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Forecast By Paul Moore

Deer hunters in the Bluegrass State enjoyed yet another stellar season last year. The numbers from the 2012-13 deer harvest were astounding and the total of 131,395 deer set a new single season harvest record. This total breaks the previous season record of 124,752 set in the 2004-05 season. Good weekend weather through firearm season is a noticeable reason for the jump in numbers, but overall, every hunter category enjoyed good success last year.

The firearm numbers were the most significant with a harvest total of 95,613 deer. That’s a jump of over 12,000 deer from the previous season. Archery hunters took a total of 18,711 deer, which set a record for archery harvest for the 6th consecutive year. Crossbow harvest also set another record with 2,488 animals, marking an increase in harvest for four years in a row. That is quite the contrast to 561 deer in 2004 when crossbow harvest first started appearing in the Telecheck report. Muzzleloader hunters added another 14,583 deer to the total last season. These numbers and the success represented are a true testament to the quality of our deer population today.

The record harvest last season was very interesting in that, although perhaps a cheesy pun, we really bucked the trend last year. It was expected the harvest numbers might dip slightly because the 2011 season had increased considerably after two seasons of lower numbers. Looking at trends over the past 10 years, a season with a spike in harvest numbers is generally followed by a drop the following year.

We had a similar situation back in the last decade. There were 115,082 deer taken in 2002 and 116,540 deer taken 2003. The following year we set our previous record harvest of 124,752 deer. However, the next year, the harvest figures dropped all the way back to 112,462 deer. It rebounded to over 122,000 deer in 2006, dropped in 2007, and then went back up to 120,610 deer in 2008. The following two years saw consecutive drops to 113,585 and 110,376 respectively. Deer harvest took a major jump in 2011 of over 9,000 deer, so it would have been very reasonable to expect numbers to dip last year. Remarkably, not only did it not dip, hunters were successful in taking more deer than ever before. It does present a conundrum as to what to anticipate for this season.

The deer herd is in excellent shape and the population estimate in January of this year, before fawning season, was 750,000 animals. The deer population has been estimated between 850,000 and one million over the past 10 years, so it has pretty much stabilized across most of the state. Hunter success is more dictated by weather and mast crop yield. Weather factors in obviously, but an abundance or lack of mast can determine how much deer move around and are seen by hunters.

Dr. Tina Brunjes is the deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

She said, “Overall we are very happy with our deer herd. Being the No. 1 state for Boone and Crockett submissions last year, as well as being named Agency of the Year by the Quality Deer Management Association makes the Deer Program feel pretty good about the job we are doing. That said, we are always concerned about keeping deer numbers under control in our Zone 1 counties, primarily northern Kentucky and far western Kentucky, and we are continuing with very restricted doe harvest in our Zone 4 counties of southeastern Kentucky, where the herd is still below what the area can support.”

The KDFWR is hoping deer numbers continue to grow in the Zone 4 counties, but otherwise, the Department is very happy with our current situation.

Dr. Brunjes stated, “We have not made any significant changes to our deer season structure in several years. The current system is working very well, and while tweaks are occasionally necessary, such as changing a county zone, hunter and landowner satisfaction is high.”

It is obvious our deer population is in great shape statewide, but the burning questions on hunters’ minds are how is this season going to turn out and where are the best locations to find success. No one can predict how weather and other factors will affect the season, but we can crunch the numbers from recent seasons, look for trends, and make somewhat educated guesses as to where the hot areas are located. Here is a detailed look at all of Kentucky’s five regions and the whitetail deer potential in each.

BLUEGRASS REGION

Although all five regions in the state saw a nice increase in deer harvest, the Bluegrass Region had the largest increase, with an astounding 3,736 more deer in 2012 than in 2011. The deer harvest in this region has been on the upswing lately and the numbers from last year show the trend is continuing. There are several Zone 1 counties in this region, which help boost numbers with additional antlerless harvest. Even so, there were eight counties with a buck harvest of over 1,000 deer.

During the 2011 season, 16 counties in the Bluegrass Region totaled over 1,000 harvested deer. All 16 of those again topped the 1,000 mark, along with two newcomers. Jefferson County, which just missed last year by four deer, joined the club in a big way with a total of 1,157 deer. Carroll County also tallied a respectable 1,014 deer.

The top five leaders in total harvest were the same counties as last year, but numbers went up in all five counties. Owen County led the list with a whopping 3,751 deer. This was also the greatest single county harvest in the entire state. Only one other county topped 3,000 deer. Pendleton, Shelby, Grant, Boone, Henry, and Anderson counties all took over 2,000 deer.

A couple of public land spots also put up good numbers. Veterans Memorial WMA led with a harvest of 146, while Taylorsville Lake WMA was a close second with 136 deer. Rounding out the top three was Kentucky River WMA with a harvest of 80 deer.

GREEN RIVER REGION

There is not a single Zone 1 county in the Green River Region, but even so, there were 13 counties with a deer harvest of over 1,000 animals last season. These same 13 counties also topped 1,000 deer in 2011. Making a jump over the 2,000 deer mark this season were Hardin (2,139), Breckinridge (2,094), Hopkins (2,074), and Webster (2,018). No counties in this region topped 2,000 deer in 2011.

This region has lots of deer, lots of habitat, and is known for consistently producing good hunting success. The four counties mentioned above plus Hart and Ohio counties had buck harvest alone that topped 1,000. Oddly, Webster was the only county with an antlerless harvest over 1,000 deer and it just barely topped the mark by six deer.

The counties with the highest harvest in this region typically follow the western edge of the region from Henderson down to Logan, and then from west to east through the middle part of the region through counties such as Ohio, Butler, Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin and Hart. With the exception of Allen County, the southeastern portion of the region generally does not produce as much success.

As usual, the huge Peabody WMA led all other public land spots with a harvest of 544 deer. Sloughs WMA totaled 127 deer taken and Barren River WMA chipped in another 94 deer. Other public lands to consider include Yellowbank WMA, Green River State Forest, and Nolin River Lake WMA.

NORTHEAST REGION

There are 21 counties that comprise the Northeast Region along the borders of Ohio and West Virginia. The region is unique in that it has counties that are in all four zones. The two northwestern counties of Bracken and Robertson are in Zone 1. Then, running east to west, there is a band of Zone 2 counties, a band of Zone 3 counties, and the whole southeastern corner is comprised of Zone 4 counties.

There were nine counties, which topped 1,000 deer last season as opposed to only six counties in 2011 with a harvest of 1,000 or more. Added this year were Pike (1,051), Mason, (1,020), and Boyd (1,018). The same top six counties finished in the same order in 2011 and 2012. Bracken finished at the top with a harvest of 1,764 deer. The next five were Lawrence (1,727), Carter (1,530), Lewis (1,299), Greenup (1,190), and Morgan (1,125).

The top location on public land was the combined opportunities at Yatesville Lake WMA, Yatesville Lake State Park and Lawrence County Recreation Area where hunters took a total of 96 deer. The next best spot was Clay WMA with a harvest of 48 deer. Other public land spots to consider are Fleming, Fishtrap Lake, Dewey Lake, Lewis County, and Grayson Lake WMAs and the Tygarts State Forest.

PURCHASE REGION

This is our smallest region as far as number of counties. Comprised of only 14 counties, the Purchase Region takes in the westernmost counties in Kentucky including the boot-heel section. The entire region is within Zone 1 and the great harvest numbers are testament to the deer population and hunter success found there.

There were a total of 20,598 deer taken in the Purchase Region last season. Over half of the counties in the region had a deer harvest of 1,000 or more. Crittenden County was one of only two counties in the entire state that topped 3,000 deer taken. Its harvest was 3,010 deer. Just missing the mark was Graves, with a harvest of 2,945 deer, and Christian had 2,705. The remaining counties producing top deer harvest numbers were Livingston (1,673), Calloway (1,641), Trigg (1,531), Caldwell (1,479), and Marshall (1,219).

The sprawling Land Between the Lakes area topped public land in the Purchase Region with a harvest of 238 deer. Not far behind though was the Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge with 211 deer. Other good spots on public land include the opportunities at Ballard and Boatwright WMAs, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley WMAs, and the Fort Campbell Military Reservation.

Jason Tuttle with his 182-inch Kentucky giant. Photo via North American Whitetail.

SOUTHEAST REGION

This region is one of the largest and has a total of 29 counties. The bad part is that most all of the region is comprised of Zone 3 and Zone 4 counties, which means tighter harvest restrictions. The good news is many of the counties are on the upswing and hunter success is improving in many areas of this region.

For the second year in a row, Green and Pulaski counties topped the 1,000 mark for deer harvest. Green is the only Zone 2 county in the region and there are no Zone 1 counties. Pulaski is actually a Zone 4 county, but its size and hunter effort help boost the harvest total.

Another positive sign is that the total harvest of 18,866 deer in this region bested the mark from the previous year by 2,156 deer. Other counties that have produced good numbers include Adair, Casey, Lincoln, and Clay.

Yet another bright spot for this region is public land opportunity. The Daniel Boone National Forest posted the highest public land harvest total in the state with 1,180 deer taken. The Boone Forestlands WMA added another 114 deer to the total. Close behind was the Lake Cumberland WMA with a harvest of 101 deer last season. A couple more spots posting good numbers were the Hensley-Pine Mountain WMA and the Kentucky Ridge Forest WMA.

SUMMARY

Dr. Brunjes said, “Deer hunting in Kentucky right now is ‘the good old days. We average 20 deer per square mile statewide, meaning most areas are at or just below carrying capacity, and most counties have sufficient doe harvest to ensure good buck to doe ratios. This translates to healthy deer and good hunter success rates.”

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