Somewhere among most every whitetail deer hunter’s bucket list, you’ll find a velvet buck hunt. Opportunities to hunt velvet bucks are slim to none, depending on where you live across the country. Some states like Montana, Wyoming and even Kentucky can provide a fleeting opportunity at a velvet buck, when their season opener falls close enough to the first of September. But even then, you better make your move quick. Things can change fast at this time of year, with velvet bucks going hard-horned overnight. That’s why Tennessee’s August velvet buck hunt just might be one of the best opportunities in the country to kill a trophy velvet buck.
This unique hunt began in 2018 as hunters across the Volunteer State were given the opportunity to hunt deer with a bow in hopes of taking a buck in velvet during the month of August. It was a move that thrilled bowhunters that normally have to wait until the end of September to begin bowhunting deer. I was curious how the hunt came about, as well as where the idea originated, so I sat down with Chuck Yoest of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to take a closer look at Tennessee’s August Velvet Buck hunt.
When Does the Hunt Take Place?
Tennessee’s August Velvet Buck Hunt will take place August 23-25, 2019. The 3-day hunt is restricted to private lands only. The hunt is perfectly timed to catch bucks in full velvet. Tennessee bucks tend to start showing up hard-horned in the last couple days of August through the first few days of September. It’s the only hunt of it’s kind anywhere in the country. Of course, there will be some bucks that have slicked up their tines prior to the hunt weekend, and that’s fine too. Hard-horned bucks are fair game too.
How Did the Velvet Buck Hunt Come About?
It’s hard to say exactly where the idea for the hunt generated, but it was a topic that came up with constituents of the Tennessee Wildlife Commission. The commission establishes hunting and fishing seasons for the state. They are much like a board of directors for the TWRA. “Some constituents voiced a desire to kill a deer in velvet and the ball started rolling,” says Yoest. The 13-member wildlife commission is appointed by the Governor, senate, or Speaker of the House. The commission put the idea in place and the TWRA was on board to make it happen. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of backlash and public outcry preventing the hunt from taking place. It was a new and unique opportunity for Tennessee bowhunters that would be put into place for a 2-year trial run.
Private Land Only
At this point, the velvet hunt is open to private land hunting only. As you might imagine, this has been a bit of a sore spot for some avid public land hunters across the state looking for equal opportunity hunting.
Why is the hunt just for private lands?
“There’s a number of variables that came into play for opening the hunt to public lands only,” says Yoest. “Staffing concerns, conflicts with other land users, concern about overcrowding and the potential for the hunt to take away from other established public land hunts were all issues we’ll have to work through before opening up public land hunting opportunities for the velvet hunt.”
How Many Velvet Bucks Were Taken in 2018?
Was the first velvet buck hunt in 2018 a success? “We had total harvest number of 796 for the 2018 velvet hunt,” says Yoest. “The hunt came and went really smooth. It was a great opportunity for our hunters.” Yoest says he doesn’t see any reason the hunt shouldn’t continue in the years ahead since it poses no threat to herd health and management efforts.
What Are the Critics Saying About the Velvet Hunt?
As with anything, there are some that are opposed to the state putting the velvet hunt into place. “It’s too early…It’s too hot in August…The bucks are too susceptible in the early season, were some of the comments the TWRA heard from critics regarding the hunt,” says Yoest. “Some didn’t like the fact that it’s designed to be a trophy hunt. It bugged some folks.”
Despite push-back from a few critics, the hunt went on without a hitch. “It’s just a 3-day hunt,”says Yoest. “That helped with buy-in from anyone that was on the fence or had questions about the hunt.”
The Best Weekend of the Year to Tag a Buck
Despite the excessive heat, the velvet hunt could be the best weekend of the year to tag a trophy buck. Bucks will still be on summer patterns throughout August, allowing you to scout and make your move on bucks utilizing bean fields in the afternoon or water holes throughout the day. The buck limit in Tennessee is two, with only one buck per day being allowed. So hunters could potentially kill two velvet bucks over the course of the weekend. The hunt also coincides with Free Hunting Day in Tennessee (Saturday only / residents only ), making the weekend an even better time to get out in pursuit of a velvet buck.
Additional Opportunities in the CWD Zone
CWD was discovered for the first time in Tennessee during the 2018 hunting season. Immediate actions went into place to confront the concern across the state. One move that’s being made is to allow muzzleloader hunting in the CWD Zone during the velvet hunt for the 2019 hunting season, creating even greater opportunities for hunters to take their trophy velvet buck. (Special regulations apply)
The cost of a hunting license in Tennessee falls somewhere near the average compared to other states across the country. It’s not the cheapest state to hunt, but certainly not the most expensive. The hunting license cost for both residents and non-residents are listed below…
TN Resident Hunting License
If you’re looking for the chance to knock a velvet buck off your bucket list, look no further than the Volunteer State for a unique and exciting hunting opportunity during the dog days of summer. If you can beat the heat, you just might tag your buck on one of the coolest hunting opportunities of the year.
For more information on hunting in Tennessee, visit www.tn.gov/twra