ONEIDA, Tenn. — Picture this: a frosty autumn morning, the sun peeking over a distant mountaintop and casting its warming glow on the forest floor, the peaceful serenity of a Cumberland Plateau daybreak. As the first of the frost begins to melt from the golden-leafed white oaks and maples, sending dew drops falling to the ground below, squirrels begin scurrying about — first one, then another and still another, gathering acorns for the upcoming winter. The sound of the bushy-tailed gatherers scampering through the leaves, coupled with the occasional cry of a red-tailed hawk and the piercing call of a pileated woodpecker, creates a peaceful lull through the forest. Then, from around a bend in the ridge, the unmistakable and heart-quickening sound of footfalls in the newly-fallen leaves. A much larger animal is approaching. It’s likely a deer, but is it a buck or a doe? And, if it’s a “slick-head,” is the much larger trophy buck who’s been interrupting your dreams following closely behind?
This is the serenity of a November morning in the Cumberlands. The only thing missing is you, perched 25 ft. above the ground in a tree stand, or perhaps stalking carefully through the forest, keeping to the shadows to avoid being seen by your quarry.
If you can picture yourself in the Cumberlands for this year’s hunting season, you can be here. With hundreds of thousands of acres of publicly-accessible lands, there’s a spot for you.
Tennessee’s whitetail deer season opened in late September with the annual archery hunt. A youth-only gun hunt was held in late October, and the state’s muzzleloader hunt opened on Nov. 5.
During the muzzleloader season, which continues through Nov. 18, hunters can harvest up to two does, in addition to the two antlered bucks that they’re permitted through all the hunts combined. (No more than one antlered buck can be harvested per day.)
Tennessee’s gun hunt opens on Nov. 19 and continues through Jan. 8, 2017. Hunters are permitted one antlerless doe, in addition to their antlered buck quota.
Locally, hunters have two options for hunting public land. The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is 125,000 acres, while the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area is 140,000 acres. Both are open to hunting with seasons and bag limits that correspond with the statewide seasons.
Within the Big South Fork, hunting is permitted everywhere except for select safety zones. These safety zones are located around East Rim Overlook and park headquarters, Bandy Creek Campground, Oscar Blevins Farm, Station Camp Horse Camp, Station Camp river crossing, Charit Creek Lodge, Burnt Mill Bridge, Brewster Bridge, Peters Bridge and Leatherwood Ford. (Map of safety zones.)
The use of salt, minerals or food items to attract wildlife is prohibited in the Big South Fork. Hunters can use horses or, on select backcountry roads, ATVs to access their chosen hunting area, but cannot shoot from a horse or ATV. Permanent tree stands are prohibited in the BSF. Portable, temporary tree stands are permitted, but trimming trees to create “shooting lanes” is prohibited.
Baiting is also prohibited on the North Cumberland WMA. ATVs are permitted throughout the WMA, although shooting from an ATV is prohibited.
Tennessee law permits any centerfire rifle or handgun with a barrel of at least four inches during the gun hunt.
On both the Big South Fork NRRA and the North Cumberland WMA, wild hogs can be hunted during the deer hunting seasons. There is no harvest limit, and hogs do not have to be checked in online or at a big game checking station. Wild hogs can be found in abundance on the WMA, and in select locations within the Big South Fork. A special wild hog hunting permit is required in the Big South Fork and can be purchased here.
Tennessee hunting licenses and permits can be purchased here. For non-residents, an annual hunting license is $305 (Type 073), while a 7-day permit is $214.50 (Type 074). Either permit is all-inclusive, but does not include the National Park Service permit needed to hunt hogs in the Big South Fork, or the Type 094 permit needed to hunt big game on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. The Type 094, which covers all of Tennessee’s WMAs, is $25. For residents of Tennessee, an annual hunting license is $34 (Type 001). Supplemental tags are required for hunting big game. They are $34 each. (Type 009 for big game gun, Type 010 for big game archery, or Type 011 for big game muzzleloader.) The Type 094 permit is required to hunt big game on WMAs such as the North Cumberland.