Managing a deer herd across 120 counties is a science for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
In some areas of the state, deer numbers are above desired levels. Overpopulation hurts herd quality, leading to smaller and less healthy deer. Too many deer also means increased habitat and crop damage. In other parts, particularly in areas of east Kentucky, biologists and hunters want more deer on the landscape.
“Hunting is the most effective way to manage the deer population,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Deer Program Coordinator Gabe Jenkins said. “Wildlife managers do so by adjusting seasons, bag limits and methods to achieve goals. We need hunters to take more does in Zone 1 counties.”
Changes to hunting regulations are sometimes necessary to work toward an ideal deer population, he added.
The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission recommended a number of proposals at its March 23 meeting that address both ends of the spectrum.
The proposals accepted by commission members are the culmination of a three-year process of public input and scientific review. During this time, department staff compiled an extensive review of deer data, surveyed hunters, conducted numerous internal advisory group meetings, formed a deer working group of interested hunters to gather input and then discussed the proposals during public meetings of the commission’s wildlife committee and the full commission.
Jenkins will discuss the proposals during a special Facebook Live program moderated by Kentucky Afield television at 8 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday, April 9. Visit the Kentucky Afield Facebook page (www.facebook.com/KentuckyAfieldTV) to watch this program and submit questions.
Following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the new deer hunting proposals.
Q: Why expand the modern gun deer season from 10 days to 16 days in Zones 3 and 4 counties when populations are low and many of these counties in east Kentucky were hit hard by last year’s epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak?
Hunters have expressed to the department a strong desire to expand the modern gun season in Zones 3 and 4. Going from a 10- to 16-day season would provide them with more days afield and simplify regulations.
The department understands some are concerned about potential overharvest in these zones, especially after last year’s EHD outbreak. Some other modifications to harvest rules in Zones 3 and 4 were proposed to prevent overharvest and encourage population growth in the deer herd, yet still allow for a 16-day modern gun season.
Q: What else is changing for Zone 3?
In past seasons, hunters could harvest up to four deer (one antlered and three antlerless, or up to four antlerless deer total) in Zone 3. Two of the allowed four deer in Zone 3 could be taken with a gun.
The department wants to reduce the number of antlerless deer harvested with a gun in Zone 3 to prevent overharvest and encourage population growth. Under its proposal, hunters could still harvest up to four deer in Zone 3 but only one antlerless deer could be taken with a gun.
When a county moves from a Zone 4 to a Zone 3, the increase in antlerless harvest jumps. Reducing the number of antlerless deer that can be taken with a gun in Zone 3 will soften the transition when a county moves from a Zone 4 to a Zone 3.
Q: What else is changing for Zone 4?
The department has proposed a reduction in the Zone 4 bag limit, from four deer to two. Of those two, only one could be an antlerless deer. The statewide bag limit of one antlered deer still applies.
Adjusting the bag limit for antlerless deer will reduce the antlerless deer harvest in Zone 4 counties and foster quicker population growth than observed under the current regulations.
While the statewide deer permit would include up to four deer (see below), only two could be taken in Zone 4.
Q: What is changing with the statewide deer permit?
Currently, a hunter can harvest up to two deer with a statewide deer permit. The department has proposed raising that to four deer without raising the permit price for residents.
Hunters have indicated that buying an additional deer permit is a barrier to them taking additional deer. In the department’s 2015 deer hunter survey, the majority of respondents either supported or did not oppose this change, and said they would harvest more deer under this modification. Changing the statewide deer permit to four deer offers more opportunity and makes it more user friendly.
Hunters would still be limited to one antlered deer statewide.
Q: If the statewide deer permit is changing, how will it affect the additional deer permit?
In previous seasons, a hunter who wanted to harvest more than two deer needed to buy an additional deer permit. Each additional deer permit allowed the hunter to harvest two deer.
Due to the recommended increase with the statewide deer permit, and with less than 1 percent of hunters harvesting more than four deer each year, an overwhelming number will no longer need to buy an additional deer permit.
For those hunters who want to harvest more than four deer, the new additional deer permit proposed by the department would allow them to take up to 15 extra deer.
Zone bag limits apply. Hunters could only take two deer in Zone 4, four deer in Zone 3, four deer in Zone 2 and an unlimited number of antlerless deer in Zone 1. Hunters would still be limited to one antlered deer statewide.
Q: Why propose a Zone 1-only, modern gun season for antlerless deer in late September?
A Zone 1 designation means the deer population exceeds social or biological goals. This proposed season would be open in Zone 1 counties during the last weekend in September. Archery hunters could still hunt and harvest an antlered deer during this new season but would be required to wear hunter orange.
In an effort to reduce deer populations to acceptable levels in Zone 1 counties, more antlerless deer need to be harvested. Removing deer before acorns drop from oak trees will leave more food available for those remaining, resulting in healthier deer entering breeding season and over winter.
As for its possible effect on antlered deer during this weekend, bucks typically move at night and their patterns are unpredictable during daylight hours. An average of only 82 antlered deer are harvested during this timeframe in Zone 1 counties, the lowest of any weekend during the deer season.
Deer processors would be notified about this new season.
Q: Are these proposed changes effective immediately?
No. Legislative review is still required. The proposed administrative regulations will be filed with the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) by April 13. At that time, written comments on the proposed administrative regulation will be accepted through May 31. Written comments may be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to Mark Cramer, Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Arnold L. Mitchell Building, 1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601.
Submitted comments will be thoroughly reviewed and responses provided in a Statement of Consideration after the public comment period. That document will be filed with the LRC.