Firearms deer season triggers hunter turnout today
Submitted photo
Early today a major hunter movement to the woods and fields begins with Kentucky's firearms deer season.

The orange legion is out there in the sticks today.

As is standard, the second Saturday of November brings the opening of Kentucky's modern firearms hunting season for deer. This year that season runs Nov. 9-24, again 16 days encompassing three weekends.

Deer are the commonwealth's most hunted game, much outpacing the small game species that once drew most attentions. The modern gun season is the most popular deer hunting option. And the opening weekend of the gun season motivates more hunters than any other time.

In short, this weekend mobilizes more hunters than any other happening of the hunting calendar. Thousands take to the woods and fields statewide today and Sunday.

How many hunters turn out to seek venison and antlers for the onset of the gun hunting is difficult to say. About 300,000 deer permits have been sold in a season, but some people use multiple permits, purchasing additional antlerless deer permits for hunting in prime areas. Meanwhile, hunters purchasing sportsman, senior or disability licenses can hunt deer without buying deer permits separately.

In the past, the number of deer hunters has been estimated at about 270,000-300,000. But that's a fuzzy figure.

What is clear is the harvest of deer. Last year, Kentucky hunters logged a record harvest of 145,753 deer during the 2018-19 hunting year seasons. Yet, 106,797 of those deer were taken during the 16 days of the modern firearms season.

Apparently, the pickings aren't too slim out there for this year's firearms hunters. Last year's record harvest reflects an ongoing population expansion of deer in many counties, and there's no indication that the increase has dulled just yet. There's no whitetail census, but estimations based on harvest numbers, anecdotal information and extrapolation of data suggest there are about 900,000 deer out there statewide.

Indeed, Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources managers continue to offer unlimited harvest of antlerless deer (focused on females, the does) in counties with the highest deer densities. These are the 21 westernmost counties, including the Jackson Purchase, as well as more than two dozen north-central Kentucky counties.

The purpose of these "Zone 1" county regulations are to control the increase and even somewhat reduce the overall deer numbers in these areas.

Despite the abundance of deer throughout most of Kentucky, the particulars of the seasonal harvest limit still restrict each hunter to a maximum of one antlered deer for the hunting year for any or all seasons hunted and weapons used.

Regulations that have held the line on numbers of bucks taken while encouraging control measures through taking more does have resulted in a stronger buck contingent within the overall population. More surviving bucks translates into older, larger bucks -- quality or trophy class animals -- within the herd.

Kentucky continues to be a leader among all states in terms of the number of record book (Boone & Crocket Club, Pope & Young Club) bucks produced for hunters in comparison to the number of square miles of geographic area offered by the state.

Deer hunters will find regulations for this firearms season essentially unchanged from recent years. One difference this year is that the basic deer permit will be good for as many as four deer (still only one antlered buck, of course) instead of two. This move encourages the taking of more antlerless deer in appropriate counties before it is necessary to purchase an additional antlerless deer permit.

Pertinent to all deer hunters and others, too, the firearms season means that hunters out in the habitats through the 16-day must wear solid, fluorescent orange clothing on head, back and chest for safety purposes. Any hunter afield, whether hunting deer or other species, must wear the highly visible orange clothing during a firearms deer season.

• Kentucky's small game hunting that has been in effect to this point is on hold today and Sunday for the opening weekend of the modern firearms deer season. Smaller game pursuits resume in a big way -- more hunting and trapping added -- come Monday.

Monday, Kentucky's rabbit and quail hunting seasons open statewide. In the western zone, bunnies and bobwhites are in season Nov. 11-Feb. 10. In addition, the regular hunting and trapping seasons for most furbearer species open, running Nov. 11 through February.

Among the furbearers, bobcat hunting season comes later, opening Nov. 23, in time for just the last weekend of the firearms deer season.

• Hunters going out of state in whitetail pursuits should recall that regulations aimed at preventing the spread of chronic wasting disease prohibit bringing whole carcasses of deer -- as well as elk, moose, caribou -- into Kentucky from outside its borders.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an always-fatal neurological condition in deer and other ungulate animals that has been found in many states, including six of seven that border Kentucky. It has never been identified in Kentucky, and Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources managers are working in a bid to keep it out.

CWD has not been seen to be transmissible to humans, but KDFWR managers seek to exclude it if possible to prevent a potential health risk to people as well to safeguard the future of Kentucky's deer herd. To that end, state biologists will be testing deer taken in the state this year, monitoring for signs of CWD in the herd. More than 30,000 Kentucky deer and elks have been tested for CWD since 2002, all findings negative thus far.

More on CWD and related regulations can be seen at the KDFWR website, www.fw.ky.gov/CWD.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

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