When Kentucky’s 2018-19 deer season opens tomorrow, with the beginning of archery hunting, opportunities to bring home some venison couldn’t be better.
Kentucky’s deer herd is large, populations in some counties are at an all-time high, and regulations have been significantly liberalized.
Clearly, Job #1 this season is for hunters to harvest more does.“It’s our goal to get every county down to a Zone 2 or a Zone 3,” said Gabe Jenkins, Deer and Elk Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). “If a county has a Zone 1 designation, the deer population is out of control.”
The last time a change in deer regulations of this magnitude went into effect was almost 20 years ago.
During the 2000-2001 season, modern gun season was lengthened by six days to 16 days in 89 counties, hunters in the 45 Zone 1 counties were allowed to take an unlimited number of antlerless deer (does), and the county deer zoning system was streamlined.
While this season the regulation liberalizations seem just as unprecedented, they are very zone specific, and geared towards reducing herds in Zone 1 and Zone 2, and sustained growth in the Zone 3 and Zone 4 counties:
• Modern gun season for deer has been lengthened in Zone 3 and Zone 4 to 16 days. This season, for the first time, all 120 Kentucky counties will have a 16-day modern gun season.The longer gun season in the Zone 3 and Zone 4 counties increases hunter opportunity, giving hunters a third weekend to hunt (during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend) in hopes of bagging the buck they may be targeting. But, it won’t put added pressure on does.
“This year in the Zone 3 counties hunters can only take one doe with a firearm, not two does as in past years,” said Jenkins. “In the Zone 4 counties, hunters can only take antlered deer during modern gun season.”
• Four deer may now be harvested on statewide and youth deer permits. A hunter may take as many deer as allowed for each zone. In order to take more than four deer statewide, an additional deer permit must be purchased. Only one antlered deer may be harvested statewide in Kentucky, regardless of zone, method or season.
• Thirty-two Kentucky counties have increased in zone status.
Jenkins said by design there have been no big changes to the deer regulations during the past three seasons. “We wanted to make a modification that was necessary. If we had not had the outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) last summer in eastern Kentucky, the number of counties increasing in zone status would have been closer to 60.”
The 32 counties that increased in zone status are mostly in Central Kentucky, but they range from Meade County in the north, Bath County in the east, Union County in the west, and Monroe County in the south.
• Eight that were changed from Zone 2 to Zone 1: Union, Henderson, McLean, Muhlenberg, Todd, Mercer, Mason and Hart.• Twenty that were changed from Zone 3 to Zone 2: Warren, Allen, Monroe, Barren, Metcalfe, Adair, Edmonson, Butler, Breckinridge, Meade, Hancock, Daviess, Taylor, Casey, Lincoln, Boyle, Madison, Clark, Montgomery and Bath.
• Four that were changed from Zone 4 to Zone 3: Garrard, Pulaski, Wayne and Laurel.
Decreases in Doe Harvest
Jenkins encourages hunters to make an extra effort to harvest does in the Zone 1 and Zone 2 counties.
Eighty-five of the state’s 120 counties now have a Zone 1 or Zone 2 status. That’s nearly three-quarters of the state.
“Herds have not peaked out (biologically), but they have peaked out on what’s socially acceptable in some areas,” said Jenkins. “Hunters have not managed the resource the way they should.”
Since 2000 hunters have taken more does than bucks, which slows herd growth, only twice, in 2004 and 2005, according to harvest data posted on the department’s website.
“In the past 17 years not one Zone 1 county has dropped to a Zone 2 (because of hunting pressure),” said Jenkins. “It has happened in two counties because of an EHD outbreak.”
Antlered Buck Harvest Increases
All the while, the antlered deer harvest has increased steadily, since the 2008-09 season.
Last season hunters reported taking 136,026 deer, 55.1 percent bucks to 44.9 percent does.
Kentucky’s one-buck limit was established, and phased into the regulations over a three-year period, from 1989 to 1991.
It has helped Kentucky deer climb steadily in the continental record books, but may also have turned many hunters away from harvesting does, the reproductive component of the herd.
Since 2010, there have been 261 deer taken in Kentucky entered into the Boone and Crockett record books, second only to Wisconsin.
2018-19 Deer Season Dates
Here are the 2018-19 deer season dates:
• Crossbow season is October 1-21 and November 10-December 31.
• The youth-only modern gun season is the weekend of October 13-14.
• Early muzzleloader season is October 20-21.
• Modern gun season is November 10-25.
• Late muzzleloader season is December 8-16.
• Free youth weekend is December 29-30.
All the details on deer season and other fall and winter hunting and trapping season are available online at fw.ky.gov
“Every hunter is affected by the regulation changes this year,” said Jenkins. “Take the time to read the guide carefully, to be familiar with these changes.”
The bottom line is: Deer herd growth can only be reduced, and management goals met, if hunters make a conscious effort to harvest more does, not just one per hunter, but as many as possible, in Zone 1 counties.
Kentucky now has 51 Zone 1 counties.
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.