With Kentucky’s 2016-17 deer season set to open this weekend, with the start of archery hunting on Saturday, Sept. 3, deer numbers are up.
“Overall our deer herd is increasing,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We’re getting some response in southeastern Kentucky. Herds have grown in a lot of our Zone 4 counties.”
Kentucky’s 120 counties are divided into four deer management zones, which determine season lengths and bag limits. The 25 counties in Zone 4 have the most conservative deer regulations, as herd growth is the management priority.
]Although archery season is the longest deer season, this year 136 days extending for parts of five months, through Jan. 16, 2017, the number of deer taken is a small percentage of the overall harvest. Last season bow hunters posted a record kill of 23,323 deer, but that number was only 14.97 percent of the overall number of deer taken.
Big Increase in Deer Harvest by Firearms Hunters
The majority of deer taken each season are harvested during Kentucky’s five firearms seasons — two youth seasons, two seasons restricted to muzzleloading firearms, and modern gun season for deer.
During the past five seasons, the number of deer taken with firearms has climbed steadily, from 83,363 during the 2011 season, to 109,179, in 2015. That’s a whopping 30.9 percent increase.
This season hunters in Zones 1-2 may take deer of either sex during the entire 16 days of modern gun season, Nov. 12-27, 2016. Hunters in Zone 3 may take deer of either sex during 10 days of modern gun season, Nov. 12-21, 2016.
Hunters in Zone 4 may only take antlered deer during 10 days of modern gun season, Nov. 12-21, 2016.
Last season’s overall deer harvest of 155,734 was a record. In fact, three out of the last five seasons, hunters have posted an overall harvest record in Kentucky.
Herd Recovery Driving Harvest
Jenkins said what’s driving the harvest is the recovery of herds in the central and western parts of the state that were reduced by outbreaks of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in 2007, 2010 and 2012.
Three more counties in the region will have zone changes this season. This will give hunters more opportunities to take deer: Webster County, from a Zone 2 to a Zone 1; Hardin County, from a Zone 2 to a Zone 1, and Marion County, from a Zone 3 to a Zone 2.
“We did not have any outbreaks of EHD this summer and none were expected,” said Jenkins. “It was a wet year.”
The acute, infectious, often fatal viral disease, occurs during drought conditions. The mode of transmission is Culicoides variipennis, a biting midge that needs mud banks exposed by lower water levels to complete its life cycle.
The wet weather is also thought to have helped this year’s fawn production, especially in southeastern Kentucky. Jenkins said anecdotal evidence suggests “we should be in good shape. Wet weather means lots of food and cover and that boosts the survival rate.”
Deer Season Regulations
For the complete regulations for deer season, go online to view the Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide 2016-2017 at this link.
Scroll down to page 11 for the deer season information, including the zone status of counties, bag limits, permit types and season dates.
Deer Hunter Survey
Deer hunters have until Sept. 9 to contribute their experiences and opinions on deer hunting and management in Kentucky by taking an online survey. Here’s the link.
The survey is open to both residents and non-residents, has 45 questions, and takes about 10 minutes to complete, including a comment box.
Some of the subjects addressed in the survey include: residency, hunting on public or private land, hunting frequency, seasons hunted, zone statues of county hunted, deer population trend where you hunt, opinion of one-buck limit, are further restrictions on buck harvest needed, opinion of Kentucky’s deer management efforts, use of crossbows during entire archery season, timing of Kentucky’s muzzleloader and youth seasons, and how to increase doe harvest in Zone 1 counties.
Deer managers will use the information gained from this survey to help plan deer hunting seasons and management programs in the future.
Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.