The buck stepped into the field gingerly. It was just a very few minutes after first light last Saturday. The sleek deer’s antlers glistened in the early morning light. The buck stepped halfway across the opening and then stopped.
I whispered to Erik Almy, my partner and host on this hunt, “Should I take him?”
Almy answered, “If you want him, kill him.”
For this only occasional deer hunter, looking for meat for the freezer, it was an easy decision. The front sight settled on the shoulder and the Hawken muzzleloader roared.
Thick smoke, the kind only black powder can create, blocked out the view. The buck sprang instantly from behind the smoke and streaked across the field, but not far. The .54 caliber buffalo bullet had done its job. Within five seconds we watched as the deer rolled and was stone cold dead before the smoke even cleared.
As the excitement of the hunt faded, the work began. The healthy buck would be converted to tenderloin, steaks, chops, burger and summer sausage. In days gone by part of the work would have included locating, and driving to, a certified Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency big game check station — convenience stores and sporting goods retailers where hunters can physically “check in” their big game harvest as required by law. Biologists say accurate records of deer kills allow them to better manage the population.
There are still some brick-and-mortar businesses that provide traditional check station service, but far fewer than five years ago.
“We want to make hunters aware that there are still many places where you can physically have your deer checked in, but in some areas of the state you may be looking at a longer drive than you previously had,” said Mark Gudlin, the chief of TWRA’s wildlife and forestry division.
However on Saturday, my trip to the checking station required only that I pull my iPhone from my pocket.
When I used the electronic check-in, it was quick an easy. Once I logged in with my standard TWRA login, it even provided me with a complete record of other recent deer harvests. Avoiding the hassle of locating, and driving to, an area check-in station was fantastic.
Some have criticized the electronic check-in, saying it makes it too easy for hunters to potentially circumvent the law and not check in their deer as required by law. Others argue that if someone was going to break the law, they are likely to do so whether the check-in process is physical or electronic.
Some hunters either without smartphones, or not well-versed in their use, also don’t like the more modern approach.
“If you aren’t comfortable with computers [or smartphones], try getting a friend to help you,” noted Gudlin. “You can check in deer on someone else’s mobile app or computer as long as you identify yourself using the ID number printed on your personal hunting license.”
If hunters want to check in deer the traditional way, and need to locate a business, the TWRA has listed them on its website in an interactive map.
The Tennessee deer hunting season has been open for archers and muzzleloader hunters since late September. However the most popular regular firearm season opens on Saturday (Nov. 19). It is estimated that about 250,000 deer hunters will take to the woods. On average, about 90,000 hunters are successful each season, taking roughly 170,000 whitetail deer each year. Last season hunters in Hamilton County alone took nearly 2,000 deer.
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