2018 Kentucky Deer Forecast

2018 Kentucky Deer Forecast
This detailed analysis of the Kentucky deer picture will give you a realistic view of your 2018 hunting prospects.

Over the last few years, Kentucky deer hunters have had some awesome seasons, and even though there are some major changes coming to most counties, the hunting should continue to be topnotch.

Nearly 40 counties will have a combination of changes in dates, regulations, season length or zones. In fact, according to Gabe Jenkins, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Deer and Elk program director, not many counties or areas were left untouched.

While hunters will absolutely need to read the regulations and hunting guide, a few key items for the upcoming season include:

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Expanding the gun season to 16 days statewide. 

The limit goes from two to four deer in most areas. 

Hunters can take a limit of deer in each zone, independent of other zone’s limits. 

Hunters can take only one antlerless deer in Zone 3. 

KDFWR is allowed to create special deer hunts outside of the normal season to facilitate youth and mobility-impaired hunts.

When the 2018-19 seasons were originally proposed earlier this year, some hunters were concerned about such dramatic changes in zones, lengthening seasons and increasing bag limits, just the same as during 2000-01 season, which was when Kentucky’s seven deer zones were condensed into four, and Zone 1 was given an unlimited bag limit on antlerless deer.

At that time, some hunters felt this was too drastic and would have a negative impact on the herd. Over the past 17 years, the changes kept numbers stable in some areas while allowing the herd to grow in selected areas. However, the herd reproduction has increased to the point that another increase in harvest is needed keep herd production in check, thus longer seasons, increased limits and zone changes.

“During the past 17 seasons when the first restructuring was set in place, KDFWR has only been able to move a few counties back to a Zone 2 classification,” Yancy said.

Zone 1 counties remain the most liberal zones and during the 2018-19 season, deer hunters will have the option of hunting in 51 Zone 1 counties across Kentucky. With 43 percent of the state in Zone 1, hunters are going to have plenty of opportunities to take meat home and shoot a nice wall hanger.

While there’s good news for hunters across most of the state, some sections of eastern Kentucky had some setbacks last year due to an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, particularly the counties east of I-75 and south of I-64.

EHD is a virus that is spread via a biting midge. As such, areas where deer concentrate are the most contagious, and where most deer obtain the disease. While livestock sometimes contract EHD, symptoms are subclinical, meaning they do not show the symptoms that deer exhibit. Additionally, EHD is not fatal to livestock. Last year’s deer die off in eastern Kentucky was strictly due to EHD.

Another disease not in Kentucky but on the radar of every wildlife biologist across the United States is chronic wasting disease. KDFWR Biologists have developed a risk assessment based off the size of a herd, as well as local captive facilities and movement of deer in and out of the facility.

“The Department is averaging between 1,000 to 2,000 samples per year and we are targeting more of our high-risk counties,” said Jenkins.

Those who have seen a die-off from EHD understand how devastating it is but, in most cases, EHD may only take 25 percent of a herd. CWD would be much deadlier and that’s why all wildlife agencies across the country are focused on monitoring for the presence of CWD.

Across the country, game agencies are asking for help to prevent the spread of CWD. In fact, in many areas it is not a request; laws have changed to prevent hunters from taking cervids (deer, elk, etc.) across state lines, unless the meat has been deboned and the skullcaps completely cleaned, particularly if hunting in a state that has found CWD. The latest states to find CWD are Arkansas and Mississippi, which found a deer last year for the first time.

Hunters may also have noted that some of the old standby counties that have continually led the state have dropped off. One of these, Owen County, lost its No. 1 place to Crittenden County in 2017. 

“About 96 percent of this western Kentucky county can easily be classified as deer habitat,” Yancy said.

Last year hunters harvested 3,451 deer over the 371.09 square miles of land, which is 9.2 deer per square mile.

One reason many of the traditional deer hotspot counties may be dropping is not the lack of deer but the result of changes in landownership patterns. Many large farms are being divided into small farms. Deer are still there, but hunting may be restricted, causing harvest numbers to go down.

“Many tracts of land are being purchased or leased by deer hunters,” said Yancy. “Ironically many of these tracts of land are under-harvested because the owners or hunters are primarily buck hunting.”

In 2017, 39 percent of licensed hunters took deer. Of those, 77 percent took one deer, 18 percent took two, three percent took three and two percent took four or more.

“Finally, there’s the problem of the stable to declining population of deer hunters and even if it is still stable, the age distribution is rapidly nearing the point where large numbers of individuals are going to be dropping off the rolls of annually active participants,” Yancy said.

The 2018-19 season is going to be something. Hunters unable to get out during the week will have more opportunity due to the longer season, and everyone will have plenty of opportunities to put meat in the freezer, while waiting for a trophy. Some folks may be concerned about the drastic changes in regulations, but the KDWFR has performed the research to determine the best options for the Bluegrass State deer herd.

In fact, hunters should be more concerned about the declining numbers of hunters. Fewer hunters mean less license sales, and fewer dollars could spell reductions in wildlife management programs. As such, consider introducing a newcomer to the great sport of hunting, particularly a younger person. 

If where to go is a problem, consider visiting one of Kentucky’s 80 wildlife management areas, national forests or state forests open to hunting. KDFWR maintains cooperative agreements with other agencies, partners and private company lands. As such, Kentucky hunters have access to 1,635,478 acres of public hunting land across the Commonwealth, a great resource for everyone because hunters have spent the time and money protecting the wild areas of America.

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Years ago, crossbows were a novelty and not very effective or popular. Today, crossbow technology has made tremendous advancements. Given the choice many archery enthusiasts still prefer either compound or recurve bows, believing they are more sporting than crossbows. However, crossbows are getting popular.

In 2004, when KDFWR first started compiling statistics on crossbows only four percent of deer archery kills were using crossbows but starting in 2012 this number had risen to 13 percent, rising about one percent a year. This upward trend is due to newly improved equipment and the steady increase in the average age of Kentucky archery hunters.

“As hunters are aging, there seems to be some transition to crossbows,” said Gabe Jenkins.Another group of hunters benefiting from crossbows are hunters with disabilities or recent surgeries particularly shoulder surgery, again the result of aging hunters. A recent study in Virginia reported that the aging of hunters was driving this increase in crossbow use in that state. However, it is also increasing participation of younger hunters and female hunters.

Crossbow Popularity

Years ago, crossbows were a novelty and not very effective or popular. Today, crossbow technology has made tremendous advancements. Given the choice many archery enthusiasts still prefer either compound or recurve bows, believing they are more sporting than crossbows. However, crossbows are getting popular.

In 2004, when KDFWR first started compiling statistics on crossbows only four percent of deer archery kills were using crossbows but starting in 2012 this number had risen to 13 percent, rising about one percent a year. This upward trend is due to newly improved equipment and the steady increase in the average age of Kentucky archery hunters.

“As hunters are aging, there seems to be some transition to crossbows,” said Gabe Jenkins.

Another group of hunters benefiting from crossbows are hunters with disabilities or recent surgeries particularly shoulder surgery, again the result of aging hunters. A recent study in Virginia reported that the aging of hunters was driving this increase in crossbow use in that state. However, it is also increasing participation of younger hunters and female hunters.

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