An unusual calendar layout means a later start to muzzleloader season for Tennessee deer hunters. (Photo: Ben Garrett)
An unusual calendar layout means a later start to muzzleloader season for Tennessee deer hunters. (Photo: Ben Garrett)


With the arrival of September, many sportsmen are setting their sights on the upcoming fall deer hunts, which will kick off with the start of archery season later this month (Sept. 28).

And while the rut for whitetail deer — the period the fall deer hunts are centered around — is still weeks away, with the very first rubs and scrapes of the season just beginning to show up and still few and far between, the calendar this year could have gun-toting hunters sitting at home when the “chase phase” of the rut begins.

Because Tennessee’s deer seasons are structured to have the gun season open the weekend preceding Thanksgiving, and muzzleloader season open two weeks before that, the muzzleloader season this year will actually open on the second Saturday of November — Nov. 9 — rather than the first Saturday that has become the customary opening date in recent years.

Archery season, which usually closes for the youth-only hunt the final weekend of October (Oct. 26-27 this year) and reopens for five more days afterwards, will be open for an additional weekend — Nov. 2-3 — after the youth hunt this year.

Most hunters agree that the chase phase — when bucks begin chasing does that don’t want anything to do with them — is the best time to be in the woods with a weapon in hand. Bucks are on the move more in the daylight hours and they tend to let their guard down more as their minds are centered on one thought: female companionship. The end result is that the chase phase of the rut represents the best opportunity for hunters to match wits with a wily old trophy buck and actually come away the winner.

Along the northern Cumberland Plateau, the chase phase usually kicks in during the first week of November — which is typically the first week of muzzleloader season. In lower elevations, the timing of the chase phase varies somewhat.

With the later-than-usual start of muzzleloader season due to the calendar, several hunters have already mentioned that the best time to be in the woods might actually come at the end of archery season. As a general rule, archery season is much more under-utilized than the muzzleloader or gun seasons. This is especially true on public land, such as the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, where finding another hunter in the woods during archery season is often even more rare than finding a trophy-class whitetail. So, understandably, some archery hunters are delighted to have an ally in the calendar, while some gun hunters are bemoaning the late start.

The muzzleloader hunt this year will run from Nov. 9-22, while the gun hunt will run from Nov. 23-Jan. 5. The antlered bag limit remains three across the state. In Unit B, which includes Scott and neighboring counties, along with much of the rest of East Tennessee, the anterless bag limit is one during the muzzleloader hunt. Scott County will have a non-quota antlerless hunt from Dec. 23-29, which allows hunters to harvest one anterless deer with a gun or any other legal deer hunting weaponry.