Kentucky Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
Kentucky deer hunters, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and many others who follow deer hunting were quite impressed by the record deer harvest that occurred two years ago during the 2012-13 hunting season. Certainly, that was impressive. But the encore was even better. Last season, the Kentucky deer harvest topped the year before to set another record two years in a row.
There were a total of 131,395 deer taken in the 2012-13 to set the new harvest record. Last season, Kentucky hunters shattered that record by taking 144,409 deer. The past few seasons have most definitely been impressive.
Dr. Tina Brunjes, the KDFWR's deer and elk program manager for the past eight years, said the record harvest last season was driven primarily by the blockbuster firearms season hunters enjoyed. Some 104,621 deer were taken during that season. But that wasn't all.
"Our September archery season was the fifth straight record harvest for September archery," Brunjes said, "so it was impressive all around. Though not all-time records, our youth and muzzleloader seasons were above average also."
There are numerous factors that play a part in such a successful season. A strong deer herd, now numbered at an estimated 800,000 animals, is a big part of the equation, but environmental factors also contribute.
Brunjes said the most likely reasons for the record were a poor mast crop (downright failure in a lot of areas) statewide; good rainfall statewide throughout the growing season (which meant plenty of food plots and green forage out in the open where hunters have a better chance of killing deer) and decent weather on the opening weekends of the hunting season segments.
When asked for an overview of the health and status of Kentucky's deer herd, Brunjes had mostly all good news.
"We have a lot of deer, as evidenced by record harvests the last two years and steady increased harvest for the past four," Brunjes said. "We know we don't have substantially more hunters, because license sales are not increasing at the same rate as harvest, and the number of deer killed per successful hunter — 1.3 — remains unchanged. So we know our herd is doing well across most of the state. We are still concerned that numbers are too high in northern Kentucky (hence the unlimited bag for does), and we are doing research now in southeastern Kentucky to try and determine why those herd numbers seem to be stagnant."
The research Brunjes pointed to is a two-year study started this year in southeastern Kentucky counties to assess the reproduction and survival rate of deer. A decade or so ago, this part of the state held deer numbers in excess of 10 deer per square mile, but those numbers have been declining since 2004. The study will hopefully find answers for the decline and possible solutions.
Graduate students from the University of Kentucky will be studying adult does, birthing rates and fawn survival. They also want to look at causes for mortality including possible predation, hunting pressure or habitat deficiencies. Brunjes said the students hope to find out how long does live in that part of the state, how many fawns they produce, and the mortality factors involved. She added, "We hope to use the project findings to validate our deer population models and determine if further harvest restrictions are needed."
Although that portion of Kentucky's deer herd stands a bit below the curve overall, the state deer herd is in really great condition and things are shaping up for another stellar deer-hunting season in the Bluegrass State.
"We still are trying to reduce deer numbers in our northern Kentucky Zone 1 counties. If we can do that," Brunjes said, "and increase numbers a bit in the mountains, while keeping the overall state number around 800,000 (animals) and have as much opportunity in each county as the herd can support, I think the 'good ol' days' of deer hunting we currently have can continue indefinitely."
Entering a new deer season always brings a lot of excitement and anticipation for hunters. Hopes are high for filling that deer tag, no matter whether the goal is one for the wall or meat for the freezer. To fuel the fire, here is a look at what to expect in each of our five regions this season.
The Bluegrass region of Kentucky saw, by far, the largest deer harvest last season — a total take of 46,562 deer. That was a nice jump from the 41,792 deer taken in the region in the previous season.
"Although their geographic size plays some role in the relative harvest numbers for each region, Bluegrass stands out for having so many more deer taken — more than northeast and southeast combined," Brunjes said. "The success in the Bluegrass region is due to both the relative abundance of deer, as any motorist driving from Louisville to Lexington to Cincinnati can attest, and the abundance of hunters, due to those same three metro areas, who can take advantage of the longer 16-day gun season and the most liberal doe harvest regulations in our Zone 1."
A total of 22 counties in the Bluegrass Region saw more than 1,000 deer harvested, and eight topped 2,000 deer harvested. Hunters in Pendleton County took a very impressive 3,464 deer, with the harvest ratio virtually even at 1,711 males and 1,753 females.
Owen County, where deer hunters killed 4,069 deer, was even more impressive. It was the only county in the state to top 4,000 animals and one of only three counties, along with the aforementioned Pendleton County, to break the 3,000 mark.
It is apparent this region offers a lot of opportunity for hunters, and success is widely scattered. However, the counties with the highest harvests obviously produce the most results. Other counties in the region with impressive totals were Shelby (2,775), Grant (2,407), Anderson (2,324), Henry (2,288), Boone (2,251) and Nelson (2,169).
Deer harvest on public land in the region was not quite as impressive. There were a total of 458 deer taken on public land with the bulk of the total coming from just three properties. Taylorsville Lake Wildlife Management Area led the way with a harvest of 114 deer. Following close were Veterans Memorial WMA (109) and Kentucky River WMA (97).
GREEN RIVER REGION
The Green River region holds last year's second best deer harvest in Kentucky, with a total take of 35,148 deer. That figure was up nearly 4,000 deer from the season before. Six counties topped 2,000 deer harvested, and 18 broke the 1,000 deer mark. Hopkins County led the way with 2,542 deer taken followed by Hardin (2,470), Hart (2,384), Webster (2,228), Breckinridge (2,222) and Ohio (2,050).
"The Green River region has lower deer densities and great habitat, a mix of crops, forests, everything, and, so, has traditionally been our center of Boone and Crockett trophy production," Brunjes said. "However, as recent B&C entries show, nearly every county in Kentucky has listed a 'Booner,' and hunters really do have a chance of encountering one anywhere in Kentucky. The effects of the 2007 EHD outbreak seem to have faded, and we hope to boost some of those counties back to Zone 2. Zone 2 is kind of our 'ideal' zone — where good habitat and good numbers allow us to offer 16 days of gun season and fairly liberal doe kill, but the herds have not overshot desired densities and, so, don't need unlimited doe harvest limits."
The Green River region boasted the second highest harvest for public land deer with a total of 1,343. That number was spearheaded by 605 deer being taken on the Peabody WMA. The Peabody property recorded the second highest total of any public land in the state.
Other public lands in the Green River region with good results were Barren River Lake WMA (112) and Big Rivers WMA and State Forest (101).
Brunjes said hunters in the Purchase region don't kill the total numbers of deer taken by hunters in Bluegrass region, despite it also being Zone 1.
"This is because the deer densities out there are about half or less of what we see in the Bluegrass," she explained. "While those fertile croplands of corn and soybeans make fantastic deer food, there is less cover and high harvest pressure out there. Farmers there do not want to see the 50-plus deer per square mile densities that people in the Bluegrass region tolerate."
Deer hunters in Crittenden County topped the region's county-by-county harvest, with more than 3,000 deer killed. Crittenden County hunters tagged a total of 3,033 deer. Not far behind was Christian County (2,910) and Graves County (2,893). From there, the numbers fall noticeably. Trigg County took 1,847 deer last season. The remaining counties in the region with a harvest of more than 1,000 deer were Livingston (1,737), Caldwell (1,644), Calloway (1,531) and Marshall (1,141).
The Purchase region did have a couple of public-land hunting properties with decent harvest results. Leading the pack, of course, was Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Hunters there tagged an impressive 231 deer last season. The total included 129 bucks and 102 does. Also posting good numbers was Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge (127), Lake Barkley WMA (80) and Boatwright WMA (60).
Looking into the deer harvest in eastern Kentucky looks a lot different than it does in the other two-thirds of Kentucky. The overall numbers are good, and there are sections with really good success, but there are also some areas with not so good hunting.
"The mountain counties of southeast and northeast Kentucky drive the lower deer harvest numbers in those two regions, due to most of the counties being Zone 4," Brunjes pointed out. "Those counties are below historical higher averages, and so, we limit doe kill to allow for growth, which has, so far, had mixed results. The western portions of those regions are Zone 3, and those counties have higher deer numbers and good quality, which we want to maintain — thus, the conservative season restrictions. Many eastern Kentucky counties are largely mature forest and can't produce the kinds of densities central and western Kentucky can."
Hunters tagged a total of 20,993 deer in the Northeast region last season, but there was a difference between the top reporting county and the last. Bracken County took the top spot with a total harvest of 2,084 deer. It was the only county in the region to break the 2,000 deer mark. In contrast, the lowest harvest number in the region was tallied in Martin County, where deer hunters killed only 252 deer.
Other counties posted total deer kills of more than 1,000 animals: Carter (1,819), Lawrence (1,756), Lewis (1,706), Greenup (1,422) and Morgan (1,232). Pike, Boyd, Mason and Johnson counties more than 1,000.
Public-land deer hunting in the region was not quite as good as many of the state's other public areas. Topping the list in the Northeast region was Clay WMA, with a harvest of 71 deer last season. Next best was Yatesville Lake WMA (50). Hunters took an additional 25 deer taken on Yatesville Lake State Park and Lawrence County Recreation Area. Hunters tagged 45 deer at Fishtrap Lake WMA.
The Southeast region of Kentucky holds some of the lowest deer densities in the state. That said, there are some locations where hunters can still have a reasonable chance of success. Overall, the region's numbers were not that bad, but keep in mind the region is quite large, too.
Hunters took a total of 20,366 deer in the Southeast region last year, which was very close to the total taken in the Northeast region. However, individual counties do not produce as well here as elsewhere in the state or even in the Northeast region, for that matter.
Deer hunters in only three counties southeast counties collectively tagged more than 1,000 deer. Pulaski County topped the list, with 1,506 deer. Close behind was Green County (1,420) and Casey County (1,064). Rounding out the top 10 were Adair (977), Lincoln (953), Taylor (887), Clay (860), Knott (860), Wayne (858) and Knox (851) counties.
One of the bright spots for deer hunters in eastern Kentucky, however, is Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF). Stretching across more than 700,000 acres, the DBNF provides a lot of hunting opportunities in the eastern part of the state and always puts up impressive harvest numbers, due, in part, to its size.
Hunters tagged a total of 1,099 deer on the DBNF last season, which gave the DBNF the highest harvest total for public-land tracts in the state, outdistancing Peabody WMA by nearly 500 deer. Another 106 deer were taken on Boone Forestlands WMA. Lake Cumberland WMA gave up 87 deer last season. Other public properties with good results were Hensley-Pine Mountain WMA (58), Green River Lake WMA (55) and the ICG Hunting Access Area (51).
The 2013-14 deer season in Kentucky was a big show. Will Kentucky hunters score big again this year? Perhaps, everything is pointing their way for another banner season.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'œgood luck tree.'
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell\'s giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands\' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it\'s just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost\'s wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail\'s Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'œchip-shot.' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it\'s a good thing he didn\'t.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson\'s persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp\'s Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'œI've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to.'
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran\'s Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who\'d spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won\'t forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'œBig Daddy' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he\'d squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he\'d hit, but couldn\'t find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand.'