Tennessee’s 2013 archery-only season for deer opens statewide Saturday, Sept. 28. Nobody knows what that means better than Matt Smith, the owner of Turks Sport Shop in Ooltewah.
The small shop at the corner of Ooltewah-Georgetown Road and Mahan Gap Road sells nothing but archery equipment. Smith said that during the last week heading into bow season business is brisk.
"People [are] wanting broadheads or bows worked on," he said. "Heck, some people are still looking for strings and cables so their bows will shoot, but that's no problem. Lots of people have been preparing for months, but there's always quite a few who wait until the last minute."
Smith is a hardcore bow hunter himself, but he said he will be at the shop working Saturday for the hunters who need him.
"Yeah, I'm going to be here Saturday," he said. "But after we close, if I get out of here at a decent time, something's in trouble."
"Something" means a deer.
During the opening weekend of the 2012 deer archery-only season, 3,128 deer were harvested statewide, an increase of 317 from 2011’s total of 2,811. In 2010, 2,404 were taken the first weekend.
It was the late 1960s when bow hunters began to lobby state wildlife officials for a special archery-only hunting season. Of course, hunters can use a bow and arrow during the regular firearm season, if they choose. But bow hunters thought they should have an opportunity to be in the woods without competing with rifle hunters. They told state wildlife officials they were willing to pay extra for the privilege by purchasing a special license. That was the precursor to today's regulation requiring a separate license for all Tennessee deer hunters based upon the equipment they're using (archery, muzzleloader or regular firearm).
Smith said interest in hunting and target archery is growing, in part thanks to programs in some area schools.
"4-H programs and the National Archery in Schools Program have been a big help," he said. "Of course, the programs provide the bows the kids use in school, but a lot of parents want to buy bows for their kids so they can shoot at home."
Smith has also been working to increase year-round interest in archery by holding monthly bow fishing tournaments during the summer.
"It took off and did pretty well, and that helped generate more interest," Smith said. "We had anywhere from a dozen up to 23 boats showing up to compete. We had people coming from Atlanta and all over Tennessee."
But bow fishing is over now, with regular hunting season in full swing. The archery season dates in all three of the state’s deer hunting units are the same. The dates are Sept. 28-Oct. 25 and Oct. 28-Nov. 8. Tennessee is divided into three deer units for better management: A, B and L. The antlerless deer bag limits are four in Units A and B deer management areas and three per day in Unit L areas. The antlered deer bag limit is a total of three for the entire deer season. A hunter may take his three antlered deer during any season but no more than one per day.
As busy as he's been this week, Smith said the day after opening weekend can be a madhouse.
"Monday is when you need to be here," he said. "That's when everybody will show up with all the broken strings, cables and other problems."
But Smith said he will be ready and waiting to get you back in the woods.
For more information on hunting licenses and bag limits, go here.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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