Tennessee deer hunters have well surpassed last year's harvest, and only one hunt (for youngsters age 6-16) remains in this year's season. In Hamilton County, hunters have taken a record-breaking number of white-tails.
Heading into a final youth hunt this weekend, Tennessee sportsmen have taken 174,598 deer since the archery-only season began on Sept. 22. During the 2011-12, hunting season deer hunters took 167,802 deer in Tennessee.
Among Southeast Tennessee counties, Hamilton County has the largest harvest, with 2,263 deer taken by hunters. Last season, Hamilton County hunters took 2,008 deer.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency manager Greg Atchley said he remembers not so long ago when deer harvests in Hamilton County hit 200 deer in one year.
"I couldn't believe we'd taken 200 deer in the most urban county in the region," Atchley said. "If you'd told me then that someday we'd be taking more than 2,000 deer a year in Hamilton County, I'd have said you were crazy."
Decades ago, when serious white-tailed deer efforts began, Tennessee biologists thought white-tailed deer would only thrive in the far East Tennessee mountains and forests. They soon learned how incredibly adaptable white-tailed deer are, and now, the East Tennessee mountains harbor the lowest deer populations in the state.
At least 1,000 deer have been harvested in 69 of the state’s 95 counties. Tennessee biologists say the state's deer population is fairly stable and that they don't expect dramatic ups or downs in harvests, barring some unusual circumstance.
Other area county harvests include Rhea at 1,809, McMinn at 1,797, Meigs at 1,662, Marion at 1,441, Bradley at 1,113, Van Buren at 1,023, Monroe at 808, Sequatchie at 786 and Polk at 208 (numbers include wildlife management area hunts).
Giles County is the statewide leader with 5,464 deer harvested. Rounding out the top six counties are Fayette at 5,418, Henry at 5,334, Hardeman at 4,820, Lincoln at 4,603, Maury at 3,986 and Franklin at 3,835.
The second of the season’s youth hunts, scheduled for Jan. 12-13, will conclude the 2012-13 deer hunting season in Tennessee.
Youngsters ages 6-16 years of age may participate. The young sportsmen must be accompanied by a nonhunting adult at least 21 years of age, who must remain in a position to take control of the hunting device. The accompanying adult must comply with fluorescent orange regulations, as specified for legal hunters. Each adult is allowed to accompany more than one youngster.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.