As the carefree days of summer give way to the first days of September, it’s finally starting to feel like fall in Kentucky.
A cold front promised to break the stranglehold of heat and humidity just as wingshooters returned to dove fields for the traditional Sept. 1 season opener.
The quota hunt application period in Kentucky also coincides with September’s arrival. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources administers quota hunts across the state for deer, pheasant, quail, upland birds and waterfowl. Throughout September, hunters can apply for these opportunities online at fw.ky.gov or by calling 1-877-598-2401. The minimum charge to apply is $3.
“People should consider applying to be able to hunt new areas that they’ve never hunted before,” said Chris Garland, assistant wildlife division director with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They’re also great for people who don’t have access to private lands to hunt.
“Every year you’ll see pictures of some pretty nice deer taken during quota hunts. They’re not behind every tree by any means but there are some very good deer on public lands.”
There are 30 quota deer hunts scheduled and each has a set number of available slots. A handful of hunts are set aside for mobility-impaired hunters. Others are limited to antlerless deer or bucks with a 15-inch minimum outside antler spread.
For the first time, drawn hunters will be allowed to bring one non-hunting person along on their quota deer hunt. That person must check in and check out with the drawn hunter and abide by hunter orange requirements.
There is a new opportunity this year with an archery and crossbow-only quota hunt on Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and State Forest in Crittenden and Union counties. The hunt is capped at 130 hunters. It starts the Monday following the October youth-only firearms season, closes for the two-day firearms quota hunt that starts the first Saturday in November, then reopens and continues through November 30. The archery and crossbow seasons will be open under statewide regulations before and after the quota hunt period.
Department staff recommended this new kind of quota hunt as a way to rein in harvest on an area that has become a popular destination for hunters.
“The numbers were telling us there was starting to be a negative impact on the herd,” Garland said. “This is our effort to maintain the quality of the herd while still allowing as much access as we can. It’s a new approach and we’re hopeful it will be successful.”
Waterfowl quota hunts are on Ballard WMA and Sloughs WMA roughly from around Thanksgiving into January. This year, the application process will include a new choice that mirrors the “no hunt” option afforded deer hunters. It works this way: if a waterfowl hunter cannot hunt this season, they can still put in for a quota hunt and maintain their preference points without the chance of being drawn. The $3 application fee still applies. Hunters forfeit any accumulated preference points if they do not apply or are ineligible to apply for a quota hunt or the “no hunt” option.
“There are some years where maybe you have a new baby coming or maybe you have a big vacation planned, and it’s bad to lose your preference points because of that big life event,” said John Brunjes, migratory bird coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “This way, you get a chance to keep them and go hunting the following year.”
Starting this year, the Crenshaw and Duncan tracts on the Sauerheber Unit of Sloughs WMA will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to improve the quality of quota waterfowl hunts.
“It could be the best place in the world, but when you have that kind of pressure the ducks never have a chance to sit in there and rest and relax or learn that there are good resources in there. That pressure keeps them out,” Brunjes said. “So we went before the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission and asked if we could close it two days a week like we do at Ballard to allow birds to come in there and rest, discover there are food sources and hopefully provide an increased quality of hunt. We’ve reduced opportunity but hopefully we’ve increased quality.”
Hunters applying for a quota waterfowl hunt at Sloughs WMA also will be asked if they are open to accepting a blind that requires boat access. One new blind on the area will be accessible only by boat.
A change to note for Ballard: it will be closed to hunting Christmas Eve to allow WMA staff the opportunity to travel out of town to family holiday events. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are paid holidays for state employees.
“We thought it was important for them to have that extra time with their families,” Brunjes said.
Pheasant quota hunts are scheduled Nov. 18, 19 and 20 on Green River Lake WMA, Dec. 2, 3 and 4 on Clay WMA and Dec. 9, 10 and 11, 2016 on Yellowbank WMA. Quail quota hunts on Peabody WMA are scheduled Nov. 29, and Dec. 20, 2016 and Jan. 7, Jan. 14 and Jan. 24, 2017. Clay WMA will host upland bird quota hunts on Nov. 9, Nov. 20, Dec. 17 and Dec. 27, 2016. Hunters may take bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse and woodcock during upland bird quota hunts when the seasons for all three species are open. Woodcock season closes Dec. 7.
Complete dates for all quota hunts appear on the online application and through the “Quota Hunts” page on the department’s website. When the drawing is completed, results will be posted on the department’s website, typically in early October. Those without internet access may also call 1-800-858-1549 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern time) and provide their confirmation number, order number or Social Security number to find out if they were drawn.
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.