Bowhunter

The heat, insects and intense greenery common to the earliest days of the archery season aren’t preferred elements, but it’s the season nonetheless.

As daylight fades and the transition from the day shift to the night crew approaches, one begins to recognize that the grinding sounds of annual cicadas have morphed into those softer ones of tree crickets.

With any luck, the sounds of squirrels in last year’s leaf litter begin to transform into the slight crunch of deer hooves.

Human perspectives on those times begin Saturday with the onset of Kentucky’s archery hunting season. This year the archery season for deer and wild turkey runs Sept. 5 to Jan. 18. Overlapping that on the front end is the youth (under age 16) season and the senior (65 and older) season for hunting deer with a crossbow.

The youth and senior crossbow seasons end Sept. 19, when the regular deer crossbow season ensues to run concurrently with archery hunting for the rest of that season.

Saturday also brings the first weekend of Kentucky’s mourning dove season. The dove season opened on the past rainy Tuesday, so Saturday’s dove hunting opportunities predictably will draw plenty of participants and make lots of noise. The archery season should be a little less evident.

That reflects more of what bowhunting for deer is about. Not a big social event like a dove hunt, far more duos and trios, even solo archers will be taking to the habitats in search of whitetails. And potential bow and arrow ambushes for deer are apt to be far more stealthful and subdued than those for wingshooting migratory birds.

Yet, first-Saturday September archery hunting is not prime time stuff. Yes, it may put hunters out there when deer are about as relaxed as they get, but summer whitetail pursuits have their downsides. Heat, humidity and bug brutality are discouraging factors.

Summer heat can be a deterrent to daylight deer movement. And deer activities related to the forthcoming rut or breeding season are mostly weeks away. In truth, most bowhunters would far more prefer to be hunting on a cool, crisp October or November day. But many won’t turn down the chance to go on a summery early September day when that is the kind of opening they’ve got.

Some bowhunters may regard the earliest days of the season as a chance to get a start on freezer-filling by concentrating on doe hunting. Kentucky’s regulations again this year offer the taking of an unlimited number of antlerless deer in high deer population counties designated as Zone 1 like all those of far western Kentucky are.

A countering factor in this is, with summer temperatures offering a threat of venison spoilage in short order, “meat hunters” can’t risk long tracking jobs and leisurely transport of harvested deer to processors. Good shots, quick recoveries and prompt delivery to meat lockers are all dictated by the heat.

Other bowhunters may see improved buck options in early September. Mature bucks may be as easily patterned as they can be in summer feeding mode. Hunters who have been doing their homework may have information from scouting about where they need to set up right now to get ahead of select antlered critters on their way to specific open feeding areas.

Some may want to put considerable emphasis on particular bucks, at least a particular quality of bucks, because again this year each hunter in Kentucky is restricted to the harvest of a single antlered buck for the entire hunting year. That’s true even though many areas allow the unlimited harvest of antlerless deer.

The ongoing regulation that limits hunters to taking a single buck while permitting lots of doe harvest has made for a dandy deer population in Kentucky. The age structure of bucks in the population appears better than ever, with a strong percentage of older bucks compared to yearlings.

Meanwhile, overall deer numbers appear generous. That’s why Zone 1 counties continue to offer unlimited antlerless deer harvest. Managers still recommend that hunters take a generous harvest from these areas with the objective of actually rolling back these numbers for best balance of deer to habitat and social parameters like crop damage and deer-vehicle collisions.

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources deer biologist and acting deer program coordinator Kyle Sams noted that the 2019-20 deer harvest was 148,395, the second highest on record.

But there is no way that the big harvest depleted the whitetail ranks. Sams said computer models based on all sorts of statistics produce a current Kentucky population estimation of about 1 million.

There was a moderate rollback of the deer population in 2017, primarily in eastern Kentucky counties, as a result of a significant outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, EHD, that is spread by the bites of biting gnats that hatch from the shoreline mud of waterways and ponds. Sams said these counties have essentially recovered from that downturn from healthy reproduction.

This year, perhaps with the help of frequent summer rains, little to no apparent EHD toll in the deer herd is being reported. In wetter times, deer aren’t congregated at fewer watering spots, and less mud is exposed to prime the late summer hatch of the disease-passing insects.

With minimal extraneous losses, controlled extraction by hunters and good fawning seasons, whitetails are flourishing.

Short on frosty mornings and crisp evenings so far, it might not feel like stereotypical deer hunting weather. But come Saturday, we’re there.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@bellsouth.net.

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