Hunters, prepare to load your weapons. The fourth Saturday of August is the traditional opening of hunting season, with squirrel beginning on Aug. 24 and ending next year on Feb. 29 – the longest season on the calendar. There are three hunted species of squirrels: gray (most plentiful), fox (largest) and red (smallest, called “boomers”). The daily bag limit for all species combined is 10. And dove season opens in eight days.

Aug. 24 is also Free Hunting Day in Tennessee. All hunters who are Tennessee residents are exempt from hunting licenses and wildlife management area permits that day. This is an excellent opportunity to check out a new WMA before paying the fee, treat an ex-hunter to an outing, or treat yourselves to a relaxing day afield. In addition to squirrels, those species that have a year-round season will be open as well; the year-round species include armadillo, beaver, coyote, groundhog, and striped skunk. More details are in the hunting section at www.tnwildlife.org. Hunter education requirements still apply.

PHOTO: The fifth Calendar Photo Contest (for the 2020 calendar) for the Tennessee Wildlife Federation has an entry deadline of Aug. 31, 2019. The TWF wants photos that represent the beautiful landscapes, natural resources and wildlife of Tennessee. Tip: It is good to focus on the Tennessee state parks, wildlife management areas and national forests; and, again this year, winter scenes and aquatic species are in short supply. So, if not this year, plan now for next year.

Winning photographers will receive a display copy of their photo, a $20 gift card and TWF apparel; the two top winners will receive gift cards of $200 and $100. Go to https://tnwf.org/photocontest for more details and to enter the contest.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation is one of the largest and oldest organizations in Tennessee dedicated to the conservation of the state’s wildlife and natural resources through stewardship, youth engagement, and conservation policy. TWF sponsors Hunters For the Hungry, Scholastic Clay Target Program, TWF Youth Hunting and Fishing, and other conservation programs. Learn more at https://tnwf.org.

DEER: Every year the Quality Deer Management Association issues an annual report on the status of white-tailed deer, the most important game species in North America. The QDMA collects the harvest data from each state wildlife agency and consults with the nation’s leading deer researchers.

More hunters pursue whitetails than any other species, and whitetail hunters contribute more financially than any other hunter segment. Collectively speaking, whitetails are the foundation of the entire hunting industry.

The entire 70-page 2019 QDMA Whitetail Report makes for fascinating reading. Download it at https://www.qdma.com/2019-whitetail-report/. The data comes from the previous complete season, 2017-2018.

So, how are whitetails and deer hunters doing? There are some very positive trends occurring for 2019. Yearling buck harvest rates remain at record low numbers, and the percentage of 3½-year-old and older bucks in the harvest remains at one third of the total antlered buck harvest. Hunters are clearly reaping the benefits of more naturally balanced age structures in herds across the whitetail’s range.

In addition, two percent more antlered bucks (those 1½ years or older) were shot last season than the year before, and last season’s buck harvest was six percent above the previous five-year average. This is a very positive sign for deer hunters and managers.

On the contrary, antlerless harvest was down slightly from the previous year, and it was nine percent below the five-year average. The antlerless harvest has now declined 18 percent in the past decade.

An average of 41 percent of hunters were successful in 2017, and 15 percent of hunters shot more than one deer. The average hunter spent 12 days pursuing deer last year, and 13

percent of hunting licenses went to nonresident hunters. Regarding the 2017-18 total harvest, 66 percent of deer were shot with a firearm, followed by 23 percent with a bow, 10 percent by muzzleloader, and 1 percent by other means.

The continued spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) remains one of the biggest issues with hunters. CWD made major headlines in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,

Mississippi, Tennessee, and Finland. Nine states now prohibit the use of natural deer/elk urine,

and at least two others prohibit it in disease zones. Finally, nearly three quarters of states allow the use of tracking dogs to retrieve wounded big game animals.

Previous editions of the Whitetail Report are available as a free PDF at www.QDMA.com under the “About” menu.

Email wiest.tom@gmail.com to share your news 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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