MC Out in TN: hunting we shall go

For people who like to hunt, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Mosquitoes and other pesky insects disappear with the cooler weather. Soon, the deciduous forests that blanket the hills and valleys of East Tennessee will change from lush greens to brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. 

The Great Smoky Mountains, our backyard, is famous for the beauty of fall. For thousands of people in Tennessee, falling temperatures means it’s time to hunt.

When I say hunt, I include much more than hunting for game animals. People fill the woods hunting for that perfect photograph or memory of the amazing beauty God provides for us to enjoy. It’s hard to beat the beauty of fall. Go hunting with a camera, and you just might get an image worth hanging on your wall. 

The hunting on campus is good but limited. The squirrels are plentiful and quite unafraid of people. The song birds are plentiful too, but they tend to be shyer. The cool weather will soon stir the instincts within some birds to head south before winter. With a zoom and some patience, the birds might hold still for a shot of their good side. Sometimes, I swear the robins smile. 

On campus camera hunting is fun and easy especially for squirrels. There are two types of Eastern Grey Squirrels on campus: the fat suburban squirrels that we see everyday as we walk from class to class and the rural squirrels that live closer to nature in the college woods.

We have the great outdoors right here on campus. You can go camera or binocular hunting in the campus woods. Some people graduate here having never enjoyed a stroll in our 140-acre forest. It is well maintained for cleanliness, safety and sustainability. The woods are crisscrossed with trails that make getting around easy and quiet and for those who want to get a little closer to the wildlife.

All the squirrels on campus eat organic and natural food provided by the abundance and variety of mast producing trees. Please don’t even think of feeding them anything. Nature provides plenty for them. That’s why they’re so fat.

For those of us who want larger game, you are surrounded by more biodiversity than you can imagine. For the leisurely hunters, I suggest you take your binoculars and cameras to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Go early, they open the gate at dawn. Sunrise brings animals out of the woods into clearings where they are easier to see. The deer are quite accustomed to humans so getting good photos is relatively easy. Remember that, although relatively tame, these are still wild animals. They can startle quite easily or even attack if they feel threatened. 

Tourists from around the world and lots of local folks love to crowd into Cades Cove for photo opportunities. By mid-morning, the traffic in the cove is literally crawling as people gasp in amazement at the wild turkeys, deer, groundhogs, foxes, bears and even the few elk that live there. As more and more people arrive, it becomes hard to take a picture that doesn’t include someone else taking pictures. 

I hunt year-round with my camera and binoculars. Even now when it’s legal to hunt certain game animals, I get more wild animals with my smartphone camera than any other way. It’s such a pleasure to share wildlife pictures with people. 

It’s also a pleasure to share some of the fine meals wildlife can provide. This time of year, hunting with archery, muzzle loaders or rifles is a cultural and culinary tradition. Venison, deer meat, is organic, low fat and delicious. That can be said for all the wildlife available in East Tennessee. Every fall, I try to put enough meat in the freezer to supplement my diet all year. 

There are all sorts of hunting seasons and each come with their own set of regulations and limits. By all means, you should learn and obey all the regulations to the letter. That’s important for several reasons.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) uses hunting as a wildlife management tool. It adjusts these regulations every year for the benefit of the wildlife. Right now, hunters who obey all the rules work as the most effective way the TWRA has to fight Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal disease that has decimated some deer populations. 

Hunters also help control a particularly destructive invasive species, feral hogs. Find out more about hunting these and other wildlife related subjects on the TWRA website.

No matter how you choose to hunt, remember that you are an ambassador for the sport. Share your pictures, your experiences, your enthusiasm and your jerky. It might be just enough to get others out in Tennessee.

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