Next weekend brings the busiest hunters’ occasion on Kentucky’s sporting schedule, the opening of the commonwealth’s modern firearms deer season.
The Nov. 13-28 “gun season” draws more attention and more participation from hunters than any other hunting season on the books. The opening weekend and especially the opening day is a red-letter day on the hunting calendar. No event puts more hunters afield than the first day of firearms deer hunting.
The drawing cards include the fact that the modern gun season allows hunters the most expedient yet sporting way of taking whitetails. Meanwhile, the gun season regularly opens on the second Saturday of November, a time that typically puts hunters afield during a peak of deer activity and movement associated with the annual reproductive cycle, the rut.
A high level of participation, a bountiful Kentucky deer population and generous regulations almost guarantee that the deer harvest during the 16-day season will be significant. It the past it has run in the neighborhood of 90,000 to 100,000 during that period. Whew.
Those regulations for deer hunters essentially will be unchanged from those of last year and recent years, for that matter. Primary among those is the harvest limit. A big part of that is there is a maximum of one antlered buck that can be taken per hunter for the entire hunting year. That is, there is a limit of a single antlered buck regardless of the weaponry-based season. By modern gun, muzzleloader, crossbow or archery, hunting with any or all of these methods still restricts the hunter to one buck.
The flip side of Kentucky’s deer bag limit is that in Zone 1 counties — those with the highest deer densities, including all of far western Kentucky — there is no cap on the number of antlerless deer that can be taken.
The basic deer permit allows the taking of as many as four deer (as long as no more than one antlered buck is included). In Zone 1 counties, a hunter can continue to take more antlerless deer by purchasing additional antlerless deer permits. Each $15 additional antlerless deer permit is good for two more smooth-headed whitetails.
In the interest of safety, the onset of the firearms deer season means that hunters pursuing deer as well as other species all must comply with orange clothing requirements. That is, those in the field must wear solid, fluorescent orange on head, chest and back. This is usually achieved with a cap and vest of unbroken, high visibility “blaze” orange.
A new wrinkle in the firearms deer season this year is the effects of a CWD Surveillance Zone in five far western Kentucky counties. This effects gun hunters as well as those pursuing deer with muzzleloaders, crossbows and archery gear in Calloway, Marshall, Graves, Fulton and Hickman counties.
CWD, chronic wasting disease, is a lethal disease of deer and elk that was identified in a deer a few weeks ago in Henry County, Tenn., just south of Kentucky’s Calloway County. While no CWD has been detected in Kentucky, wildlife managers have established the surveillance zone to keep a close watch on the area adjacent to the Tennessee spot where a CWD case was detected.
Within the zone, baiting or feeding of deer is prohibited, whole deer carcasses and high-risk parts such as intact deer heads cannot be taken outside the zone. Homemade carcass tags are required on any deer taken within the surveillance zone.
Boned-out venison and antlers attached to cleaned skull caps can be removed from the zone. Hunters can take in-zone deer to processors in any county within the zone before removing the boneless meat outside the zone.
A major requirement is that any deer taken within the zone during the firearms season (as well as during muzzleloader seasons) must be taken to a special CWD check station. Multiple check stations will be manned in each of the five zone counties 8 a.m.-8 p.m. each day of the pertinent seasons.
A list of the CWD check stations can be found at the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources website, www.fw.ky.gov/CWD.
The coming of Kentucky’s firearms deer season next week has ramifications for other hunting seasons. Small game hunting like that for squirrels statewide and rabbits and quail in the Eastern Rabbit and Quail Zone is put on hold during the opening weekend of the gun deer season, Nov. 13-14.
Come Monday, Nov. 15, however, the deer season continues while the small game seasons resume. In addition, rabbit and quail hunting begins in the state’s western zone, as all far western Kentucky is designated. Western zone rabbit and quail seasons run Nov. 15-Feb. 10.
Also opening on Nov. 15 is the statewide trapping and hunting seasons for most furbearer species. These run all the way through Feb. 28. The exception among these species is hunting for bobcats. Trapping for the wild felines begins Nov. 15 but hunting for bobcats is delayed until a Nov. 20 start. Both continue through Feb. 28.
The later start for bobcat hunting shelters the predatory cats for five more days of the gun deer season, leaving them out of bounds for opportunistic riflemen during the first week of the firearms deer season.
And again, all small game hunters and trappers afield by day while the gun deer season continues will have to meet fluorescent orange clothing safety requirements.
Nine wildlife refuge areas at Land Between the Lakes have been closed to human entry and activities to accommodate and shelter migratory birds and other critters from now through late winter.
Closed are parts of Duncan, Smith and Rushing bays on Kentucky Lake and Fulton and Honker bays on Lake Barkley. The western third of Energy Lake is closed to entry, while all of Energy Lake and Bards Lake are closed to hunting. Fishing is still permitted on the eastern two-thirds of Energy and all of Bards Lake.
Long Creek Refuge at the rear of Elbow Bay on Lake Barkley is closed to all human activity. Hematite Lake and Honker Lake are closed to fishing and boating traffic, although the trail systems around these remain open to hikers.
These refuge area borders are generally marked with signs or, on the water, with buoys. The closures are in effect through March 15, by which time migrating waterfowl, shorebirds and winter-visiting bald eagles mostly have departed.
With waterfowl seasons coming later this month, duck and goose hunters should remember that waterfowl hunting is not permitted within 200 yards of a refuge boundary.
Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to email@example.com or phone 270-575-8650.