The end of summer signals cold weather fronts and frosty mornings, but many of Kentucky’s hunters embrace the change in season as it represents the arrival of deer hunting.
Bringing in more than $550 million of total economic benefit annually, deer hunting in Kentucky is a hearty contribution to the commonwealth’s tourism industry. About 300,000 Kentuckians hunt deer each year, though Kentucky’s deer herd also draws thousands of out-of-state hunters throughout the different seasons. As well as benefiting the state’s economy, hunting revenue supports natural resource conservation.
This year, the state’s modern gun deer hunting season opens statewide Nov. 13 and continues through Nov. 28.
Modern gun season typically produces 60-70% of Kentucky’s total deer harvest each year, said deer biologist Kyle Sams of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Beginning mid-November, Kentucky’s 16-day season is designed to coincide with the peak of fall breeding, known as the rut, when deer are more active than usual. Deer also become more active and travel farther distances as food sources grow scarcer.
The 2021 statewide mast production, or the amount of acorns and nuts produced by Kentucky’s hardwood trees (white oak, red oak, hickory and beech), received an average rating.
“This time of year, deer move to seek out high-quality forage,” Sams said. “Earlier in the season, deer are especially drawn to the white oak acorn that can be abundant in September and October. Later, hunters should focus on any red oak acorns as well as any other food source available, especially when the temperatures drop.”
John Hast, acting Deer and Elk Program coordinator for the department, noted that local factors also affect harvest results.
“How and where you hunt any time in the season should be influenced by the mast crop in your local area, so you’ll want to go scouting to see what food source the deer are eating,” he said.
Kentucky’s deer hunting began with the start of archery season on Sept. 4. Bowhunters can hunt through Jan. 17, 2022. Kentucky also offers crossbow, muzzleloader and youth seasons, in addition to modern gun and archery seasons.
“We had a really strong September harvest — above the 10-year average — but October harvest numbers were below average, partly due to the warmer weather we had,” Sams said.
Sams encourages anyone looking for hunting spots to visit Kentucky’s public lands, including more than 1-million acres available for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.
“Many of our Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) allow hunting with archery equipment at any point throughout the season,” Sams said. “Most modern gun opportunities on WMAs are rifle quota hunts held during the first weekend in November, but I would encourage hunters to consult the Public Hunting Areas Quick Reference in the fall hunting and trapping guide for areas where hunting with modern firearms is allowed during the regular gun season.”
Due to the detection of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Tennessee near the Kentucky state border, hunters should be aware of special hunting regulations that apply to all deer hunting in the counties of Fulton, Hickman, Graves, Marshall and Calloway (the CWD Surveillance Zone), regardless of license exemption status or method of take.
Special regulation changes within the Surveillance Zone include:
Mandatory CWD Check Stations within these five counties during modern gun season (Nov. 13-28) and late muzzleloader season (Dec. 11-19). All deer harvested during modern gun or muzzleloader seasons must be taken to a check station, regardless of method of take or license exemption status.
No baiting/feeding of deer.
Mandatory use of carcass tag. Any deer carcass being moved within or through the surveillance zone must have a carcass tag visible from the outside with hunter/possessor information legibly shown.
Restricted carcass transportation. De-boned meat, antlers, antlers attached to a clean skull plate, a clean skull, clean teeth, hides and finished taxidermy products may be taken out of the Surveillance Zone. Carcasses of deer or elk harvested elsewhere in Kentucky may be transported into the surveillance zone.
Deer hunters in the Surveillance Zone should incorporate these special regulations into their plans ahead of time. To find a CWD Check Station location or to view detailed CWD Surveillance Zone regulations, FAQs and current updates on the department’s CWD prevention efforts, visit fw.ky.gov/cwd.
The proper handling of high-risk parts (head, spinal column) of deer harvested inside the CWD Surveillance Zone is vital. In addition to wearing rubber gloves, hunters should also consider bringing spare field dressing equipment for butchering and deboning to avoid cross-contamination in case a harvested deer tested positive for CWD.
“If you harvest a doe and do not want to keep the head, simply remove the head and bring it to a check station,” Hast said. “For bucks, bring the head or the entire deer — the department will pull a tissue sample and then give you back the head. For bucks going to a taxidermist, we will tag the head and collect the taxidermist information. Department staff will follow up with that taxidermist after they have skinned the head.”
Anyone deer hunting outside the CWD Surveillance Zone may contribute samples for testing at a Deer Sample Collection Station.
By participating, hunters will learn the age of their harvested deer and help Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s efforts to monitor the health of the state’s deer and elk herds. Results may take several weeks and will be available through an online lookup system.
As a safety reminder, all hunters must wear a blaze orange hat plus a vest or jacket during firearms deer seasons. Also, hunters should always be certain of their target and what is beyond it before ever taking a shot.
Hunters may complete hunter education requirements using in-person or online means. A free one-year exemption permit also is available on a one-time basis to new hunters who have a qualified mentor to accompany them afield.
The 2021-22 Fall Hunting Guide is now available online. To find out more about deer hunting or public hunting areas throughout Kentucky, visit fw.ky.gov.