Boating season is wide-open, as can be seen at places like Fate Sanders Marina and the Stewart Creek Boat Ramp in Smyrna on Percy Priest Lake. Of course, that also means that fishermen (and women) are working hard to reel in their best catch. Just in time to re-bait the hook, the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commissions have set the state’s hunting and trapping seasons for 2022-23. The Commission established the regulations at its June 2-3 meeting held at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Region II Ray Bell Building.
Complete hunting seasons dates and regulations will be available on the website (www.twra.org), TWRA App, and in the printed 2022-23 Tennessee Hunting Guide, which will be mailed to Lifetime and Sportsman’s license holders and available for free at TWRA license vendor locations in mid-July.
After hearing growing reports of decreasing turkey populations, the Commission voted to delay the statewide turkey season to improve reproduction and nesting success. The bag limit will also be decreased from three birds to two birds, and only one bird can be a juvenile or jake.
Statewide, 2022 spring turkey harvest came in at 29,940 birds, down roughly 10 percent from the 5-year average. However, the number of successful hunters was 21,209 which continues to be in line with the 5-year average of 21,259. To reduce predator pressure on turkey nests and poults, the Commission voted to extend racoon and opossum hunting season to March 15 and double the bag limit. The TFWC approved bobcat hunting during the statewide deer archery, muzzleloader, and gun seasons. The controversial practice of fanning or reaping turkey was also banned on wildlife management areas (WMAs) to ensure public safety. It is still allowed on private land.
To simplify regulations, hunters will no longer need the Type 94 licenses to hunt antlerless deer on private land, but it will still be required on WMAs. Changes to deer season dates will be calendar year changes only. To make progress reducing the number of chronic wasting disease (CWD) positive deer, the Commission voted to extend the rifle season in the CWD zone by two weeks, to increase the buck limit to three, and to adjust the “Earn-A-Buck” program to be one doe, instead of two that earns one buck tag. Since the beginning of the program, hunters have harvested nearly 8,700 antlerless deer, with just more than 2,000 does entered in the “Earn-A-Buck” program. TWRA has also been developing a new strategic plan over the last year, which includes more targeted deer management zones to ensure the best science is used to address CWD rates.
TWRA staff did not recommend any changes to elk regulations. There are currently elk in five counties, with elk hunting allowed in public zones. Each winter, TWRA completes a ground survey of elk populations and has seen an increasing trend in elk populations. Currently, 15 elk tags are issued annually.
Based on feedback from bear hunters and biologists, bear hunt zones will be slightly adjusted, and the Kettlefoot and Laurel Fork bear reserve season expanded. Moving forward, bear tooth submission will be mandatory by hunters to allow for better population management and data collection on wildlife health.
Finally, the Commission voted to add a total of four Tier One duck blinds at the Big Sandy, West Sandy, and Camden Unit 1 WMAs for the upcoming duck season. An additional proposal will be considered at a later Commission meeting to create a 900-acre waterfowl refuge at the WMA to support the duck population. The area under consideration is difficult for hunters to access and the Commission believes it would be better served for conservation efforts. TWRA will seek public comments on the proposal before the vote.
Additional updates were made for TWRA’s 110 WMAs encompassing more than 1.5 million acres of natural resources. Notably, a quota hunt for turkeys was established on Chickasaw and Natchez state parks, slight adjustments were made to the deer hunts on Cheatham WMA, and generally opening more hunt units on various WMAs across the state. A list of WMA regulations is available on the TWRA website.
TWRA completes a nine-month season setting process, which includes wildlife population surveys, data collection from partner organizations and research institutions, a public comment period on recommendations, and finally discussion and approval by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“Our goal for the 2023 hunting season setting process was to find the right balance between healthy wildlife populations and hunter satisfaction,” said Wildlife and Forestry Division Chief Joe Benedict. “We feel confident we have met this goal with the help of the incredible volume of public input we received this year.”
This year, TWRA received more than 1,600 public comments on hunting dates and regulations. Sportsmen can continue to submit comments on hunting seasons regulations to TWRA.firstname.lastname@example.org.