October 21, 2015
The dense fog slowly gave way to reveal a healthy frost, with cool air bouncing off the nearby Buffalo River enhancing the cold even more. Chris Hughes was situated in a river bottom stand overlooking an 80-acre cut cornfield.
He was anxiously waiting to experience the opening day of the firearms season.
As the sun started to make its presence Hughes noticed movement in the field about 100 yards out; several does meandering around feeding. The large group of does eventually disappeared into an adjacent woodlot as a 6-pointer made his way right up to his position, stopping about 50 yards out to make a scrape.
He pawed the ground for several minutes before venturing in the same direction as the does. Glassing the landscape in hopes of spotting a much larger buck Chris noticed a large-bodied, heavy-racked whitetail in an adjacent field on a bordering property.
Hughes kept watching the bruiser as it slowly made its way to disappear along the river.
Feeling as though his opportunity may have passed out of range Hughes noticed another buck steadily walking toward him. However, due to a roll in the field he could only see parts of the antlers from across the field.
It was an obvious shooter so Chris eased his Thompson/Center 7 mm Mag. to his shoulder.
The whitetail kept its attention to the far corner of the cornfield, and seemed very content on reaching that part of the field for some reason. At a range of 250 yards it was evident this was going to be as close as he would get to the hunter.
A quick bleat failed to stop the buck, as did a high-pitched whistle.
Even shouting couldn't halt the buck's steady gait, so he took aim and sent a 165-grain Federal through its shoulder.
Upon inspection there was no ground shrinkage and Chris knew he had taken his best buck to date. The buck's rack was impressive by all accounts but the brow tines were noticeably the standouts.
Each one measured 9 inches with good mass all the way to the tips. The buck's G2s were also 9 inches but the G3s extended a little further, having lengths of 10 inches.
With an outside spread totaling 19 inches the buck had all of the features every deer hunter dreams about — mass, spread and length — with a gross score of 150 inches B&C. Not bad for an opening day harvest courtesy of the Volunteer State.
That same scenario and outcome seems to be a common occurrence in Tennessee's deer woods these days. As more mature whitetails are harvested each season one would think that something is not only in the water, but also in the minds of the state's deer hunters as buck harvest selection has become more obvious than in the past.
Tennessee regulations have allowed a three-buck limit since 1999, and its implementation has resulted in more mature bucks being taken. Some hunters just do not want to shoot younger bucks and would rather harvest a doe to put meat in the freezer.
Starting with the 2015-16 deer season a two-buck limit takes effect, which can only increase buck selection and antlerless deer harvest. According to TWRA's Doug Markham that is the concept behind the initiative.
Many of the state's deer hunters have access to private lands and leases, but others rely solely on public hunting grounds to chase whitetails each season. In both cases there are ample opportunities to take a mature buck in each of the Volunteer State's deer hunting units — Unit A, Unit B and Unit L.
As most would think, the majority of antlered bucks come from the state's Unit L region, but Markham was quick to note that other areas of the state are good places to tag a big buck despite overall harvest numbers. In 2014, Giles County ranked as No. 1 in both deer harvest and buck harvest.
Giles has been known as a whitetail haven for many years and can be attributed to the ideal habitat it contains. Agricultural fields and large wooded acreage offer deer plenty of food and cover, in which big bucks thrive.
Another southern middle Tennessee county known for its impressive whitetail harvest is Lincoln County. With similar habitat qualities as Giles, the rolling wooded hills complemented by agricultural practices only intensifies whitetails abilities to thrive.
Fayette County shows that agriculture helps offset the lack of wooded areas when compared to counties situated more to the middle of the state. Another highlight of this area is its close proximity to the Mississippi River and the fertile soils that result from its presence.
Markham says the consistent harvest of quality whitetails from these areas reassure the potential that lies there.
West Tennessee is home to another whitetail powerhouse and Hardeman County did not disappoint in 2014 with a 2,300 overall buck harvest. Hardeman contains a variety of ideal habitat features that support a deer population.
It has a lot of wooded terrain, with some agriculture, and its closeness to the Mississippi only helps to enrich the soil that provides much needed nutrients that assist in growing large antlers. The Hatchie River also flows nearby and helps to boost what the Mississippi already contributes to the area.
Henry County, in Unit L, produced 2,250 antlered bucks last year. As in the other cases this county provides ideal habitat features for whitetails. It has plenty of wooded areas, along with agricultural practices, plus the Tennessee River sits along its edge.
Nutrient-enriched soils are present, which only elevates the potential of trophy deer producing large antlers and big-frame, healthy bodies.
Deer Unit A does not produce the same overall harvest numbers when compared to Unit L, but the quality of white-tailed bucks is just as good or better, according to Markham. Jackson County was the leader in terms of total antlered buck harvest in 2014 with 1,242.
Terrain here is more rugged than that of the middle portions of the state, which helps allow bucks to reach an older age and enhance quality. Roane County hunters harvested 1,207 antlered deer last season.
Deer hunters in Hamilton County bagged 1,043 whitetails with racks in 2014, while hunters in McMinn County produced 964 antlered deer last year. Deer hunters in Overton County bagged a total of 896 antlered deer last season. Putnam County hunters took 884 bucks.
All of these counties contain habitat features that differ to the majority of all Unit L counties.
These differentiations help to produce higher quality bucks by providing hiding places and hard to reach areas that big bucks like to seek out. Markham advises new deer hunters to this part of the state to do some research before heading afield and be prepared to see fewer deer, but the possibility of a mature buck does exist.
The sleeper county for Unit A is Lauderdale, which lies on the extreme western border of the state and has the Mississippi River as its border on the western side, as hunters harvested 759 bucks there last year.
Its geographic location next to the river intensifies the quality impact that nutrient enriched soil has on whitetails. The right nutrients in ample supply, along with adequate food sources and ideal habitat can only enhance the deer population in a positive manner.
Unit B consists of counties in the eastern portions of the state, which contains the most rugged and treacherous terrain a deer hunter can encounter. With that in mind those same features contribute to the potential of taking a quality white-tailed buck.
Markham says it is important for hunters to research and study potential areas, as well as to evaluate health and stamina before taking on the challenge of pursuing an east Tennessee trophy deer.
Hawkins County deer hunters bagged a total of 1,164 antlered bucks in 2014, while Sullivan County produced 1,157 whitetail bucks during last season. Claiborne County deer hunters harvested 1,002 whitetails with antlers last year. Another county that consistently produces quality whitetails is Morgan County, which accounted for 851 antlered deer in 2014.
Fortunately for deer hunters Tennessee has many acres of public hunting lands available for the active whitetail enthusiast. Markham spoke highly of several WMAs that consistently produce good numbers and quality whitetails across the state. Some of those included Catoosa, Eagle Creek, Land Between the Lakes, Oak Ridge and Yanahli WMAs.
Sitting in the southeastern corner and the northeastern portions of the state are the South and North Cherokee public hunting areas. Covering nearly 250,000 acres of mountainous terrain in both deer units A and B, these areas provide a deer hunter with a vast area to chase after a white-tailed buck. Being so rugged and vast is the reason it produces year after year in both quantity and quality.
LBL from Unit L, one of Markham's favorites, was responsible for producing a totaled antlered harvest of 255 last year, while Catoosa WMA deer hunters harvested 144 antlered bucks in 2014. The Oak Ridge WMA was responsible for producing 249 trophy deer for hunters last year.
Going westward we find the Chickasaw NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) and its antlered harvest may not appear impressive but out of the 71 total bucks taken, 43 were 7- and 8-pointers and eight sported racks with 9 to 10 points. That is a good percentage of quality trophy deer being harvested.
Maury County's Yanahli WMA produced 196 total antlered deer last year, and Milan AAP (Army Ammunition Plant) is another top prospect in terms of quality whitetail harvest.
AEDC located in southeastern middle Tennessee is another popular destination for deer hunters. In 2014, 156 total deer were harvested, and two other WMAs from the Unit L region are Eagle Creek in Wayne County and Laurel Hill in Lawrence County.
Luckily for Volunteer State deer hunters there are numerous areas and opportunities to harvest a whitetail, along with the possibility of taking a trophy deer of a lifetime. So head to the deer woods to enjoy some quality time in the outdoors and maybe that big buck gives you that chance you have been waiting on.