Cold air poured into Kentucky over the past weekend and dropped overnight low temperatures below freezing across much of the state.
The cool down didn’t cool off the deer hunting. It’s been hot since early September.
“Good numbers of deer across the state coupled with a cool and wet summer and sub-par mast production means we are ripe for some high harvest numbers,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The early returns support his assertion.
Among the highlights: archery hunters established a new monthly harvest record by taking 6,650 deer in September; a record 5,558 deer were telechecked during the statewide youth firearms weekend earlier this month; and the harvest of 8,262 deer during the October muzzleloader weekend was the second highest on record.
By Monday morning, hunters had reported taking more than 24,000 deer.
“I’ve seen a lot of pictures and heard about a lot of nice deer, and that’s what you expect when you have a healthy herd,” Jenkins said. “I fully expect the season to get better and better as far as activity goes.”
The early crossbow and early muzzleloader deer seasons ended this past Sunday, but archery deer season remains open, and the modern gun deer season is less than a month away. Last year, hunters posted Kentucky’s second highest harvest total on record with modern gun season accounting for 74 percent of the 138,899 deer taken overall.
The 2013-14 harvest of 144,409 deer stands as the record. As was the case that season, there are fewer acorns this year. The statewide mast survey rates white oak acorn production as poor with 26 percent of white oak trees bearing mast while acorn production from red oaks rates average.
With fewer acorns available, deer must search harder to find food. The edges of cultivated fields will be but one place to focus.
“In my opinion, we’ll do really well because our hunters like to hunt food sources and plant food plots,” Jenkins said. “If hunters were able to get their food plots in and it rained a little bit, those should be green and growing and provide fantastic hunting spots for the rest of the season. Key on the food sources, except during the rut, and then just be out there.”
The peak of the fall breeding period generally occurs in mid November. Due to calendar shift, Kentucky’s modern gun deer season opens as late as it can this year. By regulation, it starts on the second Saturday in November and runs for 16 consecutive days in Zones 1 and 2 and for 10 consecutive days in Zones 3 and 4. This year, the statewide modern gun season opens Nov. 14. Crossbow season reopens the same day while the nine-day late muzzleloader season comes in Dec. 12.
“Usually the peak of the rut is right around the 14th,” Jenkins said. “Your peak chase, your peak activity and movement is a little before that. So our modern gun hunters are going to be at that later end of the rut and should expect rut activity to be less than in previous years. Bow hunters should really enjoy the first weeks of November.”
So far, the weather has cooperated for hunters. If it continues to do so, Jenkins expects good results. He advises hunters to use this time during the October lull to make final preparations.
“It’s a good time to get out and do some scouting,” Jenkins said. “If you’ve not been out, check your tree stands and make sure everything is securely fastened. Clear your shooting lanes. Check your ratchet straps. Do those things now so you’re not in there disturbing the deer during the busy time.”
For more information about Kentucky’s deer season, including season dates, regulations and public hunting areas, consult the Hunting and Trapping Guide. It’s available on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov and wherever licenses are sold.
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 Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.