September 16, 2015
Logging time in the deer woods is a good thing, whether harvesting an animal or not, but if an opportunity arises to fill the freezer with fresh venison it just makes it better. Of course, the Volunteer State boasts some great whitetail hunting throughout its borders on both private and public lands.
Some areas are better than others and are where hunters should key in on as the air becomes cooler and the days begin to shorter, which not only increases deer activity, but entices hunters as well.
Tennessee is broken down into three deer hunting regions — A, B and L — each consisting of different bag limits on antlerless deer and regulations, but the total number of antlered deer cannot exceed three statewide regardless of hunt unit.
Unit A consists of 23 counties, all of which are located on the Cumberland Plateau stretching from north to south touching the state line boundaries, except for four that border the Mississippi River. The whitetail population residing in Unit A is considered moderately good, so do not be dismayed by the harvest numbers in comparison to the more liberal hunting region.
Archery hunters can take four antlerless deer, while four more antlerless whitetails can be taken during the muzzleloader segment and two antlerless deer can be harvested on each young sportsman hunt. Modern firearm hunters need to refer to the hunting guide for dates and bag limits for antlerless hunts, as each unit is a little bit different.
Unit B, which consists of 26 counties in the eastern most part of the state, holds the smallest population of white-tailed deer, and it is the most restrictive of the three units. Four antlerless deer may be taken during the archery-only portion, one during the muzzleloader/archery period and young sportsmen can harvest one antlerless deer on both of the youth hunts.
Modern firearm season in this unit requires hunters to read the current hunting guide to determine antlerless opportunities. But the deer hunting is still good considering the mountainous, rougher type of terrain found there.
Deer have plenty of places to hide and hunters may need to literally to go the extra mile to harvest one if hunting this unit.
The most liberal hunting region — Unit L — is home to the densest deer population in the state. The TWRA established this area with increased antlerless opportunities so hunters could help balance the herd. A three antlerless deer a day limit is allowed for every county within the unit.
The majority of this region contains rolling hills of forested land, creek and river bottoms, and agriculture, making it ideal for whitetails. Traditionally, this region has led the state in overall harvest numbers and if history repeats itself the likelihood of it being dethroned is doubtful.
The 2014 harvest numbers totaled 164,896 whitetails being taken by Tennessee deer hunters using archery, muzzleloader and traditional firearm methods. Out of that figure 85,173 were antlered deer and 69,417 were does.
A lot of Tennessee deer hunters are just that, deer hunters. Many are looking to harvest deer because of the excellent table fare it provides and would rather take a fat doe or younger buck.
While the majority of deer hunting in the state takes place on private lands there are ample public hunting opportunities for those who cannot afford to buy property for hunting, join a hunting club or lease land for the purpose of hunting.
Out of the total harvest reported, 6,518 were taken from areas open to public hunting. A lot of the wildlife management areas are open during the statewide seasons, though some have hunter quota restrictions. All have distinct characteristics that are appealing to whitetails and hunters alike.
Some people get discourage at the thought of hunting a WMA, but they are viable options available to all. Some are relatively small in acreage compared to others, but all provide some great whitetail hunting each year. With research and scouting, these areas offer deer hunters a good chance of taking a whitetail.
All the top 10 counties in total harvest numbers are from Unit L, which comes as no big surprise due to the ample deer populations and ideal habitat throughout the region. Leading the pack once again was Giles with 5,241 whitetails harvested, with Fayette County's 4,708 deer taken sitting in the second position.
Henry was next with 4,431, followed by Lincoln's 4,309 and Hardeman with 4,106, Maury County hunters bagged 3,529 whitetails and Montgomery recorded 3,482 deer taken last season. Rounding out the top 10 was Carroll with 3,172, Weakley with 3,138 and Franklin with 3,125 whitetails taken last year.
Unit A's deer region put up some respectable harvest numbers also during the 2014 deer season. Roane County led the group with 2,502 whitetails, but Jackson was not far behind with 2,026 deer being taken there. Hamilton sits in the third spot with a total of 1,923 deer bagged, followed by Cumberland County with 1,751 and McMinn with 1,619 whitetails harvested.
Hunters in Rhea County took 1,511 deer, while Marion hunters took 1,386 last year. Putnam followed closely with 1,374, while Overton and DeKalb rounded out the top 10 with 1,286 and 1,213, respectively.
In the east, the Unit B deer region put up some impressive harvest numbers in 2014. Sullivan County hunters took 1,878 deer, while Hawkins was a close second with 1,837 whitetails bagged. Claiborne was next with 1,472 and Morgan's 1,313 earned the fourth spot.
Carter County ranked fifth with 1,150 deer, followed by Knox with 1,144, Scott with 1,128 and Greene with 1,091. Loudon's 1,087 and Johnson County's 1,031 harvested whitetails finished out the region.
The top 10 statewide harvest leaders also hold the same positions in Unit L's breakdown of top counties in total harvest. Giles, Fayette, Henry, Lincoln, Hardeman, Maury, Montgomery, Carroll, Weakley and Franklin were the Unit L region's top deer producers in 2014. This group alone contributed to more than 39,000 of the deer taken last year.
TWRA's Doug Markham was optimistic about Tennessee's deer herd and quick to mention the excellent deer hunting found on many TWRA managed lands spread across the state. He noted the Cherokee National Forest, both the northern and southern portions, as a popular destination for Tennessee deer hunters.
In the statewide ranking of public hunting areas/WMAs, Cherokee led the state in overall harvest numbers with 454 deer taken last year, of which 354 sported antlers while 79 did not. Oak Ridge took the second spot with 416 deer harvested — 203 bucks and 167 does — while Land Between the Lakes was third with 379 whitetails taken in 2014 of which 224 had antlers and 124 were does. Yanahli WMA in Maury County was next with 357 deer bagged, with 150 of those being bucks.
Markham could not say enough good things about this whitetail rich property. He noted its diverse habitat, being adjacent to the Duck River and its close proximity to Nashville, making it an ideal destination for deer hunters.
The Arnold Engineering Development Center) ranked fifth with 252 whitetails taken, of which 123 sported antlers while the final doe tally was 96. Another of Markham's favorite destinations tool the number six spot.
Hunters on Percy Priest took 243 deer last season of which 93 were bucks and 124 were does. The Cross Creek NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) ranked seventh with 236 harvested whitetails. The North Cumberland WMA was next with 233 deer being harvested, 147 of which sported antlers.
Catoosa's harvest of 223 deer (127 bucks and 79 does) and the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge finished out the list with 220 (34 bucks and 168 does).
Doug Markham also noted a few other WMAs that are good places to deer hunt across the Volunteer State. The Natchez Trace WMA in west Tennessee is a popular whitetail haven that consists mainly of large wooded acreage and is conveniently located off of I-40.
Its 2014 whitetail harvest totaled 200 deer, 110 of which had antlers and 76 were does. He also spoke highly of the Chuck Swan WMA, which produced 195 whitetails last season, mentioning its history of having whitetails long ago when none could be found anywhere else in the state.
Williamsport WMA located in Maury County was another that Markham recommended since it had 93 deer harvested from its borders last season. Other notable destinations Markham spoke of were Beaverdam WMA (104), Cordell Hull (153), Eagle Creek (142), Fall Creek Falls (90) and Yuchi Refuge (94).
Be sure to check the rules and regulations of any WMA prior to visiting. Some WMAs require an application be submitted months in advance, with certain quotas of hunters. Other WMAs are open with the statewide season, which enables those hunters with limited or no access to private property the chance of bagging a whitetail.
The TWRA has done an excellent job managing the state's whitetail herd, with the help of deer hunters. Currently the whitetail population hovers around the 1 million mark and, according to TWRA studies, it should continue increasing one to two percent for the next several years.
That increase should be more evident in the western counties near the Mississippi River and those in the far eastern portions of the state where current populations are below expectations.
The majority of the state's deer population call middle and west Tennessee home and biologists have determined that the herds in those regions have leveled off. The need for a reduction in population in several parts of these regions has been noted, so increased antlerless opportunities remain in place. The implementation of more non-quota hunts, more liberal tagging requirements and longer seasons help with the task of reducing the size of the herds in these whitetail rich areas.
The TWRA has also noticed the decline of hunter participation, contributing it to the diehard core of deer hunters beginning to age, increased health issues, financial strains and the technological advancements available to the younger generations. All of the new electronic gadgets that are now available keep many youngsters from experiencing the wonders of Mother Nature.
By chipping away at the number of hunters that pursue whitetails, it only intensifies the importance of passing on deer hunting traditions.
Hunters must ensure that the passion of chasing whitetails does not fade away and remember that any deer legally harvested is a trophy whether it has antlers or not. Whether hunting in hopes of bagging a trophy or to fill the freezer, enjoy the time well spent in pursuit of the elusive white-tailed deer.
Also, don't forget to introduce someone new to deer hunting; it could be the start of many hunts to come.