Unit CWD

Hunting Regulations Icon Tennessee Hunting


Season Type

Season Dates


Antlered Bag Limit

Antlerless Bag Limit

AugustA Aug. 23 – 25 Muzzleloader, Archery Statewide limit of 2D 0
Young Sportsman Oct. 26 – 27 Gun, Muzzleloader, Archery 3/Day

(No Season Limit)

Jan. 11 – 12
Archery Sept. 28 – Oct. 25 Archery
MuzzleloaderB Oct. 28 – Nov. 8 Muzzleloader, Archery
GunC Nov. 9 – Jan. 5 Gun, Muzzleloader, Archery
Unit CWD Private Lands Hunt Jan. 6 – 10 Gun, Muzzleloader, Archery



To increase the number of deer harvested and sampled for CWD management, additional bucks may be earned.

  • Tennessee’s antlered deer bag limit (2) did not change; therefore it still applies to hunters hunting Unit CWD as well as the rest of the state.
  • Unit CWD hunters may earn up to two bucks for harvest, in addition to the statewide antler deer bag limit of two.
  • Earned bucks are received by harvesting two Unit CWD antlerless deer, checking them in, submitting them for CWD testing, and being notified of qualification by TWRA.
  • Only deer harvested in Unit CWD counties qualify for Earn-A-Buck.
  • Valid for 2019-20 hunting season only.



Replacement Buck

To assist CWD management efforts, replacement bucks will encourage hunters to continue hunting and harvesting and be an added incentive for hunters to have their deer tested for CWD.

  • Unit CWD hunters will receive a replacement buck if they harvest a CWD-positive buck and the lab result is confirmed by TWRA.
  • There is no limit on the number of replacement bucks.
  • Valid for 2019-20 hunting season only.

Out-of-State Hunters – Be aware of carcass importation restrictions for deer, elk, moose and caribou. CWDinTennessee.com

Hunting Regulations

A question on a lot of peoples’ minds these days is whether chronic wasting disease (CWD) is really a big deal or not.

As Tennessee settles into the reality of becoming a CWD-positive state and all that means going forward, the short answer is yes, CWD is a big deal.

Here is why.

For those not familiar with the history of CWD, it was first identified as a clinical syndrome in mule deer and elk in Colorado (Circa 1960). Animals were recognized as being thin with poor hair coats and would slowly progress to exhibiting neurologic signs, such as loss of fear of people, apparent blindness and quite often animals would be seen standing around drooling and urinating and defecating on themselves. It was not until the 1980s that the causative agent of CWD was identified as a prion. The disease has subsequently been found in 26 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and in the countries of Finland, Norway, and South Korea. It is always fatal and known to infect certain members of the Cervidae family, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and caribou in the wild. There have been no known cases of CWD in humans.

What is a prion? A prion is a misfolded protein that has become infectious. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (a.k.a. mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s Disease in humans are all caused by prions. Prions are not like bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or any of the traditionally-studied infectious disease agents in that they do not act like organisms. The misfolded proteins get into cells and the body then reproduces them. The problem occurs when the body cannot use these proteins or break them down. The abnormal proteins build up in the cells, leading to cell death.

CWD prions are most heavily concentrated in the brain and central nervous system. Signs become visible over the slow 10-to-18 month progression of the disease. CWD prions are also found in varying concentrations in lymph nodes, saliva, urine, feces, blood, kidneys, liver, spleen, and muscle. In short, prions have been found in most every bodily secretion and organ system in deer and elk.

Once an animal becomes infected with CWD prions, it will continue to produce and shed prions into the environment until death and decomposition. There is no known treatment for CWD, as is the case for all prion diseases. There have been several vaccine studies conducted with the goal of CWD prevention, but none have succeeded in real-world or large-scale application. Research done has shown certain groups of mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk develop a certain amount of resistance to the clinical disease, but resistance does not equal immunity. These animals still become infected and die from CWD, it just takes longer which is even more problematic since they are shedding infectious prions longer relative to non-resistant animals who succumb to CWD quicker.

Once the disease is introduced into a new population, environmental contamination plays a role as prions are nearly indestructible often requiring chemical denaturing or extreme high heat (1800° Fahrenheit or higher) to render them no longer infectious. Studies have shown certain types of clay soils actually make CWD prions more infectious when the prion binds to the soil. Exposure to prions in the environment and through direct contact with other infected animals is considered the most likely source of CWD infection.

In the fall of 2018, TWRA began an enhanced CWD Surveillance Program. The goal of the program was to build on past agency efforts to test an appropriate number of deer throughout the state to detect CWD if it were to be present. With this effort, a risk-assessment was conducted for all 95 counties based on the likelihood of disease introduction and each county was then assigned a point value based on their risk level.

TWRA’s goal was to test deer in each county until we reached the point goal assigned to it based on the risk-assessment. Older bucks, the group known to be the greatest risk, received the high-est point value followed by younger bucks and then does. TWRA sampled hunter harvested deer at check stations and obtained samples directly from taxidermists and deer processors. In addition, year-round surveillance was continued with an emphasis on sick, dying and road-kill deer.

On December 14, TWRA was informed by its CWD diagnostic laboratory 10 hunter-harvested deer from Hardeman and Fayette Counties were suspect for CWD. These deer had been sampled in November during the opening weekend of the deer gun season. Once the CWD-suspect deer were confirmed positive, TWRA’s CWD Response Plan was enacted and the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission established what is now known as Unit CWD, extended the deer season in the affected area to get more deer sampled, and instituted deer carcass exportation and wildlife feeding restrictions to help prevent disease spread.

Thanks to the cooperation of hunters and the actions of the Commission, the extended season in January 2019 was a very successful data gathering effort and TWRA was able to learn a lot about the frequency and distribution of CWD in the affected area. With the aid of hunters, processors and taxidermists TWRA was able to test over 3,100 deer. More is needed to be learned during the 2019-2020 deer season to more fully understand the frequency and distribution of CWD. We truly appreciate all the hunter cooperation and feedback received from the extended season and will continue to depend on hunters’ cooperation for gathering data about CWD.

Through the CWD response efforts TWRA learned, in addition to Fayette and Hardeman, CWD is present in Madison County bringing the total of CWD-positive counties to three. It was also determined, in accordance to TWRA’s CWD Management Plan; another 5 southwestern counties are affected since CWD was detected within 10 miles of their borders. These five counties include Chester, Haywood, McNairy, Shelby and Tipton Counties and are considered high-risk for CWD.

Unit CWD now consists of all eight counties mentioned and the deer bag limits and seasons there are tailored to empower hunters to increase the deer harvest to keep the number of diseased deer in the affected area to a minimum, reduce disease rates where possible, and keep CWD from spreading.

There is not one easy solution to the challenge of CWD management. Various management techniques have been attempted in other states throughout the years with highly variable results. Best management requires long-term sustained effort using the latest science and the continued support and participation by hunters and other deer management stakeholders.

Impacts of actions taken may not be readily apparent for years, maybe even decades, due to the nature of the disease; therefore it is difficult to predict exactly what the future holds. If we look to the lessons learned in some other states, it could be grim as CWD has resulted in significant population declines in mule deer in the western U.S. and there has been a shift in age structures of populations having had the disease for decades.

CWD is not an impossible situation though. Despite the permanence of the disease where it exists, with the support of the affected stakeholders it can be managed and deer hunting can still be enjoyed. Considering the high-quality deer habitat in the Unit CWD, TWRA’s commitment to best management of CWD, and the responsiveness of hunters thus far, together we can ensure the best management of CWD in Tennessee. The easiest ways for you to help out is to hunt Unit CWD following the disease management regulations and the best management practices for deer carcass disposal and transport included in this guide.

Stay informed by following TWRA’s website CWDinTennessee.com and signing up for CWD updates via email or text.