Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency biologists are asking Tennessee hunters for their input as they begin the process of setting the 2013-14 hunting season regulations. They say this is an opportunity for the public to provide ideas and share concerns about hunting regulations with TWRA staff.
Last year, several deer hunters in southern Middle Tennessee expressed concern that the peak white-tailed deer mating season (rut) was later than biologists thought and that hunting seasons should be extended as a result. The concerns prompted biologists to conduct a special research project.
Every deer hunter knows that big bucks are most susceptible when mating season begins. It was thought that that time is generally around Thanksgiving in most parts of Tennessee. However, there can be major differences in rutting behavior within relatively small geographic areas. Hunters in parts of North Alabama say their peak rut occurs in January, after Tennessee's deer closes.
Franklin County hunters told TWRA's Chief of Wildlife Daryl Ratajczak that the same is true in their area. So biologists coordinated last year with landowners with high deer populations to take a number of does, postseason, specifically to examine the fetuses and determine precisely when the does bred. The deer they took were donated to the Hunters for the Hungry Program, which provides venison to needy families.
According to a map illustrating the results of that study, the hunters were part right; however, Ratajczak said, "The vast majority of the samples taken revealed a November or December breeding date, although there were some that were conceived in January. This reaffirms our belief that the peak of the rut occurs in the November-December time frame for the vast majority of the state."
With all wildlife behaviors, many hunters and fishermen have a tendency to think every creature responds at the same time. For instance, fishermen are often inclined to think that every bass or every crappie in the lake spawn at the same time.
Usually, however, such responses are more like a "bell curve" over a period of several weeks, meaning there might be a "peak time" when more creatures are making baby creatures—but there are wide variances outside that peak period.
The map illustrates that in the very southern portion of Franklin County, hunters were right. The deer rut came in January, similar to what their southerly Alabama neighbors often experience. However, that was the exception, and the majority of the deer TWRA sampled bred in November and December.
As to why rutting behavior can differ dramatically among deer in close geographic proximity, Ratajczak said, "I don't know. It amazes me as well."
Public comments regarding the 2013-14 Tennessee hunting season (not just deer but any hunting season) will be considered by TWRA’s Wildlife Division staff and may be presented as proposals for regulation changes. Comments may be submitted by mail to 2013-14 Hunting Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife and Forestry Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include “hunting season comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions.
The comment period will be open until Monday, Feb. 25.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.