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Preparing for deer hunting

With deer hunting season upon us, novice hunters have three primary harvesting weapons of choice leading up to the thrill of realizing their first big game harvest: rifle, muzzleloader and archery.

Also factoring into the process includes obtaining proper licenses, pinpointing desired hunting areas and learning key tips toward a successful harvest.

Gun season for deer in Tennessee is Nov. 21-30; Dec. 1-6 and Dec. 19-Jan. 10. Muzzleloading season for deer is Nov. 7-20. Archery season for deer is Sept. 26-Oct. 30; Nov. 2-6 and Dec. 7-18.

Youth season is Oct. 31-Nov.1 and Jan. 16-17.

Sam Hensley, manager of Frontier Firearms, LLC, in Kingston, said “ninety percent of the deer killed in this area are killed with a lever-action 30-30 rifle, short-range within a 100-yard shot.

“It's hard to beat a good bolt action [rifle], anything above a 243, 30-ought-6 is an excellent, all-around caliber.” Questions to consider when deciding upon a rifle include, “Are you recoil sensitive?” Hensley said. “What is the range you're going to be hunting. That type of thing.” Because of the hilly terrain, “Most of your hunting is under 100 yards,” Hensley said. “Most of our hunting around here is in the woods.” Hensley labeled muzzleload hunting “a whole other animal. Most people are hunting with the break-action Thompson centers due to the ease. They use shotgun primers, which makes them easier to load. [Are] water-tight. “Any inline style muzzleloader is excellent,” Hensley added. “But loading steps are much more involved with muzzleloaders versus rifles.” Moreover, “When you muzzleload hunt you get a few extra weeks of hunting a year,” Hensley added. Hensley said muzzleload hunting can be “more fun” because “it's the traditional style of hunting. ... You have to be a little more skilled of a hunter. You've got to get the animal in closer.” “Hand-loading can be fun,” Hensley added. “Mostly it's just the challenge. A long shot for muzzleloaders is 100 yards, and that's a real long shot. Most muzzleloader kills are within the 30- to 60-yard range.” For versatility, “I always recommend the Thompson Encore, which is a break-action style rifle,” Hensley said, adding it's interchangeable “with a rifle barrel and muzzleloader barrel.” “If you are a novice, you need to go to a reputable gun store,” he added. “Do your research ... if you're a novice, in most cases, you're better off buying a new weapon. You get the full warranty. “You need to practice with your weapon considerably so you're comfortable with the hunting rifle you're going to use.”

Jonathan Williams, co-owner of Edgemore Bait, Tackle and Archery, 530 Edgemore Road, Powell, is an expert archer. “Once you go out and you harvest your first animal, you're going to be hooked,” Williams said of archery harvests. “I got into archery about eight years ago, real heavy.” As opposed to rifle or muzzleload hunting, archery for Williams “is more satisfying to me, being able to get that close to that animal without them knowing you're there.” His first piece of advise for a novice is try a used bow “to make sure you're really going to be interested in it before you spend a lot of money on it.

“A true archer shoots all year ... you definitely want to keep your skills up, your practice up and have a lot of patience,” he added. “You could sit for several days and not see anything.” Firing range for a beginning archer? “I would definitely have them stay within no more than 25 yards and I'd like to keep it within 15 to 20,” Williams said. Hensley’s tips for effective deer hunting include, “Research the species. You need to know the anatomy of that animal so you can make a humane, clean shot.

“You need to scout and check the terrain that you're going to hunt in,” Hensley added. “That way, you can find the trails that the [deer] have been using. That way, you know where to set up and hunt from. “You need to go out and kinda know the yardage; step off yardage from where you're going to hunt, certain landmarks, that way you know the range to make a good, humane, clean shot.” Also, “You need to know what deer eat ... the time they are looking for mates. I look for [areas having] food and water,” Hensley said. “And I like to know [for example] that white-tailed deer, like this food over this food. When you do, you'll have a better place to hunt.”

Upon locating your prey, “if you hit the heart, you're going to drop him where he stands. ... A lot of people try to shoot for the shoulder,” Hensley said. “The perfect shot is broadside. It's never good to shoot one walking directly away from you. It's going to be harder to hit those vital organs.” One word of warning if you're looking for a great meal: “if you shoot it and it gets away from you, and you have to track it, the adrenaline gets up in that animal and actually ruins the meat,” Hensley said. “It will make the meat very unfavorable ... all their muscles tighten up.” The rule of thumb for a successful shot? “They never take a step after you pull the trigger,” Hensley said. Find a tree? “For a novice I recommend hunting out of a tree because deer have an exceptional sense of smell, they are very keen to movement,” Hensley said. “If you are up off the ground above the plain .. they're not going to notice your movement as much.” Williams said a “40-degree angle” is preferred for a tree-stand archer. To practice at home, Williams said “try a ladder stand” or “get up on a bank” to “get a feel for the angles,” adding you can buy “3-D” targets that resemble deer. “Seventy-five percent of the time I am in a tree-stand,” Williams added. “You need to be ready to sit there before daylight until after dark.”

One critical safety point: “When you're in a tree-stand, make sure you have your safety vest on — safety harness — that hooks to the trees,” Williams said.

Williams said there are archery classes on “how to do the form, holding your bow and teaching you the basics.” Such information can be found at local sporting goods stores. With bows ranging in weight from 20 to 100 pounds, Williams said, “When you first start out you'll start off with a lighter poundage, and you'll build up to a stronger poundage bow. Six arrows are common to accompany a bow.” Target points are “the heart or the lungs,” Williams said. “After I shoot, I have a minimum rule I don't leave my stand for an hour-and-a-half … not to spook the deer, it'll keep running.

“I will make a mental mark of the blood trail.”

Best deer hunting in the Knoxville area? “Any of the wildlife management areas, like Catoosa on Rockwood Mountain, Royal Blue on top of the mountain in Jellico,” Hensley said. “Any private land people can find to hunt. Most of the hunting now is done on leases, on private land. “We've lost a lot of our good hunting land in East Tennessee,” Hensley added. “There's just not as much land to hunt anymore.” Annual archery deer hunts include several TWRA draw hunts in Oak Ridge, at Chuck Swan in Union County and TWRA lands “in the North Cumberlands, where I hunt quite often,” Williams said.

Also a requirement is “the ability to control your nerves whenever it comes down to that moment,” Williams said. “You will make a lot of mistakes, I still do. “It would be best to have a hunting partner ... no telling what can happen ... Try not to split up, especially in the mountainous areas.” Points of warning: “There still will be snakes out; the most common are copperheads and rattlesnakes,” Williams said. As for preparing a deer after the kill, Williams suggests “get you some ice to put inside of it and take it to the closest checking station and take it to your process place.” Edgemore is one such checking station. “Have your kill tag filled out and we'll issue another kill tag.” A processor will clean and prepare the meat, including packaging it. Hunters not able to find an open check station now can check in their big game harvest through the Internet at

For more information, call TWRA Region IV office toll free at 1-800-332-0900.


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