For many Tennessee deer hunters, the state's draw hunts offer a great chance for a deer. Here's how to make the most of your public-land opportunities. (July 2006)
Tell the truth -- you lie in bed at night thinking about it. And when sleep comes, you dream about your draw hunt. It's been a full year since you placed your name in the hat for your shot at Tennessee's highly sought-after deer draw hunts.
The decision on which hunt code to put on the application shouldn't be this hard, so we just made it a little simpler for you. For many Tennessee sportsmen, the state's draw hunts offer their best harvest opportunities of the year. Here is how to make the most of your annual chance at a public-land deer.
A NEW ERA IN WHITETAIL RECORD KEEPING
The electronic age hasn't leapfrogged deer management; instead, it's caught it up to the rest of the world. Last season was the first the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) counted entirely on keeping whitetail harvest records electronically. Through the R.E.A.L. system, successful hunters checked their harvests in electronically instead of using the old paper method at big-game checking stations. And what a difference it has made, not only for tracking WMA and draw hunt harvests, but for tallying the statewide totals.
"We're talking clean data," said Daryl Ratajczak, TWRA's big-game coordinator. Of the over 166,000 deer harvest records entered, mistakes were only found with 46 of them. In the past, harvest data wasn't available until mid-March. Now, hunters and biologists alike can expect complete harvest information by the first of February each year. What that also means is instead of relying on WMA harvest records from the prior year for our look at the best draw hunts, we now have the 2005 harvests readily available to help us with this look at where the best draw hunts await you.
The electronic harvest record tracking also means the process of setting the deer season will be moved up, allowing hunters more time to plan. Changing the season setting process or deadlines will be at the discretion of wildlife commissioners after they determine just how accurate the new process is, but it appears so far to be solid.
NEW ONLINE APPLICATIONS
One change for hunters is that they will be required to either submit their annual quota hunt applications online or at a licensing agent.
Hunters applying for a quota hunt need to be aware of major changes in the quota hunt application process beginning with the 2006 season. There will no longer be a mail-in quota hunt application. The 2006 Spring Turkey Quota Hunt application was the first fully automated quota hunt process ever administered by the TWRA.
A list of available quota hunts will be at license agents and online. Hunters may walk into any license agent (including TWRA regional offices) and apply. You will need your TWRA number and required fees, if any. Annual Sportsman and Lifetime Sportsman license holders and seniors with a type 167 permit are not required to pay the fee.
Using the 2006 Quota Hunt instruction sheet, select the hunt choices for the areas you wish to apply. After applying, the license agent will give the applicant a receipt listing name, address, hunt choices and fees. Be sure to verify all information (including address) on the application receipt to ensure you will receive quota hunt information after the drawing.
Hunters with Internet access may go online to www.state.tn.us/twra and apply for a quota hunt. Click on On-Line Hunting/Fishing Licenses & Boat Renewals, then follow the on-screen directions. Remember, there will be no mail-in quota hunt applications; you must apply online or at a license agent. The beauty of the system is that you can check your application status later through a link on the same page.
Sally Gumm, the TWRA's quota hunt guru, said hunters need not worry just yet about getting their quota applications in earlier. The deadline for applying for the TWRA's quota hunts has for years been set in stone as the third Wednesday in July. That set-in-stone guarantee may be changing. Gumm said for at least a season or two, the deadline may remain the same, but she said it very well could be moved up with the online applications streamlining the process.
The best news for applicants is many of the mistakes made on their annual applications could be avoided, thanks to the online form. Mistakes may be noted immediately as required fields have to be filled in. A mistake on a mailed application may not make it back to the agency with corrections before the deadline had passed.
Some of the mistakes that should be avoided include not having your application stamped with a U.S. Postal Service postmark by the deadline date, failing to list the draw hunt choice number, not providing your TWRA ID number, transposing a social security number, and others. Another example where mailing in early in the past would have helped is when a party had an application fail to make the deadline because proper postage wasn't placed on the envelope.
Priority status will remain unchanged and can be an issue if the application guidelines aren't followed. On the WMA Quota Draw Hunts, you either have priority or you don't. Getting priority is easy, keeping it is tough. To obtain priority status, you had to have been unsuccessful in the draw the prior year. If you're drawn for any of your choices, the next year you would have no priority status. Also, priority status is by application not applicant, if someone has priority and another hunter on the same application does not, the application would be in the regular draw instead of in the priority draw.
Many hunters want to know how long it takes to be drawn on a desired hunt once priority status is attained. If you have a specific WMA that you want to get drawn for, it's best to only list that WMA on your application. Once you have priority status, you should submit an application each year.
Gumm said the most popular draws for those most often put on applications remained unchanged in 2005. The most sought-after draw hunt remain the coveted spots at Presidents Island WMA where trophy bucks are standard with the regulation requiring legal bucks to have at least 9 points or more. Hunters there can take deer with archery equipment only.
Not far behind Presidents Island are the hunts at Oak Ridge WMA. Oak Ridge remains a popular destination for Volunteer hunters looking to bag a trophy with archery, shotgun or muzzleloader equipment. Bucks there must have at least 4 points on a side or a minimum 15-inch outside spread to qualify for harvest. The spot for the third most sought-after draw is nothing but a huge tossup. Gumm said the rest of the WMAs remain too close to call for popularity.
For some hunters, the 2005 hunts at Presidents Island presented tough conditions just as most of us faced last season with unusually warm weather. In 2004, Presidents Island produced a harvest of 40 deer. The 2005 draw hunts saw only 17 deer taken. The number of bucks with 9 or more points dropped from 13 in 2004 to seven last year. Jeff Martin, the area manager at Presidents Island, said the drop can be easily explained.
"It was just too hot last year," Martin said. He said when you couple that with the fact that there was so much mast available, deer just didn't have to move -- that included does as well as bucks. That's also evident when you look at the overall Tennessee deer harvest drop from 180,000 to 166,000 whitetails.
Presidents Island might have been the hottest draw hunt in many ways in 2005, but when it comes to the top producer of whitetails, there's a new draw hunt hotspot in Tennessee. The Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge was leaps and bounds over most of the draw hunts. In 2004, Tennessee NWR ranked eighth, with 265 deer harvested. The 2005 hunts, which saw 682 deer tagged, put them on top of the heap leaping over legendary spots like Fort Campbell and Land Between The Lakes.
Daryl Ratajczak said the "Earn A Buck Program" instituted at Tennessee NWR really paid off. Last year was the first that hunters had to bag a doe before they could kill a buck. With all the row crops in the form of corn and soybeans, Ratajczak said this WMA has huge potential for deer overall and big bucks.
The state's big-game coordinator said the future of the Tennessee NWR is going to be interesting with the different management strategies that are being applied there. Of the bucks taken there in 2005, 40 percent were 1 1/2-year-olds, while 60 percent were 2 1/2 years old or better. Of the bucks that survived last season's hunts, he believes they'll have plenty of food to grow even bigger and better racks.
Each year, the agency adds a few WMAs to track and even removes a few. In 2005, South Cherokee WMA and the Big South Fork NWA were added and contributed well to the harvest. With 230 deer taken at South Cherokee and 201 from Big South Fork, they are legitimate draw hunts to watch.
The additional deer tagged in 2005 at Big South Fork, South Cherokee and the Tennessee NWR helped account for the increase in WMA harvests last year. The overall WMA harvest of 6,283 deer taken in 2005 was the best since 1999. The 2004 WMA totals were 5,465 whitetails. These three WMAs accounted for more than 800 of the 818 deer increase over last season.
THE BEST OF THE BEST IN 2005
Just because Tennessee NWR took over as the top producer of draw hunts last year, hunters can't discredit Fort Campbell and LBL as top choices for their applications. These two draw hunt icons are as solid as they come. The Tennessee NWR increase to 682 deer in 2005 was impressive, but nonetheless, Fort Campbell hunters still tagged 652 whitetails for an unfamiliar second-place status. The Fort Campbell harvest was just barely off the 2004 kill of 685 deer. And LBL was just as reliable as usual with 542 deer harvested last season and holds the third spot among the Top 10 WMA opportunities. The 2005 deer season take at LBL was slightly higher than 2004.
Thanks again to the Tennessee NWR jump, the AEDC WMA also fell one spot from third in 2004 to fourth in 2005 with a harvest of 516 deer, but 35 more animals than the prior season. The Chuck Swan WMA was the second-highest mover among the top 10 draw hunt areas in 2005. Chuck Swan's 2004 harvest of 242 deer had the area ranked in the ninth spot. But in 2005, Chuck Swan was solidly in the fifth spot overall with 391 deer harvested.
Catoosa and Oak Ridge WMAs took the sixth and seventh spots, respectively, with harvests similar to those experienced in 2004. Catoosa hunters tagged 352 deer, while Oak Ridge produced 343 deer. South Cherokee's take of 230 whitetails was good enough for the eighth spot, while Cheatham fell the greatest distance in the top 10 WMAs from the prior season. Cheatham WMA ranked sixth in 2004 with a harvest of 370 deer but fell to ninth last season with a take of 213. Big South Fork's addition of 201 whitetails bagged rounds out the 10th spot among the best of the best.
Despite an incredible year for horns, Fort Campbell also took another category hit in 2005. In the 7- and 8-point buck kill category, Fort Campbell's 134 deer were just outdone by Catoosa's 135 bucks. Tennessee NWR was third with 98 deer with 7 and 8 points. Tennessee NWR more than doubled the 35 taken in 2004 in this category. LBL can't be left out with 96 bucks with 7 and 8 points harvested.
The bragging rights get bigger in the 9- and 10-point bucks category where Fort Campbell was challenged again with Tennessee NWR taking an equal number of 43 bucks with trophy numbers of points. The 43 bucks was the same harvest that Fort Campbell had in 2004, but for Tennessee NWR, 43 was a far cry from the 11 killed in 2004. LBL grabbed the third spot for the most 9- and 10-point bucks taken in 2005 with 38. Catoosa WMA deserves an honorable mention for the 38 big-racked bucks harvested there.
When it comes to the big boys, Fort Campbell did outdo the rest of the WMAs with nine bucks taken with 11 or more points. LBL just missed a tying mark with eight big bucks of this caliber tagged. The Tennessee NWR again made its mark with five bucks taken with 11 or more points. Catoosa and Oak Ridge WMAs also deserve some attention with four bucks each with these types of huge racks.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's draw hunts are great opportunities for Volunteer deer hunters. Of that, there's no doubt. The best thing about them is that there are multiple opportunities to hunt with your preferred weapon. But choose your hunts wisely. Don't put in for a bowhunt because it sounds too good to pass up if you don't regularly shoot a bow. Also, consider the time of year of each hunt date and corresponding weather conditions as well as rutting conditions when choosing.
If you are successful in being drawn for a hunt, don't take the opportunity lightly. Make sure to take advantage of scout dates, learn as much as you can about the area, study maps, and review any harvest records available. The TWRA Web site is full of information to help you in your quest. From WMA maps to downloadable hunting guides and WMA information, it's literally at your fingertips through the Internet.
Finally, if you get 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 links and phone numbers for details.
TWRA Quota Draw Hunts -- www.tnwildlife.org or consult the TWRA's 2005 Tennessee Hunting & Trapping Guide.
Milan Army Ammunition Plant -- Visit www.milanarsenalhunting.com. Plenty of information about hunt dates, regulations on the site's Hunting Notice Page.
Oak Ridge -- To see the 2004 harvest figures and to research this year's hunts, go to www.ornl.gov/ rmal/huntinfo.htm.
Fort Campbell -- For more information about Fort Campbell's hunts, c
all (270) 798-2175. You are required to have a hunter's safety certificate to hunt Fort Campbell.
LBL -- You can call the main office for hunt information at (270) 924-2065 or get details under the hunting section at www.lbl.org/RecreationLinks.html.
Holston Army Ammunition Plant -- The Hunt Information Line for Holston Defense is (423) 578-6291.
Find more about Tennessee fishing and hunting at: