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By Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has proposed returning to the former definition of an “antlerless” buck – one with antlers less than three inches long – and if passed, the new rule would be in effect for this fall’s deer seasons.

The TWRA proposal was made during last week’s meeting of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission which makes the final decision on regulations. Generally, however, the Commission supports the proposals of the TWRA which is in charge of enforcing the game laws.

The new antler rule is expected to be finalized at the Commission’s next meeting, May 17-18 at TWRA headquarters in Nashville.

Submitted photo
It’s impossible to see antler nubs on this little button buck.

If so, it will return to the 3-inch antlerless definition that had been used for many years. That definition was changed last year, restricting “antlerless” to only deer on which the antlers don’t protrude above the hairline. A little buck with any visible antler – even just a nub – was considered antlered. If killed, it counted as part of the two-buck season limit.

Some hunters complained that it is difficult to discern such a barely-visible antler on little button bucks, and wanted to return to the 3-inch definition. Apparently their concerns were heeded by the TWRA.

The reason behind last year’s change in the antlerless definition was simple: the TWRA wanted to let more little spike bucks grow to “trophy-size.”

Under the 3-inch rule a hunter could – and probably will be allowed to again – kill a virtually unlimited number of spike bucks since they won’t count against the two-buck limit.

The limit on does – or technically, “antlerless” deer – is three per a day, seven days a week, throughout a deer season that runs from last September to early January. Although obviously no hunter would kill 21 deer a week, week after week, under the law it would be legal. And likely staring this fall, little bucks will once again be permitted to be included among that virtually unlimited harvest.

What’s my take? I don’t care one way or the other.

I’m not a trophy hunter, and haven’t been since I killed my first deer in 1963. I take the first legal deer that comes through. To me, each one is a trophy.

Under the old 3-inch rule I seldom killed more than two bucks a year anyway. After I got two I let further little bucks go, to grow bigger antlers for my trophy-hunting buddies. I was content with does.

Last year I killed a little button buck that I mistook for a doe when it walked into a field just at dawn. It never occurred to me to walk off and leave it to waste – a concern voiced by some hunters who advocated for the rule change. I took it home, dressed it and packaged it for the freezer.

The way I look at it, if a hunter is really worried about shooting a button buck by mistake, don’t shoot.

My only concern from the start of these dueling definitions was that the TWRA would eventually impose a statewide “trophy rule” like the one in effect on the Catoosa WMA that allows only bucks with big antlers to be taken. I adamantly oppose that.

But as long as I’m allowed to shoot whatever size buck I choose – up to two per season – I’m satisfied.

The trophy hunters can fight over the rest.