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.
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.