Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Outlook points to another productive deer season
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky receives national acclaim for the
quality of its deer herd, and the numbers help draw the attention.
The state has produced hundreds of trophy-class
bucks over the past five seasons and hunters last season combined to take
138,899 deer overall. It was the second highest harvest total on record behind only
the 2013-14 season.
think this might be the new norm for a little bit,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and
elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife
Resources. “It’s also indicative of how many deer we have on the landscape.”
The 2015-16 deer season arrives Saturday,
Sept. 5 with the start of the archery season, and the outlook points to another
good season. Biologists say the herd is doing well and estimate it to number
about 1 million at the outset.
“We’ve had two pretty harsh winters in a row
and people may draw the conclusion that maybe we’re putting a hurt on the
population,” Jenkins said. “With the mast crop that we had last year, which
gave the animals that lived through the season a good boost, and with a mild
and wet summer, the deer should be primed to go into the hunting season. I
expect things to be good.”
Herd health assessments conducted last month
on Yellowbank Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Breckinridge County,
Paintsville Lake WMA in Johnson and Morgan counties and Green River Lake WMA in
Taylor and Adair counties produced reassuring results.
“All three locations looked great,” Jenkins
said. “Our herd is healthy and our hunters have done a good job of balancing
buck and doe harvest.”
Kentucky takes a four-zone approach to deer
management with Zones 2 and 3 considered the sweet spot.
“That’s right where the population is
primed,” Jenkins said. “It’s good and healthy, we’re not having a lot of
vehicle-deer collisions, we’re not seeing a lot of disease and we’re not having
a lot of conflicts with agriculture.
“Zone 1 means we’ve got too many deer. Zone
4 means we need to grow the deer population.”
Deer populations in some counties hit
hardest by the most recent Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) outbreaks are
back to pre-2007 levels or better. A change in zone assignments for some
counties in the Green River, Bluegrass and Southeast wildlife regions is
indicative of that rebound.
Bullitt, Green, Hopkins, LaRue and Nelson
counties are now Zone 1. Hunters may harvest an unlimited number of antlerless
deer in Zone 1 counties but must have the appropriate number of additional deer
“You can expect a slight uptick in the harvest
total in those counties,” said Kyle Sams, deer biologist with Kentucky Fish and
Wildlife. “Most hunters like to see that change from a Zone 2 to a Zone 1
because it gives them the option to harvest more deer. And for the people that
are experiencing damage, it gives them an outlet to take more deer.”
Other zone shifts to note: Grayson and Ohio
counties have moved to Zone 2 from Zone 3. Zone 2 offers a 16-day modern gun
season during which hunters may take deer of either sex. Allen County was Zone
2 last season but will be managed as a Zone 3 county this season.
The Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide –
available online at fw.ky.gov and wherever licenses are sold – includes information about those and
other regulatory changes from last season. One other note is that legal
resident hunters, age 65 and older, may now hunt deer with a crossbow
throughout the archery season.
Deer are still in their summer pattern when the
archery season opens. The pattern shifts once acorns start hitting the ground.
Early returns from mast surveys conducted
this summer point toward poor white oak acorn production across the state and
red oaks producing acorns in some spots but not others. Beech and hickory nut
production looks to be better than last year.
Final results from the mast survey will be
available later this month once all data has been entered and analyzed. If the
early returns hold true, hunters would do well to focus on those trees that are
producing acorns. Landowners may consider planting a late fall or winter food
plot in early fall.
“If there’s not going to be that bumper crop
of oaks, that’s going to make the deer search for food a little more,
potentially making themselves more available to hunters,” Sams said. “If you
can find a white oak that is producing that would be a good spot to set a tree
stand or get out and do some hunting around that area because they will key in
on that first thing.”
Archery season continues through Jan. 18,
2016. In between, early crossbow and muzzleloader seasons arrive in October
with the crossbow season picking up again in November at the outset of modern
gun season. Modern gun season accounted for 74 percent of the overall harvest
total last season and this year opens statewide on Nov. 14. December sees the
late muzzleloader and crossbow seasons end.
Something else to consider is a quota deer
hunt. There are 29 to choose from this year. New to the quota hunt lineup are a
two-day firearms quota hunt in early November at Kentucky River WMA in Henry
and Owen counties and an early December quota hunt for antlerless deer only at
Veterans Memorial WMA in Scott County. Hunters may apply for quota hunts via
the department’s website or by calling 1-877-598-2401 through the end of the
Whenever you plan to hunt this deer season, Sams
reminds everyone to be safe in the woods.
never know who’s hunting on the next farm over, so communicate with the
landowners around you if you can and be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
“But also have a good time and enjoy yourself.”