2024-25 Hunting And Trapping Proposals Presented To Commission At March Meeting

  • Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission heard proposals for the state’s 2024-25 hunting and trapping seasons at its two-day meeting which concluded Friday at Buffalo Ridge Refuge.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s recommendations included simplifying regulations, improving consistency across the state, and increased opportunity for hunters. Agency proposals for deer and turkey hunting were developed using the new adaptive harvest management process. Input on the deer and turkey objectives and hunting season packages was collected throughout the fall. The model uses harvest, biological, and population data to help biologists determine which package of seasons and bag limits support management objectives. The Agency developed new deer and turkey unit maps and proposed hunting packages for the 2024-2025 season.

The Agency proposed six deer units and no change to the statewide antlered bag limit of two. Season dates for deer seasons were proposed to be similar across the state; gun season for deer would start the Saturday before Thanksgiving, as in the past. The proposal removes reference to “CWD” from the management units. Instead, disease management will continue to be regulated through the CWD feeding and transportation regulations. Existing CWD incentive programs, such as replacement bucks, processor vouchers, and Earn-A-Buck, are still available to hunters. This change was based on input from hunters in CWD affected counties who preferred to be more in line with statewide regulations.

The Agency proposed five turkey management units with a spring turkey bag limit of three birds for the majority of the state with a two-bird bag limit in the Northeast Unit. Birds may be harvested from any combination of management units; however, a hunter may not exceed the bag limit of a turkey management unit. The season would start the Saturday closest to April 7, and would be open six weeks. Recent turkey research and data shows harvest has remained fairly stable and is not the main driver of turkey populations, rather habitat loss and nest predation have more impact on populations.

The Agency is also proposing two new wildlife refuges including Holly Fork Creek, a 125 acre property in Henry County, and Catoosa Ridge, a 1,750 acre property adjacent to Catoosa WMA in Cumberland County. The additions will increase opportunity by adding two new Youth Deer Hunts at Holly Fork Creek and additional small game hunting opportunity at Catoosa Ridge.

Clarifying language was proposed for wildlife management area (WMA) feeding regulations so that it reads, “The placement or depositing of any food or feed, grain, salt products, minerals, and other consumable natural and manufactured products to attract wildlife on WMAs, PHAs, and Refuges is prohibited.” A proposal was also made to require all dogs on WMAs not actively engaged in hunting or dog training to be on a leash or otherwise restrained.

Regional WMA proposals in West Tennessee included increasing the President’s Island Quota Hunt from 30 to 50 hunters thanks to increased early successional habitat on the property by about 1,000 acres. Additionally, at the request of the property owner, access to Presidents Island will be restricted to quota hunt permit holders only. A new turkey quota hunt would also be established at Tumbleweed WMA with two hunts per week for a total of 12 hunts. At the request of the Department of Military, there will not be deer or turkey quota hunts at the Milan Volunteer Training property in the coming season.

In Middle Tennessee, the Cheatham Lake WMA turkey quota hunt would be removed, making the property open for turkey hunting during the statewide season. The agency proposed opening Laurel Hill WMA waterfowl season to be the same as the statewide season and simplify regulations by allowing dog training at night and moving to the statewide trapping season. The Laurel Hill deer archery season will be increased from two to eight weeks and the bag limit for the Young Sportsman’s Hunt and Quota Antlerless Hunt will increase to two deer, only one may be antlered. Due to an increase in the lease price, the lease will not be renewed for the Arnold Hollow WMA in Wayne County. The closure will be effective July 1, 2024.

In the Cumberland Plateau Region, at Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA, four quail quota hunts were proposed as one day hunts with a bag limit of three birds per person. The Oak Ridge WMA deer quota hunt will be reduced from 3,150 permits to 2,900 permits due to a reduction in huntable acres and the routine volume of leftover permits after the draw.

In East Tennessee, proposals were made to make Buffalo Springs WMA archery only during deer season and shotgun only during small game and turkey season to improve safety at the WMA. The Agency proposed moving the bear archery season at North Cherokee WMA to run from the first Saturday in October throughout the statewide season, adding four additional days.

In the Furbearer Hunting and Trapping regulations, the Agency is proposing to remove the legal take of long-tailed weasels and spotted skunks due to their elevated status on the State Threatened and Endangered Species list. No regulatory changes were proposed for migratory game bird season or bag limits, only date changes would be made to reflect the 2024-2025 calendar. Options for the waterfowl hunt splits were presented for consideration. There was a request by the Commission for the Agency to consider a night predator hunting season, including coyote and bobcat, on private land.   

In the Big Game Hunting Seasons and Bag Limits, no changes were recommended for elk hunting, but the changes made last year to add two new elk zones and increase permits to 19 takes effect Fall 2024. For bear hunting, TWRA proposed adding a 14-day bear dog spring training season for Bear Hunt Zones 1,2, and 3 for private lands only. In Bear Hunt Zone 4, a private land only two-day gun hunt would be added to the existing four-week archery hunt. The agency proposed adding a Bear Hunt Zone 5 in Hawkins and Hancock counties which would add a private land only two-day gun hunt to the existing four-week archery hunt, dogs would be allowed during these 2 days.

Hunting and Trapping season proposals are currently open for public comment through April 10. Video of the Agency’s season setting presentation can be found on the TWRA YouTube page. Public comments can be made here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TNSeasonsettingproposals. Comments will be reviewed prior to the April Commission meeting when the proposals will be put to a vote. 

Matt Clarey, TWRA Outreach Assistant Chief/R3 Coordinator, presented an update on the Buffalo Ridge Shooting Range project and the future education facility. This project is tentatively scheduled to begin Aug. 1. A request was made for a budget increase for improvements at Stones River Shooting Range with 90 percent of the project to be funded by federal funds.

Giles County Wildlife Officer Ryne Goats was introduced to the Commission and presented his award for being the 2023 Tennessee Wildlife Officer of the Year. He represented the TWRA at the annual conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEFWA) last fall. Over the past year, Officer Goats facilitated numerous outreach events including youth deer and turkey hunts, fishing programs, and partnerships with local police departments.

Representatives from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation gave updates on the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP), and the Hunting and Fishing Academy.

Ford Little (Knoxville) was introduced as a new member of the Commission. He is the representative for Commission District 2 which consists of Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Cumberland, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union. Mr. Little replaces Kent Woods of Kodak.  

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