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.