For turkey hunters, the biggest change was banning the killing of hens during the fall season.
In the past, non-bearded birds – almost always hens – could be taken. In fact, at one time as many as six hens could be killed in most Midstate counties. But the number of turkeys continues to decline state-wide (this spring’s harvest was down by almost 6,000), wildlife officials don’t know why, and the Commission decided to take action.
Since hens are protected during the spring hunt to allow them to nest and hatch broods, some hunters felt it made sense to protect hens during the fall hunt for the same reason – every hen that survives through the fall will be around to nest the following spring. The Commission agreed with that logic.
There had been some concern that changing the regulations amid an ongoing study of the turkey situation by the TWRA and University of Tennessee would disrupt the data, but the situation was deemed so dire that the decision was made to do it anyway.
A proposal to reduce the spring gobbler limit from four to two birds was defeated. Biologists believe taking a limited number of male gobblers will not affect reproductive rates.
For deer hunters, the big change is a return to the original definition of an “antlerless” deer: one with antlers three inches or smaller.
Until a couple of years ago a buck with antlers three inches or less was defined as antlerless, but that definition was changed to include any buck with visible antlers above the hair-line. Even a little button buck with barely-visible antler nubs was defined as antlered and counted as part of the two-buck season limit.
Many hunters opposed the rule and the Commission heeded their complaints. So starting this season, little bucks with 3-inch-or-less antlers will once again be defined as antlerless and counted among the generous doe limit.
Another new rule that will go into effect this season is a ban on natural urine deer-scent attractors. The ban is prompted by concerns about the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease into the state. The fatal disease is transmitted, among other ways, through CWD-infected urine, and once it is introduced into a deer or elk herd there is no known cure.
The use of synthetic deer scents will still be permitted.
Another rule change allows disabled hunters to use pneumatic devices (air guns) during archery-only deer hunts and also during the gun hunt.
Numerous other items on the agenda were passed, including some changes on specific Wildlife Management areas. No changes were made in small-game seasons or limits.
Details of all the regulations are posted on tnwildlife.org
Lebanon’s Jamie Woodson was one of the most active commissioners during the two-day meeting at TWRA headquarters in Nashville. She consistently made queries and offered comments as the Commission wrangled with workable solutions to some of the more contentious issues.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at email@example.com.