After two seasons of record harvests, Kentucky’s deer hunters kept the pace up this past season.
The 2014-15 season closed on Jan. 19 with 138,892 deer checked; the second highest total on record and third consecutive season with a harvest exceeding 130,000 deer.
“I’m happy,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “There are a lot of deer on the landscape, and we’re seeing an uptick in license sales. We’re providing hunting opportunity and our hunters are able to be successful. As an agency, that’s what we want to do.”
A record 144,409 deer were taken during the 2013-14 season when a spotty acorn crop put deer on the move.
Acorns were plentiful across much of the state this time around. Recognizing this, many hunters likely shifted their focus from field edges to the timber and travel corridors instead.
A strong opening month and an unprecedented start to the modern gun deer season emerged as key drivers.
“The three seasons where we have had our three greatest harvests have featured big Novembers,” said David Yancy, deer biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “And there’s no question September has become more important or more interesting to hunters. I think hunters have gotten to where they like it and can’t wait to get out there.”
Hunters checked 5,928 deer in September, the third highest total on record for that month. Favorable weather across the state spurred a record harvest on opening weekend of modern gun deer season.
Compared to the previous season, the modern gun harvest finished at 102,889, down less than 2 percent from the season before.
Archers bagged 18,368 deer and muzzleloader hunters 14,673. Crossbow hunters accounted for 2,962 of the harvest total.
Owen County again led the state. Hunters there checked 3,470 whitetails. Pendleton County was next with 3,305 followed by Crittenden County at 3,224, Christian County at 3,062 and Graves County at 2,964.
The majority of deer taken were male. Female deer accounted for 45.7 percent of the overall harvest.
Biologists estimated the statewide herd at 1 million deer entering this past season. Herd estimates are derived through computer modeling that takes into account harvest and age structure data.
Looking ahead, the prospects are promising for a strong 2015-16 season.
“We really had a more pronounced December and January rut,” Jenkins said. “Those late ruts are usually an indicator of herd health. I heard a lot of people talking about fawns cycling in January. That’s strictly related to health; the fact that they’re good, fat and capable of doing that. More than likely, they will have a fawn, and that equates to more fawns on the landscape this spring which equates to more hunting opportunity next season.”
The Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide annually features a list of trophy bucks harvested the previous season that met qualifications for entry into the Boone and Crockett Club’s record books. A buck must net score 160 or higher typical or 185 or higher non-typical, as determined by the Boone and Crockett scoring system.
Hunters who want their trophy included in the list should send a non-returnable photo, copies of the completed and signed score sheets, and include the county in which the deer was taken and the equipment used to harvest the deer to: Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide, #1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601 by May 1, 2015. The same information may also be submitted electronically by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our Boone and Crockett submission numbers have been high over the past five years,” Jenkins said. “That’s a good indicator of health and herd quality.”
Editor’s Note: Author 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 Kelly and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.