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State's first deer research in years eyes why southeastern herd lags

By STEVE VANTREESE

Most of Kentucky deer management now is about how to control the herd â “ steering hunter harvest so that enough deer are removed to hold the population in check.

That effort contrasts with the status of deer in parts of southeastern Kentucky where the whitetail population has never reached the preferred level of plenty. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will take a hard, researched look at the mountainous southeastern counties in an effort to put a handle on why that region's deer population continues to struggle, left in the dust by whitetail numbers in most of the state.

Harvest management â “ adjustments to reduce the number of deer hunters can take in some southeastern counties â “ has fallen short of reversing the population lag in deer there. Hunters in the region tend to blame coyote predation and/or poaching for the ongoing struggles of the deer population.

Tina Brunjes, deer management coordinator for the KDFWR, said biologists tend to look for causes in habitat to explain why the southeastern counties' deer population remains stressed. She said it may be a combination of factors, but managers will take steps to see more clearly what those factors may be.

Planned is a study in Clay County, where 60 does will be captured, fitted with radio transmitters, then released. The "bugged" does will be tracked electronically, their movements followed for up to a year.

Does that produce fawns will increase the scope of the study. Births detected by the tracking of radio signals this spring will send researchers to fawning cover. New fawns will be caught and equipped with their own transmitters so that researchers can monitor their progress.

Monitoring is hoped to give researchers data about adult and fawn deer survival and, in cases where the tracked deer don't survive, reveal what sources of mortality are taking deer. In a wider scope, the mortality causes may suggest or reveal a pattern of what is holding down the deer population across southeastern Kentucky.

Success in this research effort could make a case for studies elsewhere in the state if and when trouble spots in deer management arise.

General information and updates are available on the website www.lbl.org.

n Kentucky waterfowl seasons continue in full swing, but weather conditions have put some frigid hurdles in it.

Duck hunting runs through Jan. 26 statewide, and Canada goose hunting in all Kentucky zones continues through Jan. 31. The recent spate of bitter cold temperatures, however, served to ice over most smaller waters, locking in full-time decoys and eliminating inviting sit-down space for passing flocks.

The freeze shifted the attentions of some area waterfowlers to the open waters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley and big area rivers.

Going into the coldest weather this week, ground count estimations of duck numbers at important area refuges showed plenty of birds hereabouts. Ballard Wildlife Management Area near Oscar was estimated to hold more than 83,000 ducks, while nearby Boatwright WMA was thought to hold nearly 28,000.

Most ducks using the WMAs were mallards with significant smatterings of pintails, gadwalls and ringnecks also present.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. E-mail outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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