Public Lands & Waters photo

Catoosa Wildlife Management Area
: east Tennessee
Size: 79,740 acres
ZIP: 38555

“Catoosa is one of the more popular public hunting areas in the state for big deer,” according to Ratajczak. Antler restrictions at the Cumberland Plateau site have limited the harvest for the past 10 years to bucks with at least four points on one antler, and four gun hunts with 2,500 permits each help limit hunting pressure. Last year, 75 percent of bucks harvested were 2 1/2 years or older. “There are lots of older bucks walking around Catoosa,” Ratajczak says, and due to intense use of prescribed burns by land managers, “there are a lot of open areas to see them in.” Archery permits are unlimited, and chances are good that you’ll get drawn for a gun hunt the first year; if not, the second year is practically guaranteed.

Yanahli Wildlife Management Area
: central Tennessee
Size: 12,800 acres
ZIP: 38401

Yanahli holds some tremendous deer-despite the fact that it’s open to all comers under statewide regs. The key to the WMA’s buck quality, Ratajczak says, is that many of the scattered parcels (acquired for a planned reservoir that was never built) are accessible only by boat. “There are areas along the Duck River that never get hunted, and big bucks retreat to those when the pressure is on,” he notes. Additionally, many of those spots hold the thickest brush and the most fertile ground, much of it planted in soybeans and corn. “The biggest buck I’ve ever seen in Tennessee was at Yanahli,” says Ratajczak, who hunts there himself. “He was a brute, definitely Boone and Crockett material.”