Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s white-tailed deer harvest is off to strong start as gun season looms
Ideal hunting conditions, cool, dry weather, were a major factor in the record harvest by archers in September. Bowhunters reported taking 7,981 deer, eclipsing the old record of 6,650 deer arrowed in September 2015.
Just how important is good hunting weather during deer season? Consider that in 2019, in the grips of a drought and record high temperatures approaching 100 degrees, archers bagged just 4,688 deer in September. This year’s September deer harvest by archers was a whopping 70.24 percent increase over 2019.
Here’s some other observations, based on the deer harvest data posted on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) website:
• The youth-only modern gun season, held this year on the weekend of October 10-11, is the first of five firearms seasons.
As of October 22, 2,824 deer had been taken with modern firearms.
• The early muzzleloader season, held this year on the weekend of October 17-18, is the first of two muzzleloader seasons. As of October 22, 4,812 deer had been taken with muzzleloaders.
• Kentucky’s archery season is the longest (136 days) of six deer seasons on Kentucky’s fall and winter hunting calendar.
As of October 26, archers had reported taking 9,003 deer. Last season the total archery harvest was 16,609.
• This year, due to calendar shift, modern gun season for deer opens as late as possible, on Saturday, November 14. That means bow hunters will have 13 days afield during early November, the prime time of the fall season.
The so-called “late pre-rut” is when antler rubs and scrapes intensify and bucks become active during daylight hours, searching for does coming into estrus, and chasing does that aren’t ready to be bred.
This year, by the time gun season opens, does and bucks will be paired up and breeding will be underway.
• November is the peak of deer harvest during the season. Through the years the gun season harvest and overall deer harvest in November has grown steadily. The last two deer seasons set records during November, 111,020 in 2018 and 113,232 in 2019. By comparison, a decade ago in 2010, the November deer harvest was 80,516.
Kyle Sams, Deer Program Biologist and acting Deer and Elk Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) predicted an excellent season, based on population models showing an upward trend in the harvest.
The estimated one million deer in Kentucky’s herd are healthy, with a favorable growth rate.
Kentucky is a perennial top-five state in the number of antlered white-tailed deer that score high enough to be entered into the Boone and Crockett Club record book.
Kentucky’s deer herd is large and continues to expand. Deer populations in some Zone 1 counties are at an all-time high.
Sams said the block of 30 Zone 1 counties in north-central Kentucky have the highest deer densities in the state, an estimated 50 to 90 deer per square mile, based on deer population models.
“The Zone 1 counties in western Kentucky have reached their social carrying capacity,” said Sams. “Herd densities are lower, but crop damage is high.”
This season there are 51 counties with a Zone 1 status, 34 counties with a Zone 2 status, 13 counties with a Zone 3 status, and 22 counties with a Zone 4 status.
Kentucky’s record deer harvest of 155,734 occurred during the 2015-16 season, and since the 2017-18 season, the harvest has inched up closer to another all-time record.
The 2019-20 deer kill was the second-highest ever. Hunters reported taking 148,395 deer, 53 percent antlered and 47 percent antlerless.
Is another record harvest likely this season? “I could see that happening,” said Sams.