The Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area had its third and final deer hunt of 2019 on Dec. 7 and 8. A total of 53 deer were taken, 24 bucks and 29 does. The largest buck field-dressed at 144 pounds; the biggest rack was an impressive 15 points; the largest doe weighed 112 pounds. None of the 53 deer were retained due to internal radiological contamination. There was no turkey harvested in this hunt.

Superlatives for the three ORWMA hunts of 2019: Total harvest was 221 deer, 125 bucks and 96 does; largest buck was 181 lbs. (1st hunt); biggest rack was 15 points (third hunt); largest doe was 112 lbs. (third hunt). None of the deer this year was retained.

One turkey was taken in 2019, weighing 17.0 pounds and having a 9.0 inch beard and 1.0 inch spurs. It was not retained.

In recent years the annual deer harvests for the ORWMA have been dismal, but slowly improving: 2017 was 137; 2018 was 194 and this year 221. None was retained in those years. The 2016 take was a more typical 361, but two deer and two turkeys were retained.

Are Oak Ridge deer radioactive?

What is this stuff about “internal radiological contamination” of some deer on the Oak Ridge Reservation?

How bad is it?

It is well known that after WWII some radioactive materials were improperly dumped or disposed of on the property of the three atomic plants of the ORR. Those sites have been isolated and cleanup operations have been underway for a few decades and will continue for years to come.

But in some cases wildlife are exposed to the vegetation and groundwater at these sites. Certain radioactive elements, two in particular, can accumulate in the body tissues of these animals to unhealthy levels: Strontium-90 concentrating in the bones and cesium-137 concentrating in the muscle tissue. Oak Ridge National Lab radiochemists and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency biologists test every deer taken for both of these radionuclides.

Since the deer hunts began in 1985 and including data from 2014, more than 12,200 deer have been harvested, and 205 animals have been retained due to internal contamination, 1.68% historically. In the last decade the rate is well below one percent For 2016 the figure was 0.554%. The critical threshold is 1.5 times the background radiation level. All but two of the deer retained were due to high levels of strontium-90.

While most deer retained were only slightly above the cutoff, 30 to 40 counts per two minutes, the highest reading so far was an 86-pound doe, five-and-a-half years old, taken in 1999 near the old Tower Shielding reactor site. Her bone chip measured for strontium-90 at 853 cpm.

The quota deer hunts on the ORR are some of the most popular in the state, and the deer are typical specimens of the Tennessee herd. In 2009 a pair of bucks was taken with fatally locked antlers, unusual but not unheard of in nature.

GUNS: Here is an interesting look at firearms in the United States. The 2017 Firearms Production Report was recently published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade association ( The report compiles the most up-to-date information based on data sourced from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Reports (AFMER).

Key findings include:

• The estimated total number of firearms in civilian possession from 1986-2018 is 422.9 million.

• 17,740,000 Modern Sporting Rifles are in private ownership.

• More than half (54 percent) of all rifles produced in 2017 were modern sporting rifles.

• In 2017 there were 7,901,218 total firearms produced and imported. Of those, 4,411,923 were pistols and revolvers, 2,821,945 were rifles and 667,350 were shotguns.

• An interim 2018 estimate showed a total 7,660,772 total firearms were produced and imported. Of those 4,277,971 were pistols and revolvers, 2,846,757 were rifles and 535,994 were shotguns. Those are interim reports and will be updated as complete information becomes available.

• Firearms ammunition manufacturing accounted for nearly 12,000 employees producing over $4.1 billion in goods shipped in 2017. An estimated 8.1 billion rounds, of all calibers and gauges, were produced in 2018 for the U.S. market.

The report also shows that as lawful firearms ownership in America continues to grow, criminal and unintentional misuse of firearms is falling. During the 25-year period covered in this report (1993–2017) the violent crime rate has decreased by 48.6 percent and unintentional firearm-related fatalities have declined by 68 percent.

Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and Hanukkah!

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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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