Kentucky may be called the Bluegrass State, but it truly is a sportsman’s paradise, providing countless hunting and fishing opportunities throughout its borders. And while deer is probably the most pursued, there are many other species available to hunters, from turkeys to squirrels, doves and more that provide ample fun to those wanting to get out in the woods.
Turkey hunting in the fall was once an afterthought to most hunters, but the generous bag limits and fun-filled tactics have fall turkey hunting’s popularity on the rise. Turkeys are less vocal in the fall making them harder to locate, but according to Matt Weegman, National Wild Turkey Federation wildlife biologist for Kentucky, turkey hunting this fall should be excellent.
“Overall population trends for wild turkeys in Kentucky are good,” said Weegman. “With 86 percent of counties showing stable or increasing populations and only 14 percent of counties showing a decreasing population (2018 Kentucky Wild Turkey Population Status Report). Additionally, harvest in Kentucky has been good with 2017 being in the top five turkey harvests for the state since the year 2000. Between the quality habitat management that is being done, the stable and increasing numbers in the turkey populations, as well as the consistently good turkey harvest statewide, the 2018 Kentucky fall turkey season is shaping up to be another great time to be in turkey pursuit mode.”
Kentucky has no shortage of great public lands to chase turkeys, but Land Between the Lakes is an excellent area.
“The NWTF has a long history of assisting with habitat management at Land Between the Lakes since 2009 when we initiated our first stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service at LBL,” said Weegman. “The entire area is about 170,000 acres with almost all of that wide open to free roam hunting. The turkey population is good and LBL is a destination for hunters across the U.S. who want to harvest a Kentucky or Tennessee bird.”
Peabody WMA consists of varied terrain ranging from rough and rugged swamplands to high ridges sprinkled with deep pits and lakes. Hunters should be cautious to these hazards. Mobility impaired access is available in the Sinclair unit. An annual user permit is required and costs $15. The property is owned/leased by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
“Peabody WMA is about 45,000 acres of reclaimed surface mine ground that has been intensively managed for bobwhite quail, which has resulted in excellent turkey and deer hunting as well,” Weegman said.
Daniel Boone National Forest spans 21 counties in eastern Kentucky and stretches from the Tennessee line to Morehead Kentucky. The forest is maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and has more than 600 miles of roads and trails. The fall turkey season should be great, especially in areas that have been recently burned.
“Daniel Boone has some good turkey hunting and no shortage of public land to roam with more than 700,000 acres,” said Weegman.
The Boone is broken up into four different ranger districts — the Stearns, London, Redbird, and Cumberland. The Stearns district is a great place to start by targeting areas that were burned with prescribed fire this spring, as those will likely be hotspots for fall turkeys.
Squirrel hunting began as a necessity to feed early Americans and became a tradition. Squirrel hunting popularity has diminished in recent years as deer and turkey became more abundant, which has left plenty of squirrels for hunters to pursue.
During October the woods come alive with colors, the sound of acorns hitting the ground and the rustling of leaves as squirrels work in preparation for winter. The leaves are still hanging so a shotgun might be best, but many hunters prefer a scoped .22 rifle.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properties surrounding Nolin River Lake and Rough River Lake offers several opportunities for squirrel and other game.
“Squirrel season is dependent largely on mast every year and we don’t do that survey until September,” said Wayne Tamminga KDFWR wildlife biologist. “Hunters should be able to locate squirrels anywhere in the fall where the mast is good on a particular tree group — oaks red and/or white, hickory, beech, walnut and even soft mast. Cornfields are another place to find squirrels in the late season, too.”
Nolin River Lake WMA is located in Edmonson, Grayson and Hart counties and consists of 6,456 acres of rolling and rugged terrain. According to Tamminga, many of the better pockets of good hunting are accessible only by boat. If solitude is desired, Nolin River Lake WMA can provide it.
“Look for acorns dropping in these isolated pockets and the squirrels will be there,” Tamminga said.
Rough River Lake WMA is located in Breckinridge, Grayson and Hardin counties. It has 4,180 acres to hunt and the season falls under state regulations for squirrel.
Rough River Lake WMA, like Nolin, is best accessed by boat. State and federally operated campgrounds surround the lake, but more cozy accommodations can be found at the Rough River State Park.
Pre-season scouting by themselves, friends and a little through the grapevine can help hunters locate the dominate fields for opening day, and while the hunting varies from season to season, more times than not those first couple days of dove season is the best.
However, opening day doesn’t have to be the last day of the season, as there are techniques that work in October and later in the season. These tactics include decoys and waterholes and even walking doves up along field edges with dogs.
Finding where doves are feeding or roosting is vital. Scanning powerlines is a great way to find pockets of birds. Once doves are located look around the area for obvious food sources, watering holes and tree lines. Doves will fly several miles from feed to roost but locating a good waterhole near a feeding area can be a goldmine. Look for waterholes with open banks, which allow doves to see predators.
Decoys can help draw in doves and are especially effective when hunting small groups of birds. Decoys work great around waterholes as well and can put the doves at ease when coming in for a drink. Place the decoys on fences and tree limbs for maximum visibility. Hunters can even stretch a clothesline or wire between two points to place a few decoys. This tactic can draw birds in when hunting a large field solo or with just a few shooters.
Kentucky offers plenty of opportunities to hunt mourning doves. Public land managers work hard to provide a good hunt by planting fields specifically for dove, as well as allowing dove hunting throughout the season around the tenant farm fields and creek bottoms on these properties.
Barren River Lake WMA is located in Allen and Barren counties with 8,735 acres to hunt. There is camping at the Tailwater Campground year ‘round and there’s lodging at Barren River Lake State Resort.
The terrain is gently sloping with woodlands and cleared bottomlands. These bottomlands are perfect for dove and, according to Tamminga, the hunting just might be better in October due to the wet spring.
After opening day, everything depends on the yield that fields get each year, such as weed pressure, deer browse and more. However, the KDFWR also has some big tenant cornfields that are harvested early and can have some late-season dove potential.
“We are a few weeks behind on planting with the wet spring we’ve had this year,” said Tamminga. “Since planting is late, it will probably be good hunting later in the season. Of the four areas I cover, only Barren River WMA has dove fields, but I might put a small experimental field at Nolin River WMA this year if the weather permits.”
West Kentucky WMA is prime dove habitat with more than 6,000 acres of old crop fields and woodlots along with a dozen ponds throughout the property, providing great water sources near fields where the dove feed. Property managers throughout the state work hard to provide the best dove hunting possible and West Kentucky WMA is no exception.
“We typically plant up to 50 acres of sunflowers on the WMA, in five to 15-acre plots scattered around,” said Timothy Kreher, KDFWR Wildlife Regions & Public Lands biologist. “When the weather is fair preceding opening day and dove production has been good, opening day can be like D-day on sunflower fields here. We have had years where hunter success on the entire WMA was over 12 birds per hunter on opening day and other years where it was below five birds per hunter.”
Doves feeding on sunflowers tails off relatively quickly after the opener, due to a combination of pressure, migration and alternate food sources. Local farmers are starting to combine corn by early September and this tends to disperse doves off of sunflower and millet.
However, hunters can still find birds on public fields, especially the cornfields that have been leased by the KDFWR. Look for birds on powerlines near these fields, as well as other public lands, the days before going hunting. And with the reduction of pressure later in the season, you might be the only hunter in a 20 to 30-acre cornfield. Decoys and mojo doves can help in these situations, even more than during the early season.”
Cast & Blast
October is a great time for a cast and blast trip and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properties are well suited for it. The Corps properties typically surround bodies of water and offer the best opportunity to combine a hunt with a fishing trip.
October is a great month for targeting most species on Kentucky lakes and streams. Barren River Lake has a great largemouth population and the action can be hot in October as they follow baitfish into the shallows. Bass will strike many different lures during October, with a white spinnerbait or natural, shad-colored crankbait producing well throughout the day.
Taylorsville Lake has a good crappie population and is a great place to add on a crappie trip. With more than 3,000 acres the lake has plenty of room to roam. A simple twistertail grub is always a go-to bait for crappie. For those that love to cast a jig, Taylorsville Lake has plenty of cover, including standing timber.