From the Kentucky Department of Wildlife and Fish
-- A huge acorn crop, the late arrival of cold weather and drought conditions across most of Kentucky could make modern gun season for deer a test for hunters.
Gun season opens statewide on Nov. 13 and continues through Nov. 28 in Zone 1-2 counties. Modern gun deer season closes Nov. 22 in Zone 3-4 counties.
"It could be a tough season," said Tina Brunjes, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "That tests the ability of our deer hunters to adjust to unusual conditions."
With food plots shriveled up from the drought, small creeks and ponds bone dry, and food everywhere in the woods, hunters may have to abandon traditional stands bordering fields to find concentrations of deer.
With lots of food in the woods, deer don't have to move far. "Deer get picky when there are lots of acorns," said Brunjes. "The best bet might be to hunt near a white oak tree that's dropping acorns."
Another strategy could center on a water source actively being used by deer, such as a waterhole in a creek that is otherwise dried up. Other productive places are access routes to a river, lake or big pond, where deer travel to get to water.
"With warmer temperatures, and much of the greenery dried up, deer need a drink every day," said Brunjes. "They're going to water."
Modern gun season is the main event of Kentucky's deer season. "It's the big driver in our overall harvest, the main part of deer season," said Brunjes. "If the season harvest is 110,000 to 120,000 deer, 83,000 to 89,000 of the deer are going to be taken with modern guns in November."
Brunjes is predicting a good deer season, within the harvest range of recent seasons, but acknowledges that weather conditions often have a negative impact on deer harvest.
For a majority of Kentucky deer hunters, November is the only month they hunt. For example, last season, 81,583 deer were Telechecked in November or about 72 percent of the season harvest total of 113,585 deer.
Few hunters kill more than one deer. "It varies between one and two deer per hunter," said Brunjes. "In 2009, 78 percent of successful deer hunters killed just one deer for the whole season, and only two percent killed four or more deer."
In three of Kentucky's four deer management zones, the season limit is four deer. There is no limit on the number of antlerless deer (does) a hunter may take in the 36 Zone 1 counties, which have denser herds than management goals allow. Bonus antlerless-only deer permits are $15 each and allow hunters to take two additional deer.
Brunjes encourages hunters in the Zone 1 counties to keep the pressure on does through harvest to help control herd size. With a lower percentage of does in the harvest than normal last season (48,440 does, or 43 percent), and a good fawn crop this past spring, hunters should see lots of antlerless deer during gun season.
Hunters should read the deer regulations carefully since there has been a change in the zone status for 25 counties this season. Consult the 2010-11 Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide, or visit Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's website at http://fw.ky.gov/navigation.aspx?cid=775&navpath=C741.
The zone status of a county affects the length of modern firearms season, what sex of deer may be taken during the various seasons and the overall bag limit.
Changes for 2011 include Bullitt, Hardin, Hart and Nelson counties moved from Zone 1 to Zone 2; Adair, Barren, Butler, Cumberland, Daviess, Edmonson, Hancock, Marion, Metcalfe, Monroe, Ohio, Simpson, Taylor and Warren counties moved from Zone 2 to Zone 3;
Clinton, Garrard, Knox, Laurel, Russell and Whitley moved from Zone 3 to Zone 4, and Caldwell County moved from Zone 2 to Zone 1.
Since the establishment of the one-buck limit in 1991, more hunters are passing up yearling bucks, so Kentucky now has an older age structure of bucks in its herd.
"Any county can harbor trophy deer, even those with low deer densities," said Brunjes. "We have good genetics in our deer herd. The management strategy that brought us all this is still in place. The quality of our bucks has been building over the past 10 years, and they're a renewable resource."