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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky deer harvest strong heading into final weekend of modern gun season

The deer harvest is strong heading into the final weekend of modern gun season, the highlight of Kentucky’s 2019-20 hunting season for white-tailed deer.

Here’s some news and observations:

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• The season opened with a bang, literally, as hunters checked in 35,165 deer bagged during the weekend of November 9-10.

“Overall, modern gun season is shaping up to be great,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). “As of today (November 18), 83,162 have been telechecked and that currently puts us at the third highest harvest for nine days into (gun) season. The 10-year average is 77,398 deer.”

• A new harvest record was established during the second weekend of modern gun season, November 16-17.

With the onset of cold weather and measurable snow earlier last week, rutting bucks were paired up with does. “Hunting picked up and we had a banner second weekend,” said Jenkins. Hunters bagged 19,244 deer, “the highest second-weekend harvest ever. There was a big harvest on Saturday.”

The 10-year harvest average for the second weekend of modern gun season is 14,744 deer.

• Kentucky’s 16-day modern gun season ends statewide on Sunday, November 24. Typically, on average, about three-quarters of the total deer harvest comes during the modern gun season. “If we have good weather on the weekends (of gun season), we get big kills,” said Jenkins.

• Overall, at this point in the season (as of November 18), hunters have checked in 110,128 deer, and the season’s overall harvest total has a good chance of being one of the best ever if favorable hunting weather holds.

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Kentucky’s deer harvest has climbed steadily, in an undulating, upward curve, over the past 20 years.

In 1999, the total deer harvest was 95,229, and 15 years ago hunters bagged 124,752 whitetails.

In the past decade, the deer harvest has increased by 28.32 percent, from 113,584 in 2009 to 145,753 in 2018.

Last season’s deer harvest in Kentucky was the second-highest on record.

• Weather has had a big impact on this season’s deer harvest.

Just consider that about six weeks after record heat in September, central Kentucky experienced its first measurable snowfall on November 11, accompanied by lows and wind chills in the 20s and teens.

Archery season opened on September 7, and during the first week of hunting, temperatures spiked into the mid-to-upper 90s, with 18 of 30 days in September at 90 degrees or hotter, reported at the weather station at Lexington’s Blue Grass Field.

The deer harvest by archers plummeted to 4,688, a 10-year low for the month of September.

October started out unseasonably warm too but then moderated with rains and cooler temperatures. The deer harvest jumped to 17,100, the third-highest total in the past 10 Octobers. “We had a record kill during the youth weekend, but the kill was below average during the early muzzleloader season because of warm weather,” said Jenkins.

• Kentucky’s deer herd is large, and populations in some counties are at an all-time high.

Eighty-five of the state’s 120 counties now have a Zone 1 or Zone 2 status. That’s nearly three-quarters of the state.

There are a record number of counties at or above the target density for deer. Jenkins said the deer management goal is to get every county down to a Zone 2 or a Zone 3 status.

Hunters are urged to take antlerless deer, to help slow herd growth. (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

• The extension of the crossbow season is likely to have a long-term impact on the archery deer harvest.

This year, for the first time, the crossbow season for deer will be just two weeks shorter than the archery season. Crossbow season opened the third Saturday in September (September 21) and will close the third Monday in January (January 20).

Youths under the age of 16 can now hunt with a crossbow during the entire archery season.

Since the introduction of the crossbow season for deer in Kentucky in 2004, the deer harvest has grown incrementally. From 2004 to 2018, the deer harvest by crossbow hunters increased from 588 to 4,705.

It may take years before the impact of crossbow hunting is fully realized.

“We expect to see a decline in the traditional archery harvest and an increase in the harvest by crossbow hunters, as more hunters put down their traditional bows and take up crossbows,” said Jenkins. “But we expect the total archery harvest to remain about the same over time.”

The decision to extend crossbow season was made in part to increase hunter opportunity, especially in the suburban/rural interface where deer populations are dense, and firearms hunting is not possible for safety reasons.

Also, as the archery hunting population ages, shoulder problems, especially rotator cuff issues, cause many bow hunters to contemplate “retirement.” Hunting with crossbows is an alternative that keeps them in the game.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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