The autumnal (September) equinox occurs at 3:50 a.m. Monday, Sept. 23, when the sun is positioned directly over the Earth’s equator and moving south. In other words, the Earth’s rotational axis is perpendicular to the sun.

Daylight is waning rapidly every day. In late September the sun rises (due east) nearly one minute later every day, and the sun sets (due west) about one-and-a-half minutes earlier every day. For East Tennessee sunrise will be at 7:24 a.m. and sunset will be at 7:31 p.m. The actual “equinox” or equal periods of day and night does not occur in this area until Sept. 26.

The animals sense autumn instinctively. It triggers mating in deer, migration in waterfowl and other birds, and hibernation activities in bears and groundhogs.

HUNT: Raccoon and opossum hunting open statewide on Thursday evening, Sept. 19 and run through sunrise Feb. 29. The daily bag limit on raccoons is two per person per night; there is no limit on opossum. Hunting is closed in Scott, Morgan, Roane, Rhea, Hamilton, and all counties east.

ELK: September and October are the best months to see Tennessee elk. The rut is underway, which means lots of animal movement, mating activity and the haunting bugle of the bull elk day and night.

The free-range Tennessee elk are on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area about 40 miles north of Knoxville. There are two good wild viewing places, in the Royal Blue and the Sundquist units of North Cumberland.

Perhaps the best place to go is the elk-viewing pavilion at Hatfield Knob on Peabody Mountain in Campbell County. Elk are frequenting the area mostly in the mornings and evenings.

Directions: I-75 north to Caryville, then take U.S. 25W to LaFollette and about 6.5 miles past. Immediately after topping the mountain turn left at the sign onto a gravel road and go about 4.5 miles to the parking area. The pavilion is about a one-third mile walk.

The original elk release site is at Montgomery Junction on Massengill Mountain, near the community of Norma in Scott County. To get there take I-75 north to exit 141 (Oneida/Huntsville); go west on Hwy 63 for 11.5 miles and then left on Norma Road, going about five miles to a left turn onto Montgomery Creek Road. About a mile further is the original release site, a good place to begin slowly driving and listening and glassing (Note: A few elk hunters will be hunting here from Sept. 28 – Oct. 18].

Elk can be seen anytime but viewing is best in the mornings and evenings. Recommended equipment includes binoculars, cameras and insect repellant. For those going off-road, watch for poisonous snakes since they are quite active right now. Also, check out the Tennessee elk cam at

The main elk herd in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the Cataloochee area on the North Carolina side. Contact the Park headquarters for the best viewing opportunities; go to

DUCK: The application period for the TWRA’s computerized drawings for duck pools and blind sites is Sept. 4-25. The blinds are located in the following areas: Bogota and Thorny Cypress WMAs in Dyer County, Gooch Unit E, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, White Oak (Lebanon Pond area in Hardin County), and the four units on the Chickamauga WMA (Candies Creek, Johnson Bottoms, Rogers Creek and Yellow Creek.

Paper applications are available online or at license agencies and TWRA regional offices, but they must be delivered to a license agency and cannot be mailed in. The form resembles those for WMA quota deer hunts, except for group filings; however, each successful hunter may bring up to four guests to the duck blind each day. For those unsuccessful the Priority Drawing System is available for better luck next time.

Five hunters are allowed per pool/blind. Also, parties of up to five are allowed to apply together, instead of only individually. This means that five hunters, who apply as a party, will have five chances of being drawn.

CRANE: The application period for Tennessee’s statewide sandhill crane hunt is underway and will continue through Sept. 25. About 1,566 permits (two per hunter) will be issued through the computerized draw, plus 147 tags not issued in the August hand-drawn event. These tags are valid statewide, including the Southeast Sandhill Crane Zone.

The statewide sandhill hunting season is Dec. 7 to Jan. 21; however, the season is closed in the Southeast Zone from Jan. 17-19. Your application for the sandhill crane hunt can be made online on the TWRA website; select For Hunters and Quota Hunts. Applications can also be made at license agencies or any of the four TWRA regional offices. In addition, hunters can also apply for waterfowl blinds on selected wildlife management areas.

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

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