State wildlife officials are prepared for a busy season if deer hunters follow the lead set in the spring by turkey hunters.
Hunters headed to the woods in big numbers in the spring when businesses closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which left people out of work and looking for something to do.
The pandemic is still around and Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officials believe a similar scenario could play out when deer season opens across the state Aug 28.
The first hunt lasts three days and is archery-only for antlered deer on private land.
“The pandemic is still going on and we imagine people still have a lot of free time on their hands,” TWRA spokesperson Barry Cross said. “If it plays out the way it has over the summer, people are looking for something to do. If they’ve ever hunted before, odds are they’ll be back. If they’ve hunted and just haven’t been back in awhile, they may come back, and we’re hoping we’ll be able to introduce some people to deer hunting for the first time.”
More: More people are hunting and fishing in Tennessee during coronavirus pandemic
The number of people in the state who purchased hunting and fishing licenses rose by nearly 20 percent during the spring turkey hunting season (April 4-May 17) compared to 2019.
Near the end of the hunt a total of 729,972 hunting and fishing licenses had been sold, according to the TWRA. That was 113,580 more than were sold at the same period in 2019 and 152,430 more than in 2018.
The revenue from license sales increased $3 million over the same time in 2019.
Another increase in license sales is expected this month because deer hunting in many places in Tennessee is even more popular than turkey hunting.
“It stands to reason we’ll see a lot of enthusiasm because deer hunting is king when it comes to big game hunting in Tennessee,” Cross said. “Turkey hunting is a very close second. But deer outweighs turkey hunting because good deer hunting has been around a little bit longer than turkey has.”
► More: Turkey hunting in Tennessee not affected by coronavirus pandemic; harvest higher than last two years
Having more hunters in the woods in the spring led to a significantly larger turkey harvest.
A total of 38,222 turkeys were killed in the state, according to the TWRA. That was 8,195 more than were killed in 2019 and 10,881 more than in 2018.
A total of 134,460 deer were killed in 2019, which was 9,472 fewer than in 2018. Chronic wasting disease, which hit the state last year, was responsible for some of the drop in the harvest, Cross said.
The disease affects deer, elk and other members of the deer family. Abnormal prion proteins damage normal proteins in the animal’s brain and spinal cord, forming small holes that give the brain a sponge-like appearance. The disease is always fatal.
“Deer hunting in Tennessee has gotten better and better,” Cross said. “Of course, we had chronic wasting disease last year and that did bring our numbers down in Southwest Tennessee just because hunters didn’t harvest as many as they have in past. It remains to be seen what we’re going to do with that this year and how it’s going to play out.”
The second archery-only deer hunt is Sept. 26-Oct. 30 and the third Nov. 2-6.
The gun, archery and muzzleloader hunt is Nov. 7-Jan. 3 2021.
Two gun, archery and muzzleloader youth hunts (ages 6-16) will be Oct. 31-Nov. 1 and Jan. 9-10 2021.
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.