Good deer habitat, a lack of hunting pressure and natural protection have been cited as instrumental in big antler racks claimed this season at the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area.
Rockwood's James Cisson killed a 26-point buck at the Oak Ridge WMA on Dec. 6, and Kasey Hunley got a 13-pointer the same day.
Daniel Jones of Cleveland began the month of November with an 11-pointer there. He's a detective with the Bradley County Sheriff's Department.
Clinton's Kenneth Lowe, who works for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, felled a 12-pointer at the Oak Ridge WMA on Nov. 15.
Oak Ridge area manager Jim Evans, a Cleveland native who worked in the Chattanooga area before going to Oak Ridge, believes openings in the forest at his WMA contribute toward its production of big bucks.
"The area has a good mix of acorn production," Evans said. "Power line and gas line right-of-ways produce a lot of forage. While on most management areas (in Tennessee), there is 90 percent contiguous hardwood, 10 percent otherwise, on Oak Ridge there is at least 25 percent (in openings)."
The food supply was a big plus.
"Acorns from chestnut oaks are typically pretty good," Evans said. "There is a good variety of food from hard and soft mast and other forage."
Jones and Lowe both agreed.
"They've got acorns as big as golf balls there," Jones said.
Noted Lowe: "I've noticed this year just a huge acorn crop. I don't know how much that has to do with it, (but) it's got to be better than having nothing."
With three two-day hunts, Oak Ridge also has fewer hunters during a season than some other WMAs.
"One part of the area is shotgun-muzzleloader, other parts are archery-only and other areas are no-hunting," Lowe said.
Among the first 392 deer killed there this season, 240 were bucks. The heaviest in that group was a 187-pound 11-pointer; the biggest doe weighed 115.
Lowe said he had been sitting in the wind and rain in his stand for six hours before his 12-pointer appeared.
"The wind was rocking the trees against me," he said. "I was on the phone talking to my father. I was telling my dad I was thinking about getting down and going to get lunch. He said, 'Well, you know as well as I do that a lot of people leave at noon to get lunch and lose a deer.' After I got through talking to him, I thought, 'Well, he's probably right.'"
That's when the deer appeared.
"He was kind of walking away from me," Lowe said. "I looked up and said, 'Man, I've got to go.'"
One shot from 85 yards away with his Knight Wolverine muzzleloader felled the animal, which field-dressed at 133 pounds.
Lowe, 36, has been hunting since the age of 10. He hunts entirely with muzzleloaders.
"I just love muzzleloader hunting," he said. "I converted a friend out in Illinois to muzzleloaders. If you make a good shot the first time, you don't need a second or third."
Although this latest deer was special because of the rack size, he has killed larger deer. His first big deer was a 7-pointer. He also has claimed three 8-pointers.
Jones bagged his 11-point Oak Ridge deer at about 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 1.
"I hadn't sat down longer than 20 minutes when I heard him walking through the woods," he said. "I'm glad I didn't have long to look at it."
Otherwise, he might have been frozen with shock, he said.
"I had never before claimed anything with more than three points," explained Jones, who got this one with a 12-gauge shotgun.
"It ran down the hill probably 50 or 60 yards and crashed into a sapling right at my father-in-law's feet."
Father-in-law Kenneth Gregg is who got Jones started deer hunting.