Dramatic changes in Tennessee turkey hunting

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission has set the state’s hunting and trapping seasons for 2022-23, including some dramatic changes for turkey hunters.

After hearing growing reports of decreasing turkey populations, the Commission voted to open the Spring turkey season statewide two weeks later than usual in hopes of improving 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 gobbler or jake.

Commissioners also opted to try for additional predator control to benefit turkeys. Turkeys build their nests on the ground, making them more vulnerable to ground foraging animals, such as raccoons and opossums. In an effort to reduce predation on turkeys’ nests, the Commission voted to extend racoon and opossum hunting season to March 15 and double the bag limit. They also approved bobcat hunting during the statewide deer archery, muzzleloader, and gun seasons.

In addition, commissioners also outlawed the controversial practice of fanning or reaping for turkeys on wildlife management areas (WMAs) to ensure public safety. “Fanning” is when hunters use a larger turkey fan, or tail, to crawl through the woods or fields actually imitating a strutting turkey gobbler. The practice often allows hunters to approach other turkeys, or attract gobblers to them.

However, by actually imitating a gobbler, hunters also increase the possibility of being mistaken by another hunter for an actual turkey, increasing the possibility of an accidental shooting. Fanning is still allowed on private land.

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.

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OTHER ACTIONS

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.

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“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.huntingcomments@tn.gov.

Complete hunting seasons dates and regulations will be available on the TWRA website [HOTLINK: http://www.twra.org].

They will also be available on the 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.

Watch the TFWC Meeting Discussion

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>