worth taking time to scout areas that other hunters may not consider “trophy destinations.”
Hunters are always discussing genetics but when deer of this quality appear on the scene there is little need to debate whether the herd has good genetic potential – it’s there. Overall three things are required for trophy deer: age, good habitat quality, and genetics. No matter how good the genetics are, if you have poor quality habitat, it will suppress a deer’s potential and if deer are not allowed to grow into the 4 1/2-plus-age class, you will never see the potential.
Tim White, TWRA Wildlife Biologist said, “Twenty years ago around 75 percent of the bucks harvested were 1 1/2-year-old bucks and today those bucks are less than a third of the harvest.”Taking pressure off the buck segment of the herd is allowing more deer to move into older age classes.
Where to go to take one of these trophies is the question. TWRA Wildlife Officer Dale Grandstaff is both an officer in this region and an official Boone & Crockett measurer, giving him an in-depth knowledge of trophy deer throughout the region. Grandstaff said, “Even places you may not consider potential deer habitat, like Davidson County and the Nashville Metro Area, are producing Boone & Crockett deer. Pretty unusual but it shows how deer are adapting.”
Since there are no large tracts of public hunting, private land is your only option. Grandstaff, however, believes a lot of land in northern Tennessee can still be leased because traditionally it has not been a big-buck destination.
In addition to leasing there may be occasional opportunities to buy land, but Grandstaff indicated many locations are extremely expensive, except for Stewart County, where he believes someone could still find some recreational land to either buy or lease for a reasonable price.
While hunters still have an opportunity to locate leases in northern Tennessee, they should expect prices to increase in coming years as word continues spreading about the Tucker Buck taken in Sumner County. Grandstaff measured this monster which officially scored 312 0/8 inches Boone & Crockett. This massive non-typical buck will become the new world record in 2019 at the Annual Boone and Crockett Convention.
Just about anywhere from the Tennessee River east may be worth looking at as possible trophy destinations. The biggest factor for hunters is access.
There is public land in Montgomery County, and except for Fort Campbell, tracts are small. Cheatham and Cheatham Lake WMAs total around 25,000 acres and both WMAs can provide some hunting opportunities.
Grandstaff said, “Private land continues to be your best bet for trophies, since there are no outfitters or guides working in the region. If you do want to lease, the best thing to do is check out Craig’s List or advertise locally.”
The real go-to place for taking trophy white-tails is Fort Campbell, but it will take some patience. Although open for public hunting, Campbell is highly restricted, and hunters must understand that Fort Campbell is a military training facility. Daily training schedules dictate which area or day you can hunt. While it was simpler in the past for civilians to hunt on Campbell, security is now tighter. Hunters need to understand that first preference is given to active duty military, then veterans second, and finally civilian hunters. Grandstaff said, “This year civilian hunters will make up about 15 percent of the hunt permits.”
Fort Campbell Wildlife Biologist Brad Wheat said, “We started a Quality Deer Management program back in 2014” which has greatly improved the doe/buck ratio and the average size of bucks Wheat said, “Campbell has some really large bucks, but many times a hunter may only get to hunt an area for one day…also many hunters come in with the idea of using aggressive style hunting techniques and these older, mature deer don’t take it well.”Wheat added that “Many 140- to 160-inch bucks are consistently harvested by hunters who not only put in time to hunt but stick on one area.”
Hunting one area allows you to learn the area because you may only have a few days per year to hunt. Also, be prepared to walk. It seems the larger deer are staying in the back sides of hunt areas with limited roads, so you should be prepared to put some miles on the boots!
Wheat routinely uses deer spotlight surveys to measure population densities and seasonal trends and over the last few years has noticed some changes. “It’s not uncommon to see deer that will break the 200-inch mark.”
To find out about hunt permits, application procedures, seasons and hunt area availability on Fort Campbell go to the Fort Campbell Fish and Wildlife page https://ftcampbell.isportsmam.net
Check out this video to learn how to manage your small track of land to bag your trophy buck.
While most of this part of the state is short on public land, Stewart County is the exception. Over the years, Dale Grandstaff has scored many trophy bucks from the county, the majority of which were harvested near the Cumberland River. These fertile river bottoms are maintaining quality habitat. That habitat, along with isolated pockets of woods, and steep topography, mean that the possibility of taking a hideaway trophy is always there.
Many agencies have acquired land in Stewart. A portion of Fort Campbell is in the eastern section of the county while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage portions of Lake Barkley. The bulk of the Corps land is called Barkley WMA and falls under the Management of TWRA. The Tennessee Valley Authority owns large sections along Kentucky Lake on the west side of the county.
While the county does have a wide range of public land managed by numerous state and federal agencies, there are some to key in on for the possibility of taking a trophy.
To take a famous example, Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and has hunting seasons ranging from general open hunts for archery hunters to quota gun hunts. LBL is a national recreation area that extends north into Kentucky and hunters will find sufficient acreage for archery or gun deer hunting.
Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge is open for archery hunting and the refuge has two quota gun hunts during October and November each year. Archery hunting runs concurrent with statewide season until the middle of November when the refuge is closed to all public access to provide a sanctuary for migratory waterfowl. The refuge lies on both sides of the Cumberland River and hunters will find a good mix of crops, including corn and soybeans. Although these crops are planted for the waterfowl, you will find good numbers of deer around the crop areas. Most of the hunting will be walk-in only from designated gates and parking lots. As is the case in most public hunting, those willing to walk may have the best opportunity. During the early hunt it would be worth investigating the walk-in areas around Bull Pasture or Commissary Ridge.
Barkley WMA located near Dover is primarily a waterfowl hunting area, but deer hunting is allowed except for five days prior to opening of each waterfowl season.
Stewart State Forest is located near Cumberland City and even though it is not well known, Stewart State Forest receives heavy hunting pressure. While the possibility is there for a trophy, the odds are not as good on this public land because of heavy hunting pressure it receives during the season.Hunters will find a wide range of amenities in the county seat of Dover, including fast food and good home-cooked meals. One location for lodging is Dixieland Cabins where you will find five cabins that sleep from two to six people, plus RV hookups. LBL also has a wide range of camping from basic tents to full RV hookup.