Bird Hunting in the Tennessee River Valley
The Tennessee Valley offers an assortment of opportunities to pursue small game and migratory species on both private and public lands.
Biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (DCNR) work with large landowners who have restoration efforts underway on their properties for some dwindling species – like the Northern Bobwhite quail.
Destruction of brushy fencerow cover, conversion of native grasses to non-native invasive forage grasses and plentiful predator populations have led to the alarming decline in quail populations since the 1950s.
The once abundant state game bird of Tennessee, quail is listed as a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in TWRA’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a blueprint for the state’s wildlife management efforts for the next 10 years.
In northern Alabama, the DCNR manages Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Colbert County near Cherokee, Lauderdale WMA in Lauderdale County near Waterloo, and the James D. Martin-Skyline WMA in Jackson County near Scottsboro for quail populations. For information go to https://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/wildlife-management-areas.
The University of Tennessee has conducted research at the 18,400-acre Ames Plantation, famed for its bird dog field trials, and identified four Northern Bobwhite focal areas in WMAs, where restoration and further study continue.
According to TWRA Biologist Roger D. Applegate some of the best quail hunting in Tennessee can now be found on the wildlife areas in the middle section of the state, along the Tennessee River drainage.
Ruffed Grouse populations once extended throughout East and most of Middle Tennessee, but now is found only on the Cumberland Plateau, the high ridges and mountains of eastern Tennessee and in the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau in northeast Alabama. Go to https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/twra/hunting/wma/middle-tennessee-r2.html for a list of WMAs in in all regions. Quail Season is Nov. 7- Feb. 28, with a limit of six per day. Ruffed Grouse season is Oct. 10-Feb. 28, with a three per day limit.
Dove hunting in the Mid-South is a rite of passage for young hunters, often their first introduction to hunting, since it is traditionally the first hunting season to open after a long, hot summer. Traditional dove hunts included groups of participants who share food and camaraderie, and offers a chance to hone shooting skills.
Tennessee hunting segments are Sept-28, Oct. 10-Nov. 1, and Dec. 8-Jan. 15, with a bag limit of 15. In Tennessee, some 16,000 dove hunters harvest an estimated 250,000 doves annually. Find Alabama’s seasons and bag limits at https://www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/mourning-and-white-winged-dove-season.
Wildlife agencies offer dove fields planted with buckwheat, millet and sunflowers on wildlife management areas (WMAs) throughout the state. In addition, private landowners offer hunts. Find these at https://www.tn.gov/twra/search-results.html?q=dove+fields in Tennessee, and https://www.outdooralabama.com/wma-dove-field-information for Alabama.
Waterfowl hunting is also popular, especially along waterways in the Mississippi flyway. Kentucky Reservoir’s Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge provides more than 50,000 acres of habitat and food for resting and feeding ducks and geese, and 11,000 acres of land and water managed cooperatively by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and TVA on several managed areas for the purpose of waterfowl hunting. Big Sandy, West Sandy and Camden WMAs are also renowned for waterfowl hunting.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets an annual framework for states to establish hunting seasons and bag limits, and those dates weren’t available at press time.
For information on Alabama seasons, see https://www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/waterfowl-season, and https://www.tn.gov/twra/hunting/tennessee-hunting-seasons-summary.html for Tennessee dates.
These links will provide a starting point for hunters looking for small game and migratory birds along the Tennessee River system, an area rich in bird hunting opportunities.