Kentucky Afield Outdoors: November Deer Harvest Second-Highest Ever

Kentucky Afield Outdoors: November Deer Harvest Second-Highest Ever

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

Frankfort, Kentucky – -( Kentucky’s modern gun deer season is now over statewide, tipping the total harvest past 108,000 deer. Even with several days of archery and crossbow hunting left this month, the November harvest of more than 88,000 deer has already topped every season but 2004.

“I thought we might kill 115,000 to 116,000 deer this season, but I think we’re going to do better than that,” said David Yancy, a wildlife biologist in the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ big game program. “If it’s a pretty typical December muzzleloader season, that’ll help us toward 120,000.”

The high harvest eases the minds of the state’s deer managers, who closely watched last year’s severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). Kentucky Fish and Wildlife received reports of more than 4,000 suspected EHD cases last year. The state’s deer herd is estimated at 1 million animals.

“If EHD had an impact, the November harvest should be down,” said Yancy. “But it’s not down – it’s up. That tells me that EHD didn’t have a significant impact to statewide deer numbers.”

Overall harvest trends are a much better indicator of deer populations than single-year results, however. Kentucky’s total deer harvest has stair-stepped up and down only slightly since 2000, varying by fewer than 10,000 deer most years. “When you take a step back and look at that – that’s stable,” said Yancy.

Hunter harvest of male and female deer has also stabilized, with hunters taking a nearly even split of bucks and does each year. About 52 percent of deer taken so far this season have been bucks.

“We go into gun season usually slightly ahead on antlerless deer,” said Yancy. “Bowhunters are more willing to take antlerless deer – it’s a challenge just to kill a deer with a bow.”

During modern gun deer season, however, the buck-to-doe balance tips toward antlered deer. “Gun hunters are out there buck hunting,” Yancy said. “Some already have some venison in the freezer from early muzzleloader or bow, and others say ‘I can get my antlerless deer during late muzzleloader to fill my freezer.’ It shifts back in late muzzleloader season, and we end up with slightly more females taken.”

The 9-day late muzzleloader season typically adds another 8,000 to 10,000 deer to the overall harvest. Yancy hopes to see more deer taken in high-density counties, where doe harvest is especially important to keep the population in balance with available habitat.

“Counties like Jefferson, Shelby, Franklin, and from there north to the Ohio River – we would definitely like to see more deer taken, especially female deer in those counties,” said Yancy. “That’s what it’s going to take to get them down to a Zone 2 level.”

Southeastern Kentucky’s Zone 4 counties are a different story. Deer populations are smaller than managers and hunters would like, due to the region’s mountainous, forested habitat that isn’t ideal for deer. The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission voted this year to restrict this zone’s antlerless deer harvest during late muzzleloader season to the final three days only. Hunters in Zone 4 may take only antlered deer during the season’s first six days.

“The point of it is to reduce kill on females and young deer,” said Yancy. “We thought we were being restrictive enough, but we weren’t. We’re trying to allow some opportunity, but not too much. We’ll see in the next 2 to 3 years how this affects Zone 4 populations.”

Late muzzleloader season for deer runs Dec. 13-21 statewide. For complete deer hunting regulations, pick up a copy of the 2008-09 Kentucky Hunting & Trapping guide, available at and wherever hunting licenses are sold.

Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, has an economic impact to the state of $4.5 billion annually. For more information about the department, visit our web site at

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