The days are growing shorter and cooler temperatures are starting to show up in extended forecasts.
The transition to fall is underway.
For Kentucky hunters, it started weeks ago with the opening of early fall squirrel season. Labor Day ushered in the start of dove season, and the onrush of hunting opportunities continues this weekend.
Archery deer and wild turkey seasons open statewide on Sat., Sept. 6 and run through Jan. 19, 2015.
The past two deer seasons produced new overall harvest records in Kentucky, and bowhunters helped set the pace for both. September saw record deer harvests the past three seasons.
“Given good weather conditions we’re on track for a similar season,” said Karen Waldrop, deputy commissioner with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The deer herd remains in fine shape after a 2013-14 season that saw hunters harvest a record 144,409 animals, and conditions have been favorable for fawn survival.
“I still think if hunters want to get a deer they can get one,” said David Yancy, deer biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Turkeys provide another fall hunting opportunity.
A good year of poult production could mean more young turkeys available to hunters, and should lead to improved hunting next spring.
“Hopefully that increase in production will in turn help boost our fall harvest this year,” said Steven Dobey, wild turkey biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Two variables – the weather and the mast crop - could have big impacts.
Biologists wrapped up their annual mast survey this week and preliminary reports indicate red and white oaks will be better than last year. Hickory nut production appears spotty while American beech nut production generally seems to be poor around the state.
“It looks like we’re going to have an excellent crop of red oak acorns this year,” said Ben Robinson, small game biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “White oaks look to be good as well, but not to the level of red oaks.”
Red and white oak acorns are valued as food sources by deer, turkey and other forest animals.
If this turns out to be a good year for white oaks, key on those because deer prefer them over the bitterer red oak acorns, Yancy said. One way to distinguish a red oak from a white oak is by looking at its leaves. Red oak leaves have pointed lobes while white oaks have rounded lobes.
“You need to be doing the legwork to figure out what the deer are using,” Yancy said. “Where are the acorn-bearing oaks?”
Wild turkeys aren’t as finicky about hard mast, Dobey said, but they will concentrate around acorn-bearing oaks.
“To improve your success in the fall go out and do some preseason or in-season scouting to identify where the natural foods are,” he said. “If the turkeys are there, position yourself in the landscape to try to intersect those birds as they’re moving from roosting to feeding areas.”
Last season’s fall turkey harvest was down 39 percent, a drop attributed to extensive rainfall during major hunting timeframes. The two shotgun seasons have accounted for 77 percent of the entire fall turkey harvest over the past decade, Dobey said.
“In years where we have really abundant mast production, our deer and turkey harvests typically decline,” he said. “That’s because they don’t have to wander. When they wander, they encounter hunters. If there’s really good acorn production, head to the woods and find the food there. In doing so, hunters can increase their success in years of above average acorn production.”
For more information about the deer and fall turkey seasons, including legal equipment and bag limits, consult the 2014-15 Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide. It is available online at fw.ky.gov or wherever licenses are sold.
Editor’s Note: Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.