Wow! The 2018 black bear harvest for Tennessee smashed the previous record by 164.

The 2018 bear season ended on Dec. 31 with a stunning total of 753 bruins (late filings may increase it). It is the 14th consecutive season to top 300 bears. There were 453 boars taken and 300 sows. The gun seasons accounted for 607 kills and archery took 145, 54 by bow and 91 by crossbow.

This year Monroe County had the highest harvest with 132 bruins, followed by Cocke with 123, Blount with 93, Sevier with 67, and Fentress with 50. There are 16 counties in five zones eligible for bear hunting.

The previous record bear harvest was 589 in 2011. The following year the TWRA lengthened the season by 14 days. The next highest kills were 573 in 2009, 533 in 2015, 511 in 2017, 507 in 2013, and 412 in 2016.

REMINDER: The deadline for applications for the 2019 spring turkey quota hunts is Jan. 16. Sign-ups must be done online or at any license agency; they cannot be mailed. The turkey quota hunt instruction sheet is also available at license agencies or online at the new TWRA license website https://gooutdoorstennessee.com.

The 2019 regular spring turkey season will run March 30 – May 12. The Statewide Youth-only Hunt (ages 6-16) will be March 23-24. The new bag limit for the youth hunt is one bearded bird PER DAY. The bag limit for the regular season is one bearded bird per day, not to exceed four per season. Turkeys taken on wildlife management area hunts are bonus birds.

NRA YES: Jan. 25 is last call for high school sophomores and juniors who want an opportunity for leadership training, a share of $55,000 in college scholarships and a great trip to Washington, D.C. The National Rifle Association is now accepting applications for the two 2019 National Youth Education Summits (Y.E.S.) set for July 8-14 and July 22-28 in our Nation’s Capital.

The Y.E.S. encourages young adults to become active and knowledgeable U.S. citizens by learning about American government, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the importance of being active in civic affairs. Up to 50 outstanding students will be chosen to attend each session.

Applicants must include a high school transcript, an essay on the Second Amendment, one-page personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. To apply or for additional information on the 2019 Y.E.S. go to www.friendsofnra.org/yes, email yes@nrahq.org, or call 800-673-3888, ext. 1351.

MENAGERIE: Tundra swans, golden eagles, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, white pelicans, and many species of ducks. Right now there are tens of thousands of migratory birds wintering at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. One of the best ways to see them is at the 29th annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival on Jan. 19-20 in the community of Birchwood in Meigs County. This is an impressive spectacle of many species of wildlife, both birds and some land-based mammals. Events and programs will run from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on both days.

The festival is a two-fold celebration: First, visitors can experience many thousands of sandhill cranes that migrate through or spend the winter in and around the Hiwassee Refuge; secondly, it is an opportunity to focus attention on the rich Native American history of the area, especially the Cherokee Removal Memorial.

A full schedule of music, family entertainment and educational programs will be held at the Birchwood Elementary School, including children’s activities, vendors, festival sponsor exhibits, food, and storytelling. Don’t miss the live raptor show on Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). The school library will offer continuous films and presentations about Tennessee wildlife. For more information go to https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/birds/sandhill-crane-festival.html.

FISH ART: The State-Fish Art Contest is entering its 21st year, bringing children, art and aquatic conservation together. The contest is for all grades from K-12. The young artists in four age categories will create an original illustration of any official state-fish and one page of writing (a personal one-page written essay, story or poem) detailing its behavior, habitat, and efforts to conserve it. Winners receive prizes and national recognition. Wildlife Forever created this award-winning program, and Bass Pro Shops again is this year’s sponsor.

Educators, homeschoolers and parents nationwide can utilize a lesson plan for the contest called “Fish On!”, which is available for free on CD and for download. Entries are due by April 1. For more details visit www.StateFishArt.org.

Email wiest.tom@gmail.com to share with your news and comments with Tom Wiest.

Tom Wiest is a long time columnist on all matters outdoors. He welcomes news, questions and comments from readers.

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