Best Big Buck States for 2014: Kentucky
October 31, 2014
Deer hunters from Kentucky had another banner year last season. Not only was hunting great overall, but those seeking the deer of a lifetime also enjoyed a spectacular year.
Dr. Tina Brunjes, formerly with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), said many times that the good old days of deer hunting are right now for Kentucky hunters. Who could argue the point given the incredible hunting success of the last few years?
Last season was another record year, the second in as many seasons. Hunters took more than 144,000 deer during the 2013-14 season, shattering the record set the previous season by more than 13,000 deer. The record was helped by excellent weather conditions during peak hunting times, but it definitely leaves one to wonder what will unfold this season.
While the number of trophy bucks taken in a single season in Kentucky was not broken last year, trophy deer hunters in the Bluegrass State certainly had no reason to complain. In fact, KDFWR Deer Biologist David Yancy's words were spot-on prophetic. Yancy said, "As far as predictions for our 2013-14 deer season, I don't know, but I'd say another 40 to 50 Boone and Crockett trophies will be bagged and that they'll come from across all five regions of Kentucky."
All five regions did produce trophies last season and the figure predicted by the biologist was quite insightful. So far there has been a total of 43 Boone and Crockett bucks turned in to the KDFWR for the agency's annual trophy deer list.
There were at least three others scored and not officially submitted to the KDFWR and each year there are always deer that are either not officially scored or are simply not submitted by the hunter or scorer. Regardless, it was definitely another stellar year for trophy bucks in the Bluegrass State.
The trophies taken last year were widely scattered and were almost spread as far east and west as one can go in the Bluegrass State, with a booner taken in Fulton County, which is the furthermost county in southwestern Kentucky. The farthest east a buck was taken on the trophy list was Carter County in northeastern Kentucky.
The state has received a lot of notoriety the past few years for the increase in the number of trophy bucks being tagged here by deer hunters. Television shows, magazines, the Quality Deer Management Association and many others have all taken notice. But why has there been the big surge in trophy bucks of late? KDFWR Wildlife Biologist Gabe Jenkins attributes it to a perfect storm of good things melded together.
"In my opinion, it's a variety of factors that are driving this boom," said Jenkins. "Our hunters do a fantastic job on harvesting and managing the does. On top of that we have seen a decline in the number of yearling bucks in the harvest, indicating that our hunters are letting those young bucks walk, which can allow them to mature into big and older deer.
"On top of that we have had a string of good springs and easy winters, except for this winter, which is conducive for a higher survival rate and healthier deer going into the two stressful nutritional time periods in a season (late winter and late summer). Also, I think we also have seen a complete rebound from the bad EHD outbreak in 2007. We have seen the population recover back up to that level and in many places exceed population levels prior to '07."
Certainly, Kentucky deer hunters in general have been having great success, but where are the trophies coming from specifically? Actually they have been coming from just about every nook and cranny in the state. There are probably only about three counties in the entire state that have not produced a Boone and Crockett buck.
"Big deer have been coming all across the state," said Jenkins. "I suggest that it's an indicator of a very balanced and healthy herd across the state. The same reasons why we have seen an increase in B&C numbers indicate why they are coming from across the state."
Hunters, of course, like details. They want to know who, where and how, along with what to expect this season. With that in mind, here is a look at each of Kentucky's five regions, the big deer each have given up recently and perhaps a glimpse of what to anticipate for this season.
Hunters tagged a total of 12 B&C bucks in the Bluegrass Region, which was down from the 19 taken in the region the year before. The number one typical and the numbers one and two non-typical bucks were taken in this region during the 2012-13 season, but the highest scoring buck from last season was the number two typical for the year.
Oldham County produced the highest ranked buck from this region last year as well. Jean L. Marquis downed a massive buck with a firearm, scoring 179 3/8 B&C. It placed second for typical last season. Amanda Hombirg took the third place typical, scoring 176 5/8, with a muzzleloader in Scott County. Owen and Jessamine counties also yielded top-10 typical bucks. Other counties producing at least one trophy were Henry, Campbell, Shelby, Trimble and Franklin. Campbell County was the only county to produce two trophies.
One buck on the list will not actually get recognized by B&C because the organization does not accept velvet bucks in their record book. However, the Pope and Young Club does, provided the animal is taken with archery gear. Nicholas Brown arrowed a huge typical buck early last season in Campbell County scoring 171.
The largest non-typical in the region was taken by Danny Moore in Bullitt County with a gun during a special mobility-impaired hunt at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. The Moore buck landed at number five on the non-typical list. The only other non-typical buck on the list from the Bluegrass Region was killed by Mary Lou Pollett in Jefferson County, and scored 191 6/8.
GREEN RIVER REGION
This was the second best region last year as far as numbers of trophies produced. There were a total of 11 B&C bucks taken in the Green River Region with the most impressive being in the non-typical category. The top four non-typical bucks, as well as the numbers six and nine, were tagged in this region.
Phillip K. Robertson's buck netted 223 2/8. Not far behind though, was a monster taken by David Howard scoring 221 7/8. The Howard buck not only landed in the number two spot for best non-typical last year, but it set the new state record for best Pope and Young. Both of the top two bucks came from Todd County.
Junior Key took one in Monroe County that scored 219 7/8, while Larry Mangin's Meade County buck scored 215 4/8. The sixth best non-typical came from Henderson County. Hardin and Butler counties also gave up booner bucks last season.
Over on the typical list, Ohio County produced two B&C bucks, with one of them making it in the top 10. Bradley J. Mills harvested a buck scoring 169 2/8 in the county. Logan and Hardin counties each added one buck to the typical list.
A lot of trophy bucks obviously come from private lands with less hunting pressure, but not always. Kentucky has some really good public land areas where hunters have a reasonable chance at bagging a wallhanger. In this region, a good example is the Fort Knox Military Reservation.
The Fort Knox property has a reputation for great deer hunting and steadily producing B&C trophies. Last season, hunters tagged two booners there. Keith Major took a big non-typical with a gun scoring 193 1/8 and Robbie Ammons arrowed a terrific typical that scored 163 4/8. Ammons has taken more than 20 bucks measuring over 150, with many of them coming from Fort Knox. He and his brother Chris both took trophy bucks with bows on Knox a couple seasons ago.
Hunters took a total of nine trophy bucks in this region last season. That was almost double the total of five taken there last season, but still fell short of the 11 taken in the region during the 2011-12 season. The total from last year is still a little above the recent average, not counting the record-setting trophy buck season in 2011.
The trophies were scattered over six different counties, with three counties producing two bucks each and three more counties producing one trophy. Mason, Lewis and Fleming counties produced the doubles while Bath, Robertson and Carter were the others with booners.
Vernon Shuler took the highest scoring typical with a Mason County buck that tallied 170 6/8. It landed at number nine on the list. Steven A. Howard added one from Lewis County and Nic De Wet took a trophy in Bath County.
There were twice as many non-typical bucks taken in the Northeast Region. Numbers seven and eight on the list last year came from Fleming County; Christopher Y. Graves took one scoring 198 5/8 and Dennis Nickell's buck scored 195 6/8. Both were taken with modern firearms. Robertson County gave up a muzzleloader trophy to Roger L. Poe, Jr. that scored 188 5/8, while three other B&C non-typical bucks were taken in Carter, Lewis and Mason counties.
Many people often think of western Kentucky as the place for trophy bucks. However, the numbers of trophies taken per capita is actually lower than other areas of the state. There is a very high number of deer in the region, but there is also a very high number of hunters. Its a Zone 1 designation, therefore it has an abundance of deer and the KDFWR is looking to curtail numbers.
Even with all the hunting pressure, the over-abundance of deer allows some of the bucks to slip from the 3.5-year-old-and-under category into the trophy stages of growth. This leads to a few B&C bucks popping up from the region each year. Last season, there were six booners taken in the region, which was up a bit from the average of the past few seasons. There were four taken in 2012, six in 2011, five in 2010 but only one in 2009.
Crittenden County was the hotspot last season as it gave up the best-scoring typical and non-typical bucks from the region and was the only county to yield more than one trophy deer. Gabe Jenkins took the best typical, a wide-racked giant scoring 172 5/8. It was taken on public ground at the recently acquired and subsequently expanded Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area and State Forest.
The biggest non-typical scored 192 3/8 and was taken by Steve Nix. One other non-typical was taken in the region from Christian County. The other three trophies from the region were typical and came from the counties of Trigg, Fulton and Lyon.
This region produced only five B&C trophies last year, which is a bit disappointing considering it dropped from the seven taken there in 2012. In the record year of 2011, there were 14 trophies taken in the region. This region has the lowest deer densities in the state, more restrictive hunting regulations and includes some very rugged terrain that is hard to access. These factors boost the possibility of a buck living to trophy age; it is just a matter of whether a hunter can cross paths with one at the right time.
There were only four counties in the region that gave up trophies last year. Casey County bounced up to produce two. In 2011, Casey and Whitley counties produced four B&C bucks each, but neither produced a single trophy last season. Whitley County was absent on the trophy buck list again this season.
Casey County indeed bounced back in a big way by yielding the number one typical in the entire state last season. Kenneth K. Zimmerman downed the giant first-place buck that scored 184 5/8. The other typical trophy from Casey County scored 164 4/8 and was taken by Joe Dan Thompson. Lincoln and Lee counties also gave up typical booners last year. The only non-typical from the region that was considered a monster was taken in Wayne County with archery gear. Bradford L. Southwood's deer netted 189 3/8.
"A trophy deer can come from any county on private or public land across the state," said Jenkins. "We are producing trophies statewide and in places we traditionally have never produced them. Our public lands offer good deer hunting and are managed well. Most hunters have public land that offers deer hunting within an hour of their house. It's also a reasonable thought for somebody to step foot on a WMA and have an opportunity to harvest a deer and perhaps a quality animal."
With some luck and effort, it might be your year.