Kentucky's 2010 Deer Update -- Part 1

Kentucky's 2010 Deer Update -- Part 1

Deer can be found in every corner of the commonwealth, but some areas produce far more whitetails than others. Here's an in-depth look at the best places in which to bag a deer this fall...

If you believe in trends and the odds, come next January you should find this Kentucky deer season an improvement over last year.

As we take our annual in-depth look at what's going on with the Bluegrass State's deer herd, it is quickly apparent that for the past seven seasons a harvest "see-saw" has been in effect. Since 2003 a lower harvest year has been followed by a higher harvest and then another lower one. That's been true all the way through to the 2009 season.

Thus, the odds are 2010 will be a rebound year. Perhaps the harvest will make it back up to the 120,000 mark or better that hunters have enjoyed in each of the last three peak kill seasons.

Most hunters realize that even though Kentucky boasts a statewide deer herd of about one million whitetails, these animals aren't spread evenly across the commonwealth. Kentucky is managed on a regional basis, and uses a zone system to control hunting pressure in different zones based on how much deer production occurs. Not all zones have ideal habitat for whitetails, and therefore simply don't grow the same number of animals as other areas.

To review which regions of Kentucky are best for taking a deer this season, we looked at the most recent Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources harvest information, coupled that with some historical data and deer-per-square-mile information. Combined, these are excellent indicators of how the deer herd is doing overall, and where the best hunting counties are located. With about one-third of the states 120 counties yielding more than 1,000 deer last season, many spots are available for knocking down a deer this season.

PURCHASE REGION

Though the total harvest for the Purchase Region in far western Kentucky was off about 1,500 animals last year, it still managed to post seven of 14 counties in the 1,000-plus harvested category in 2009. This region accounted for 17,193 whitetails checked, and it appears that hunters looking for a buck had good success finding one. Every county gave up more antlered deer than antlerless in last season.

Graves, Crittenden and Christian counties, in that order, all posted better than 2,200 deer each. There were only four other counties to top the 2,000 plateau in 2009 anywhere in the state. Both Graves and Christian have a lot of deer habitat, but also cover large areas of land. That's one reason you don't see either of them among the top counties for deer harvested per square mile.

Crittenden made the top 20 list for deer per square mile. Its ratio is more than 10 animals, which ranks in the top 10 in Kentucky.

Clearly these three counties, along with Livingston, Calloway, Trigg and Caldwell counties are top choices for seeing and taking deer in the Purchase this fall.

Top public lands in the region, based on harvest from last season are the Land Between the Lakes and Clarks River national wildlife refuges, along with the Lake Barkley WMA. All of those recorded more than 100 deer taken in 2009.

Deer hunting regulations on public lands are very often different from private land regulations. Always check first with the managing agency for full details before visiting public lands.

GREEN RIVER REGION

Green River Region counties in mid-western Kentucky have traditionally been good deer hunting choices because many are agriculturally rich and well suited to deer production.

The 2009 season placed 13 of 25 counties in this region in the 1,000 deer harvest club, just as it did the season before. Yet, the total region harvest was right at 3,000 animals, which was lower than in the previous season. Interestingly, hunters found almost the same number of bucks in Green River Region counties both of the last two years, but more than 2,500 fewer does in 2009.

"We know that Kentucky routinely experiences fluctuation in deer numbers year to year," said Dr. Tina Brunjes, the KDFWR Big Game Program Coordinator.

"Some years we have disease outbreaks in localized areas, sometimes weather plays a factor during the season in terms of hunter success, and in some cases, the number of hunters may be a little higher or lower.

"All these can influence the number of deer available, the level of hunting pressure and ultimately affect the final harvest figures," Brunjes said.

"We might see an increase or decrease plus or minus 10 percent in harvest year to year," she said, but added that it makes very little difference in the herd dynamic.

Hardin, Webster and Hopkins counties led the way last season in numbers of deer taken in this region. Hart, Ohio, Breckinridge, Henderson, Logan and Muhlenberg are also good, with any of them capable of breaking into the top three.

Most of the counties where more than 1,000 deer were taken last season are running three to six deer harvested per square mile. This is within what the KDFWR considers a good to excellent range from a deer management standpoint. The herd here is stable and about right for the habitat.

The Peabody WMA in the heart of the top deer counties produced more deer for hunters than any other public hunting area -- some 360 animals in 2009. But, one other spot to check out is the Sloughs WMA in Henderson and Union counties, where 135 whitetails were taken last season.

BLUEGRASS REGION

In years past biologists divided this territory divided into the Inner, and Outer Bluegrass regions. That was due to the vast difference in the quality of habitat for whitetails between the two. Today the Inner and Outer counties are lumped together, but it's evident which counties fell into the good versus the poorer habitat areas.

At one end of the spectrum were Bourbon, Boyle and Fayette counties, which all reported less than 100 deer taken last season. On the other hand, Pendleton, Grant and Shelby counties all reported 2,000 or more animals harvested. Additionally, Owen County had a harvest of more than 3,

800. You quickly see where the better deer growing lands are.

In terms of deer densities, at least 15 of the top 20 counties on the list of top places for deer taken per square mile are found in the Bluegrass Region. Most of those gave up more than 10 deer taken per square mile the last few years.

Kenton and Gallatin counties registered over 11 deer taken per square mile, though neither reached the 1,000-harvest mark last season. These counties are smaller, so though harvests are a little lower than others, they have deer packed into a smaller area.

Also be aware that one other reason the Bluegrass is the top region overall for deer harvest, besides having lots of deer, is because it has lots of hunters. The Louisville and Northern Kentucky metro areas pump a lot of hunters into the surrounding counties. More eyes in the woods almost always mean more deer on the ground at the end of the season.

The hottest block within the Bluegrass Region to find deer remains the extreme northern tip in a six or seven county area. West to east starting with Gallatin County, it includes Owen, Grant, Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Pendleton counties. This is the section of Kentucky where there are more whitetails per square mile than anywhere else.

Counties just to the south and southwest are literally on the heels of the leaders. This is just the place to be if your goal is venison in the freezer in 2010.

NORTHEAST REGION

The farther you trek east in the commonwealth, you find big changes in the landscape. Those changes also impact pretty significantly the quantity of deer the land can support. That said, several counties in the Northeast Region still hold their own and are definitely worth a hard look.

If you're searching for the best spots in the Northeast, you've got some very consistent harvest date to back up picking counties along the Ohio River corridor this season. It doesn't happen this way too often, but the same six counties where hunters bagged 1,000 or more deer in 2008 repeated that in 2009 in exactly the same order.

Bracken County led the way the last two years with more than 1,500 deer taken each seasons. Bracken is tiny in size compared to many other counties in the state. Lawrence and Carter counties ranked second and third, while Lewis, Greenup and Morgan rounded out the Northeast's contribution to the 1,000-deer group.

Similar to the buck-to-doe kill ratio in other regions, hunters in the Northeast took a significantly higher number of antlered deer than antlerless last season. It was similar to the statewide harvest, where some 57 percent of the harvest was bucks and 43 percent does. The split in 2008 was nearly even at 51 percent bucks compared to 49 percent does.

"That's typically a little wider margin than we'd like to see to help keep the herd in balance," Brunjes noted, "but I anticipate this season to be more normal; closer to a one-to-one buck to doe ratio in the harvest."

The difference between the total harvests in the Northeast from the 2008 and 2009 seasons was just over 500 animals. The region gave up approximately 17,000 deer, which puts it on par with both the Purchase and Southeast Regions.

The lack of fluctuation in production in the Northeast suggests deer may not have experienced the disease problems during the summer to the degree that herds in more western regions did.

The good news is that the Northeast should be right back on target this season, and could even get Mason and Boyd counties over the 1,000 mark in 2010. Both have hovered just below that level for a few seasons and were less than 75 deer shy of that elite status last year.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The Southeast Region as a whole is managed much more restrictively than most of the state because it simply does not have the quality habitat to sustain high deer numbers. Heavily forested lands aren't ideal for whitetails.

So, it's always good to see growth in the deer harvest in this region of the state. Seventeen of the 29 counties had harvests surpassing the previous year, and the Southeast was the only region that overall had a higher take in 2009 than in 2008.

In fact, last year was the second consecutive season of higher harvests. It appears that targeting hunting to bucks only has shown dividends in improving overall deer numbers. Individual counties may increase or decrease a little, but the big picture has improved.

The top two counties in the Southeast Region in terms of harvest exchanged places in 2009, with Pulaski coming out slightly ahead of Green County. Pulaski narrowly cleared the 1.000-harvest mark, while Green narrowly missed it with a take of 982. Knox, Whitley and Adair counties all checked in with more than 800 animals last season. All five of these counties are on good footing to stay at the top of the region this year.

Though most counties saw improved numbers last season, those in the northern half of counties were tops, led by Casey, Lincoln, Knott and Wayne. Except for Knott, you'll notice that those counties also are to the west, where habitat is somewhat better than in the southeast mountain territory.

The lands of the Daniel Boone National Forest led the entire state in terms of best public land yield. However, with more than 600,000 acres, the take per square mile is not that impressive. A total of 1,200 deer were taken on DBNF lands last season.

SUMMING IT UP

All told, Kentucky hunters can expect to have a better overall season in 2010. The harvest should approach the 120,000 mark once again, and biologists Dr. Tina Brunjes is hopeful hunters will continue to help reduce antlerless deer in high-density areas.

"It's one big reason why we keep having good quantity and higher than average quality bucks than most other states," Brunjes offered.

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