Looking for a big buck this season? Here's where most of the big deer come from in Tennessee. (November 2009)
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.
Hawkins County was head and shoulders better than all of the other Region IV counties with 326 bucks harvested with 7 and 8 points. Johnson County was the closest competitor with 257 bucks with 7 and 8 points.
In a change of pace, Hawkins County was replaced as the top dog in the harvest of bucks with 9 and 10 points in Region IV. Campbell County's 47 bucks with 9 and 10 points was followed by Claiborne's take of 42 bucks of this caliber, and then came Hawkins County's 38 bucks in this category.
As far as overall number of bucks harvested, Hardeman County, the overall statewide deer harvest leader, had the biggest number of antlered deer taken again in 2008 with 2,570 bucks checked in. Fayette County was a close second with a total of 2,444 bucks harvested. The top five buck producers statewide were rounded out by Giles County's 2,418, Henry County's 2,211, and Lincoln County's 2,182 bucks harvested overall.
These top five buck counties are the same from 2007, except that Fayette County moved up from third to second, sending Giles to the third spot in 2008. It's also worth mentioning that Tennessee hunters took 87,596 bucks in 2007 compared with 77,981 in 2008. However, there were more bucks taken with more points in 2008 -- proof that Tennessee deer hunters have become more selective in their buck harvests.
2008's Best Management Land Bucks
Deer hunters at WMAs experienced a comeback year in 2008 as well. In 2007, the total harvest on WMAs was 5,983 deer, followed up by 6,272 in 2008.
Of the 6,272 public lands deer harvested last year, 3,872 of them were bucks. WMAs are an outlet that many hunters count on for getting their buck or bucks each season. In 2008, hunters saw increases in the number of quality bucks harvested.
Overall, 28 of 43 WMAs saw increases in the number of 7- and 8-point bucks tagged, and 21 of them saw an increase in the number of 9- and 10-point bucks killed. Slightly under half -- 20 of 43 -- saw increases in the number of bucks with 11 or more points harvested in comparison with 2007. The final tally shows that there were 1,060 bucks with 7 and 8 points harvested, followed by 328 with 9 and 10 points or more, and then 102 bucks with 11 or more points. All of those totals are up from 2007.
In 2008, Fort Campbell was the top producer of quality bucks in each big-buck category. In 2007, Catoosa led in big bucks, but in 2008, Catoosa's numbers fell slightly opening the way for Fort Campbell. Catoosa, Fort Campbell, Oak Ridge and, of course, Presidents Island remain great places to harvest older and better bucks.
With respect to public land 7- and 8-point bucks from last season, Fort Campbell led the way with 164 of them, followed by Catoosa's 133, Land-Between-The-Lakes' 93, Cherokee WMA's 90, and then Oak Ridge's and Eagle Creek's equal take of 62 quality bucks in this category.
Fort Campbell led all public lands with 66 bucks harvested with 9 and 10 points. LBL checked in with 44 bucks with 9 and 10 points, followed by Catoosa's 32, Cherokee's 26, and then Oak Ridge with 22 bucks with 9 and 10 points.
When it comes to the big boys, Fort Campbell was again best with 30 bucks sporting 11 or more points. LBL was next with a take of 14 trophy bucks harvested, followed by Oak Ridge with 13 monster bucks with 11 or more points. Catoosa WMA checked in at fourth with a kill of eight bucks with 11 or more points, followed by a host of others with single-digit harvests in the category.
Fort Campbell was the clear leader in the total number of antlered bucks harvested with 487 tagged, followed by Cherokee's tremendous acreage, which produced 363 bucks. LBL was the strongest in relation to size with 333 whitetail bucks killed, followed by Oak Ridge with 283. Chuck Swan's 250 bucks bagged took the fourth spot in overall buck harvest, but most sported 7 and 8 points.
Antlers By The Square Mile
One aspect of the deer harvest figures that we've added this year with most of our whitetail features has been to look at the number of deer taken per square mile. Let's add that same twist to the leading buck harvests across the state and see where the most productive areas really are found.
The range of bucks killed per square mile across Tennessee's 95 counties runs from as low as 0.3 to as high as 4.4 bucks. To keep things simple, we'll look at the top five or so. As expected, the big-time counties are in the mix -- but so are a couple of surprises.
If you read last month's issue and the first part of our annual deer outlook, you'll recall that Roane County in Region III has the densest deer herd per square mile by harvest in Tennessee. The same holds true for bucks. Roane County led the buck harvest per square mile in 2008 with 4.4 antlered deer taken. The leader was closely followed by its smaller neighbor, Meigs County, with 4.2 bucks taken per square mile.
Next, the state's top deer-producing county, Region I's Hardeman County, tied with Region II's Giles County with each having equal harvests of 3.9 bucks per square mile. Region I's Henry County and Region II's Lincoln County then round out the top five "buck harvest per square mile" counties, with each producing 3.7 antlered whitetails, respectively.
Honorable mention in the buck per square mile harvest spotlight goes to both Region I's Fayette County and again Region III's Jackson County, both of which produced 3.6 bucks harvested per square mile.