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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s 2021-22 deer season yields state’s lowest harvest in nine years

KDFWR recorded the lowest deer harvest since the 2012-2013 season (Photo from KDFWR)

Unseasonably warm and windy conditions during the first week of modern gun season, a deadly tornado outbreak on opening day of the late muzzleloader season, and frigid temperatures with widespread snow the last two weekends of archery season, were major factors in an unpredicted harvest decline during Kentucky’s 2021-22 white-tailed deer 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.

Hunters reported checking in 132,296 deer, 56.8 percent bucks, and 43.2 does, according to county and statewide harvest totals posted on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) website. Kentucky’s 135-day deer season ended on Monday, January 17.

The 2021-22 deer harvest total was 6.58 percent lower than last season, and the lowest harvest total since the 2012-13 season, when 131,395 deer were reported taken.

Overall, the deer harvest by weapon type was: archery, 14,849; modern firearms, 96,011; muzzleloader, 9,246, and crossbow, 12,190. All these numbers were declines from last season. The largest declines by percentage were: muzzleloader, 28.1 percent, and archery, 17.45 percent.

The estimated one million deer in Kentucky’s herd are healthy, with a favorable growth rate. The herd continues to expand, and populations in some of Kentucky’s 51 Zone 1 counties have densities that are at or above management goals.

The state is divided into five wildlife regions.

The deer harvest for the 2021-22 season by region was: Green River Region, 38,273; Bluegrass Region, 38,609; Northeast Region, 16,032; Purchase Region, 19,089, and Southeast Region, 20,293.

The deer harvest declined in all five regions, the highest by percentage were: Purchase Region, 15.9 percent, and Green River Region, 7.45 percent.

The top 10 counties in deer harvest were: Christian, 2,901; Shelby, 2,778; Breckinridge, 2,748; Crittenden, 2,747; Pendleton, 2,689; Owen, 2,454; Grayson, 2,384; Ohio, 2,310;Washington, 2,279, and Muhlenberg, 2,251.

Kentucky also saw a sharp drop off in wild turkey harvested, with a decline of more than 25%. (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Hunters took more antlerless deer than antlered deer in none of the top 10 counties with the highest deer harvests. Last season five of the top 10 counties had a higher percentage of antlerless deer in their harvests. The continued, aggressive harvest of antlerless deer is needed to slow herd growth, especially in the Zone 1 counties, where deer densities are at or above management goals.

Harvests during our fall wild turkey seasons also declined. Hunters reported bagging 1,576 birds, a decline of 25.09 percent from last season. Hunters may take a total of four birds (either sex), with restrictions, during the archery, crossbow and shotgun seasons.

KDFWR estimates that fishing, hunting, and other wildlife-related recreation has an economic impact of $5.9 billion on Kentucky’s economy and supports about 70,000 jobs.

Deer season alone generates over $550 million annually in economic impact through retail expenditures, over $86 million in tax revenues, and supports more than 13,000 jobs throughout the Commonwealth.

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