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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Locked, loaded for modern gun season, the main event on deer season calendar

Kentucky’s 16-day modern gun season, the main event on the deer season calendar, opens in about three weeks, on Saturday, November 13 and continues through Sunday, November 28.

Typically, on average, about 75 percent of the total deer harvest occurs during the modern gun season, but weather and its effect on hunter participation can have a big impact on the numbers.

Last season, for example, hunters checked in 94,683 deer during modern gun season, with the sixth-highest harvest on record for opening day, but rainy, windy weather on the first and second Sundays of last season, depressed the harvest somewhat. The gun season harvest ended as 66.85 percent of the total deer season harvest.

Proper preparation greatly improves chances of success during gun season (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Hunters can’t control the weather, and this year with many businesses facing employee shortages, it may be difficult to get extra time off from work. So hunters should make sure they are prepared for the days they can hunt.

Gun season is not only the main event of deer season, but the mid-to-late November timeframe is one of the best of the season to bring home some venison.

When the calendar flips to November, the interaction between does and bucks begins to heat up as the days get shorter, and the nights cooler.

The timing of the rut, the white-tailed deer’s annual mating season, is somewhat variable.

Here in Kentucky, what some hunters call the late pre-rut, begins when bucks start actively searching for does going into estrus. This usually starts after Halloween, during the first week of November, and is a prime time for bow hunters.

The actual breeding phase of the rut begins closer to modern gun season, which opens each year on the second Saturday of the month. That’s when does pair up with bucks and the buck follows the doe wherever she goes.

Photoperiod is the main factor that determines the timing of the rut. Shorter days and longer nights trigger hormonal changes in does. Their pineal glands release melatonin, a substance that influences the release of sex hormones from the pituitary gland.

Moon phases influence deer movement, which is heightened during the rut.

During the dark moon phase, the best hunting is often early mornings. During a full moon, hunt midday. Does that have been out all night, will get restless my midday and get up to feed, triggering buck movement. During the first and last quarter moon periods, afternoon hunting is usually best.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, the three weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving offer the best deer hunting of the season, every year.

Now is the time to make a checklist and get ready.

Here are some observations and suggestions:

Sighting in your deer rifle is an important step (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

• Job number one is to get your firearm checked out.

Centerfire rifles should be cleaned regularly, especially at the end of the season, or after an extended target session.

High-quality cleaning gear and proper cleaning techniques are the best way to protect and maintain your investment.

Start with the firearm’s barrel, and work your way out to the action and stock.

Modern bolt-action rifles should always be cleaned from the breech to the muzzle.

A one-piece cleaning rod of the correct length and diameter should be used. Remove the rifle’s bolt and insert a rod guide that centers the cleaning rod in the bore. Never insert a cleaning rod from the muzzle because it will damage the barrel lands at the crown of the muzzle, affecting accuracy.

To clean the rifle’s bore, soak a bore brush in a quality bore cleaner and run it through the barrel. Then, soak a cotton patch or two, and run them through the barrel with a patch jag. Finally, run several dry patches through the bore until one comes out clean. A patch sprayed with a light lubricant for rust prevention is recommended, especially at the end of the season.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. 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.

Use only bronze bore brushes because steel brushes will damage the bore. Patch jags should be made of brass or plastic, and soft cotton cleaning patches should be of the proper diameter for the caliber.

Since many centerfire rifles shoot their tightest groups through “cold and dirty” barrels, a good pre-deer season regimen is to sight your rifle in with the load you are going to hunt with and at the distance, you are most likely to see a deer. Then, thoroughly clean the rifle’s bore. Let the rifle cool down to air temperature, then shoot one fouling shot.

When your deer shows up this season, your rifle will be ready for optimum accuracy.

• If you are a rural landowner, hunting on your own property, finish your seasonal mowing as soon as possible. Create a few wildlife openings in brushy fields adjacent to woodlands in front of your treestand or ground blind. Cut paths through high weeds and grass so that you can quietly enter and exit your hunting areas unseen when the wind is favorable in the area being hunted.

• In farm country deer are used to seeing and hearing tractors and trucks. They present no danger to deer so it is possible to scout, looking for fresh scrapes and antler rubs along fence lines at the edges of fields, from a tractor or truck. This close to gun season, never go stomping around in the woods. That alerts deer to danger.

• If you need to move or set up a ladder stand or ground blind, do it now. Don’t wait until closer to opening day of gun season.

• Wash all your hunting clothes, air dry outside on a clothesline, then place them in a plastic storage box.

An excellent detergent for hunting clothes is Wildlife Research Center’s Scent Killer Gold. Their autumn formula removes odors and deep cleans your hunting clothing while adding a subtle scent of the forest floor. A 32-ounce bottle retails for about $15.

• Rubber, slip-on boots are ideal for deer hunting. They are comfortable, don’t retain human scent and will keep your feet dry in wet grass or if you have to cross a creek.

A good choice is the Lacrosse Burly, an 18-inch boot, retails for about $100.

Trail cameras are a useful tool in tracking the movement of deer (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

• Use trail cameras to gain a better understanding of the daily movements of deer in your hunting area.

You’ll also get to see the deer behavior that lets you know rut activity is heating up.

There are big advantages to scouting and monitoring your hunting area 24 hours a day, with digital scouting cameras, the so-called trail cameras.

The small, noiseless cameras are powered by AA batteries and can take hundreds of high-quality images day and night, with the images stored on a single SD (secure digital) card.

If you have multiple brands of cameras don’t interchange SD cards. There could be SD card format issues. Set aside two SD cards for each camera.

Trail cameras should be mounted about five feet or higher off the ground. Some hunters put a stick between the tree and the back of the camera near its top so that the camera is angled downward slightly. This is a must when cameras are mounted high.

Trees aren’t always where you want them to be when mounting a trail camera, so a metal fence post hammered into the ground is a good alternative.

Position your camera to protect it from direct sunlight.

Trail cameras facing east (rising sun) or west (setting sun) can be damaged by bright, direct rays of sunlight since their shutters are always open. The ideal setting for a camera is to be in the dark shade, facing north or south.

When you retrieve an SD card replace it with a blank one. Don’t visit trail cameras early and late in the day, when deer are most active, to retrieve and replace SD cards.

Hanging a scent dripper when rut is underway will draw in a buck interested in mating (Photo from Wildlife Research Center)

• When your trail cameras images tell you rut activity is underway, hang a scent dripper filled with doe estrous scent, to attract a buck who is looking for love.

The scent dripper should be tied about head-high to an overhanging tree branch. Then, take a stick and make a mock scrape of bare dirt about 15 inches in diameter.

Be sure that the human scent in your gloves and boots is neutralized, so as not to alert deer.

What this setup imitates is a scape made by a buck that has been visited by a doe coming into heat.

For avid deer hunters, it’s an exciting time of the year.

Kentucky’s gun season for deer is the prime time to get some high-quality free-range meat for family gatherings and backyard cookouts.

We are so blessed to have such an incredible deer herd, managed by dedicated wildlife professionals. Gun season is our annual Thanksgiving of deer.

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