CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The number of deer taken by Tennessee hunters has increased so far this season over the 2019-2020 hunting season.
The graph below reflects the last ten years of Tennessee deer harvests year-to-date between the beginning of the season until Nov. 16. It does NOT reflect the first time August "velvet-buck" season since this was the first ever year that season has been allowed.
TWRA Region III Biologist Ben Layton says that harvest numbers may not necessarily be an accurate reflection of deer population numbers because biologists do not have a good measure of "hunter effort." In short, the number of deer taken can be in direct proportion to how many hours all hunters spend in the woods.
"It is an important part of the hunter equation," he said. "I would say our hunter effort is up significantly (this year) due to COVID. We've had more deer killed on weekdays than usual versus weekends. It could be influenced by the weather but to me it seems like more hunters are hunting during the week."
It is impossible to actually "see" more hunters in the woods. But most everyone agrees that, based on the amount of recreational and fishing boat traffic on Tennessee lakes, folks are clearly heading outdoors more frequently as a good way to have fun, yet remain socially distanced.
"Our harvest during the 'juvenile-only' season almost doubled this year," he said. "Kids took about 6,000 deer this season compared to about 3,000 last year. I'd say there was more effort due to Dads being able to take their kids hunting."
There has been a general decline in harvests from a few years ago. Layton said it is hard to nail down a reason why, but says it is not really worrisome.
"Tennessee's deer population has pretty much peaked and we're just starting to level off," he said.
Tennessee's most popular deer hunting season, the regular rifle season, opens Saturday (Nov. 21). Again, it's impossible for biologists to know exactly how many hunters will be in the woods. A huge percentage of hunters buy Sportsman or Lifetime licenses that cover all types of hunting, but there is no way to know if that actually go deer hunting or not. And landowners hunting on their own land don't have to have a license at all.
"I'm not sure if hunters overall are hunting as hard as they used to," said Layton. "We don't have a good metric for hunter effort."
Layton says biologists are trying to change that and hope to use scientifically-accurate surveys in the future to try and get a better handle on hunter effort.
As for Layton's prediction for the coming rifle deer hunting season, "I think it'll be weather dependent. If we have good weather, I think our harvest is going to be up."
Most hunters always make diligent efforts to be sure and recover any deer. The National Deer Association recently posted an excellent article with advice for hunters to ensure they do exactly that.
The most important tip I read said, "Do not check Twitter or announce your excitement on Facebook. Do not even start texting people, even though your phone may be buzzing with incoming texts from friends asking “Did you shoot?” Before you do any of this, take a moment to catch your breath, calm down, and focus on the next step."