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Photo: Kentucky Department Fish And Wildlife

The first snippets of snow fell this week, making most people frown, but put a smile on the faces of Kentucky waterfowl hunters. The cold weather the week before the waterfowl season opener on Thanksgiving Day is a good sign.

“Waterfowl hunting in Kentucky is nearly 100 percent weather dependent,” said Wes Little, migratory bird biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We will have more birds to hunt if we get cold weather to the north of Kentucky. If we continue with this cold weather, we should have a good opener.”

Little said fantastic habitat conditions for waterfowl await those birds. “The moist soil vegetation such as wild ryes, annual smartweeds, millets and sedges are looking great across the state. The habitat is here and population wise, we are living the glory days.”

A slight dip in duck numbers in 2018 resulting from adverse weather conditions during breeding season in the prairie-pothole region on the northern Great Plains and Canada in 2017 should not concern waterfowl hunters. “We are still well above the long term average for duck numbers,” Little said. “This trend is basically a blip and should not impact hunting at all.”

New public waterfowl hunting opportunities on Sloughs Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Henderson and Union counties offer a chance for excellent hunting each week of the season. Little explained hunters who have not put in for a quota hunt on the area may try for a minimum of 10 slots via a weekly draw each Monday night of the season.

“Nine of those slots are on the Jenny Hole Unit with one on the Sauerheber Unit,” Little explained. “More slots may be available if those drawn for quota hunts on the area don’t check in on the Sunday before their hunts.”

Waterfowl hunters on Ballard WMA in Ballard County, an anchor of Kentucky waterfowl hunting for decades, no longer have to hunt from blinds. “For the first time, a few boat-in hunting spots are available on Ballard WMA,” Little said. “There are many wade and shoot opportunities as well.”

Boatwright WMA, also in Ballard County, and Doug Travis WMA in Carlisle and Hickman counties, offer daily walk-in waterfowl hunting. For more information on these opportunities, refer to the 2018-2019 Kentucky Waterfowl Hunting Guide available in a printable PDF format at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at www.fw.ky.gov. There is no longer a paper version of this guide.

Little said Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County, Barren River Lake in Allen and Barren counties and Green River Lake in Adair and Taylor counties offer some of the best waterfowl hunting in the central Kentucky region. He also recommended Cave Run Lake for duck hunting in east Kentucky, especially later in the season. Goose hunting is not permitted on most of Cave Run Lake. The Ohio River also offers good later season duck and goose hunting.

Hunters without a boat and other gear needed to hunt large bodies of water should try farm ponds. “Farm ponds always provide opportunity,” Little said. “You must get permission from the landowner. Do not be afraid to ask, many landowners with resident goose issues are open to waterfowl hunters. Do not forget to close the gate behind you; that is the number one way to lose hunting permission on a farm.”

Steel shotshells in No. 2 through No. 4 work well for ducks while those in BB through No. 2 make good goose loads. “The modern non-toxic loads with tungsten or bismuth allow hunters to use smaller shot sizes,” Little said.

“I mostly use 3-inch, steel shotshells with 1 1-4 ounces of shot for waterfowl hunting,” Little said. Waterfowl hunters may not use or possess lead shot while hunting.

Duck, coot and merganser season opens Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22 and closes Nov. 25. This season opens again Dec. 3 and closes Jan. 27, 2019. Goose season also opens Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22 and closes Feb. 15, 2019.

As a reminder, waterfowl hunters must complete a short survey and get their Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.) confirmation number before hunting. Visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at www.fw.ky.gov and click on the “My Profile” tab to begin. The process takes less than 5 minutes.

In addition to the H.I.P. confirmation number, waterfowl hunters need a valid Kentucky hunting license as well as a Kentucky Migratory Bird – Waterfowl Hunting Permit along with a signed Federal Duck Stamp to be legal waterfowl hunters.

Waterfowl hunting provides a fun reason to get outside in winter while providing excellent tasting, nutritious table fare. A meal featuring properly cooked duck is as good as any expensive restaurant

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission has recommended expanding modern gun season for deer to 16 days statewide, increasing the number of deer allowed on a statewide permit from two to four, and increasing some license and permit fees for non-residents.

The proposals were among multiple recommendations to deer, waterfowl and migratory bird seasons made by commission members at their March 23 meeting in Frankfort.

The commission recommends hunting, fishing and boating regulations for approval by the Kentucky General Assembly. Legislators must approve all recommendations before they become law.

The changes recommended by commission members are designed to help thin the state’s deer herd in more densely populated areas while boosting numbers where deer populations are lower than desired. Changes also will boost many opportunities for hunters.

All deer-related regulations will go into effect for the 2018-2019 seasons, if approved by legislators. Click the “details” link for more information on each change.

Deer-related recommendations approved by the commission include:

  • Creating an antlerless-only modern gun hunt during the last weekend of September in Zone 1 counties. (details)
  • Expanding the modern gun deer season to 16 days statewide. (details)
  • Modifying the statewide deer permit from a two-deer limit to four deer (details), and the youth deer permit from a one-deer limit to four deer. (details) Hunters would still be limited to one antlered deer statewide, regardless of zone or method.
  • Changing the following counties from Zone 2 to Zone 1: Union, Henderson, McLean, Muhlenberg, Todd, Mercer, Mason and Hart. (details)
  • Changing the following counties from Zone 3 to Zone 2: Warren, Allen, Monroe, Barren, Metcalfe, Adair, Edmonson, Butler, Breckinridge, Meade, Hancock, Daviess, Taylor, Casey, Lincoln, Boyle, Madison, Clark, Montgomery and Bath. (details)
  • Changing the following counties from Zone 4 to Zone 3: Garrard, Pulaski, Wayne and Laurel. (details)
  • Allowing hunters to take only one antlerless deer with a firearm in Zone 3. (details)
  • Setting a Zone 4 season bag limit of two deer, consisting of one antlered and one antlerless deer. Antlerless deer could only be taken during youth gun seasons, during archery and crossbow seasons, or the last three days of the December muzzleloader season. (details)
  • Allowing hunters to take a bag limit of deer in each zone, independent of the other zone’s bag limits. (details)
  • Modifying the additional deer permit from a two-deer limit to 15 deer. Hunters would still be limited to one antlered deer statewide, regardless of zone or method. (details)
  • Prohibiting devices designed to entangle and trap the antlers of a deer. (details)
  • Creating a special deer hunt program that would allow modern gun hunts for deer outside of the normal season. This would only apply to nonprofit conservation organizations working under Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s recruitment, retention and re-activation guidelines. (details)
  • Allowing a person to use an unlimited number of deer control tags. The current limit is five tags. (details)
  • Removing the requirement to sign a deer control tag at the time of transfer from landowner to hunter. (details)
  • Requiring the hunter to sign a deer control tag at the time of harvest. (details)

Commission members also took several steps at their meeting to simplify some waterfowl regulations and to increase opportunities for hunters. Waterfowl regulations will go into effect for the 2018-2019 seasons, if approved by legislators. Recommendations include:

  • Increasing the northern pintail daily bag limit from one bird to two for the 2018-2019 duck seasons. (details)
  • Changing Northeast Goose Zone season dates to correspond to the statewide goose seasons. (details)
  • Removing the September closure for goose hunting in the Northeast Goose Zone and the West-Central Goose Zone. (details)

Commissioners also made several recommendations affecting Sloughs Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Henderson and Union counties. These include:

  • Allowing expanded waterfowl quota hunts on the Sauerheber Unit. (details)
  • Removing blind site hunting restrictions on the Sauerheber Unit. (details)
  • Developing a check-in system for quota hunt participants on the Sauerheber Unit. (details)
  • Creating a lottery for unclaimed blinds or hunt sites on the Sauerheber Unit (details) and removing the ability to occupy unclaimed blinds. (details)
  • Creating a quota hunt for the Jenny Hole Unit, with spots allocated by a weekly drawing. (details)
  • Closing the Jenny Hole Unit to waterfowl hunting, except for quota hunt participants. (details)
  • Prohibiting boat use on the Jenny Hole Unit from Thanksgiving Day to the last Sunday in January, except for quota hunt participants during limited hours. (details)

Recommendations affecting Ballard WMA in western Kentucky include:

  • Removing the requirement to hunt from a blind in the Ballard Zone. (details)
  • Mandating that hunters accurately report waterfowl harvest on their harvest cards. (details)

Commission members proposed several changes to the existing regulations governing sandhill crane hunting. These would expand hunting opportunities and establish a second refugee area on public property. Proposals include:

  • Changing the sandhill crane quota hunt application period from late November to the month of September to align it with quota hunt application periods of other game species. (details)
  • Increasing the number of sandhill crane permits and tags issued. (details)
  • Lengthening the sandhill crane season and increasing the statewide bag limit. (details)
  • Allowing hunters to take more than two birds in a season, if they have the required number of tags. (details)
  • Requiring participants to buy a hunting license by Sept. 30 to be eligible for a permit. (details)
  • Establishing a new refuge for roosting birds by closing portions of Green River Lake to sandhill crane hunting. (details)

In fisheries-related business, the commission proposed new fishing regulations for Rockcastle River WMA in Pulaski County. These include a daily creel limit of 10 bluegill or other sunfish, four catfish, 15 crappie and one largemouth bass that must be greater than 15 inches long.

Commissioners also recommended adding mooneye and goldeye to the restricted movement list of fish species to help blunt the spread of Asian carp into new waterbodies.

The commission also proposed changing some non-resident license and permit fees. (details)

The next regularly scheduled Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting will be 8:30 a.m. (Eastern time), Friday, June 8, 2018. Meetings are held at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife headquarters, located at 1 Sportsman’s Lane off U.S. 60 in Frankfort.

Photo: Kentucky Department Fish and Wildlife

Viewers of “Kentucky Afield” television picked up their phones and took to social media last weekend to submit more than 200 questions for the annual fall hunting call-in show.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources wildlife biologists Gabe Jenkins and John Morgan, along with Sgt. Rufus Cravens of the department’s Law Enforcement Division, joined “Kentucky Afield” host Chad Miles for the hour-long show that aired live on Sept. 16 on Kentucky Educational Television. The panel could not get to all of the questions before the credits started rolling.

Below, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife personnel answered a handful of the questions that did not make it on-air. Viewers who missed the live show can watch a full replay on YouTube. Enter “KYAfield” in the search box on the YouTube homepage.

Will Kentucky Fish and Wildlife consider adjusting deer seasons due to the EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) outbreak? – Eddie from Morgan County

GABE JENKINS, Deer and Elk Program Coordinator, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife: We will not be implementing an emergency regulation to shorten or close deer season in 2017 in any county due to the EHD outbreak. We encourage folks to report all dead deer they find using our online reporting system.

After the outbreak has ceased, we will evaluate the number reported along with the harvest data from the 2017 season and make our recommendations for the 2018 season at the December meeting of the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Deer are prolific breeders, and the population will rebound within a couple years.

Lastly, if your area has experienced a severe die-off, I would encourage hunters to participate in some self-restraint and pass once you have taken enough deer to fill your freezer for the year.

How far west have elk traveled in Kentucky? – Wayne from Marion County

JENKINS: We receive reports of elk outside the elk zone almost every year. In the early years of elk restoration, we saw elk leave the elk zone more frequently. We’ve had reports of elk as far west as Lake Cumberland and one elk went to North Carolina. We have had elk harvested outside the elk zone in Bath, Carter, Laurel, Madison, Wayne and Wolfe counties.

What resources are available through Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to assist with wildlife habitat improvement? – Gary from Grayson

BEN ROBINSON, Wildlife Division Assistant Director, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife: Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is committed to assisting landowners with wildlife habitat improvement on their property. We employ more than 30 wildlife biologists who specialize in assisting private landowners with habitat management projects. From tips about improving food sources for deer and turkey to navigating cost share programs through the federal Farm Bill, we have someone available to assist you.

For more information, visit our web site at fw.ky.gov or call 1-800-858-1549 and ask for the phone number of your local private lands or farm bill biologist.

Does prescribed burning on private and public lands benefit wild turkeys? Where can I find more information? – Tony from Montgomery County

ROBINSON: Kentucky Fish and Wildlife considers prescribed fire an essential management tool for private landowners and publicly managed Wildlife Management Areas. Prescribed fires are carefully planned and managed by highly trained burn crews for containment to select areas.

We regularly use prescribed burning on grasslands and timbered areas to benefit a host of game and non-game species, including wild turkey.

Prescribed fire has many benefits. Fire removes old vegetation and stimulates new growth, providing a lush food source for wildlife. Fire promotes oak regeneration in our forests resulting in more acorns, a staple food source for many species. By removing dead vegetation, fire also creates bare ground, a necessity for bobwhite quail and other ground dwelling birds.

For more information on prescribed fire in Kentucky, visit the Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council’s website www.kyfire.org.

Why was bear season closed in McCreary County on public land? – David from McCreary County

JOHN HAST, Bear Program Coordinator, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife: Bear numbers are still low in McCreary County. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s philosophy on bear management is to allow as much hunter opportunity as the bear population will allow. What we may sacrifice in hunter opportunity in McCreary County for a few years will pay off when bears have a chance to grow within the county and expand more fully into surrounding counties, such and Pulaski and Rockcastle.

Great bear habitat lies just to the north of McCreary County within the Daniel Boone National Forest and it has the potential to provide a great place for bears and bear hunters in the future.

A population of bears is very slow in its growth and patience is necessary to see any big leaps in the season quota. You can rest assured that Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is actively monitoring bears in McCreary County in order to improve our population models. When the bear population is ready, hunters will once again be able to hunt public land.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously recommended today that the department increase prices for some resident Kentucky hunting and fishing licenses.

The Commission is the guiding body for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. It took the action during its September quarterly meeting. It will be the first resident license price increase in more than a decade, and the first increase of the senior and disabled sportsman’s licenses since their inceptions in 1999.

The Commission recommends all hunting, fishing and boating regulations for approval by the General Assembly and approves all expenditures by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. All recommendations must be approved by legislators before they become law.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife relies primarily on license sales and federal excise taxes from the sale of hunting and fishing equipment for its revenue. It does not receive state General Fund money, such as those derived from income taxes or property taxes. The Department manages more than 600,000 acres for public use and stocks nearly 10 million fish each year. Hunting, fishing, boating and wildlife watching generate an estimated $5.9 billion to Kentucky’s economy each year.

The Commission’s recommendation includes resident hunting licenses, fishing licenses, combination hunting/fishing licenses, senior and disabled sportsman’s licenses and joint fishing licenses for spouses.

“Periodic license price increases are necessary to keep pace with inflation and general costs of living,” said Commission Chairman Jimmy Bevins. “We usually project that an increase will last five years, but solid fiscal management historically has allowed us to make them last much longer.”

The Department’s last three resident rate changes happened in 1992, 1999 and 2007. License and permit fees for non-residents increased to help offset rising operational costs in 2014, but resident fees remained unchanged at the time.

Commission members said they took the action to help offset the rising costs of operating the Department’s three summer camps and the Salato Wildlife Education Center. In addition, increased revenue also will be utilized for increased conservation law enforcement efforts across the Commonwealth.

The three summer camps annually graduate more than 5,000 youth. The Salato Wildlife Education Center, located on the main Kentucky Fish and Wildlife campus, hosts more than 50,000 visitors each year.

“These programs are one main reason why Kentucky continues to see robust participation in hunting and fishing despite decreases seen in surrounding states,” said Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gregory K. Johnson. “Our children are our future sportsmen and sportswomen, and our future leaders.

“These license increases help the Department maintain a commitment and solid investment in outdoor education of our youth,” said Johnson. “Revenue also will support a more complete law enforcement presence across the state, and improved law enforcement recruitment and retention.”

“We operate almost entirely from user fees derived from hunting and fishing license sales, and federal excise taxes generated by the sale of hunting, fishing and shooting equipment and ammunition,” said Bevins. “Other Kentucky state agencies are largely funded by General Fund tax dollars.”

“The new rates for residents would not happen until the 2018 license year,” said Bevins, “so that means we will have made our last increase last for 11 years – more than twice the original projection.”

The Commission voted to increase a resident hunting license from its current $20 to $27, a resident fishing license from $20 to $23, a combination resident hunting/fishing license from $30 to $42 and the resident joint fishing license for spouses from $36 to $42.

Currently, the senior and disabled sportsman’s licenses provide $165 worth of licenses and permits for $5. A resident sportsman’s license cost $95.

Under the Commission action, the senior and disabled sportsman’s licenses would increase to $18. In 2007, Kentucky sold 90,184 of these licenses. Kentucky’s aging society caused that number to reach 120,426 by 2016, with that number projected to continue increasing.

“We surveyed senior and disabled license holders across Kentucky and had a strong response,” said Bevins. “Nearly three quarters said they would continue to purchase a license even if it was as much as $20.

“I believe the support from our seniors is a direct reflection of their own memories and experiences,” he said. “They remember when all deer hunting in Kentucky was prohibited prior to 1956 because there were very few deer, and when there were no wild turkey, elk or bears, or fish hatcheries to raise and stock fish.

“Today our fish and wildlife populations are healthy and abundant, and our management program is a national model. Our seniors know better than most that our conservation camps and school programs are helping to leave a better natural Kentucky for their children and grandchildren,” Bevins said.

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deerIt’s often said these are the good old days for deer hunting in Kentucky, but for those of a certain age, or new to hunting, it’s all they have ever known.

The world was tip-toeing into a new millennium the last time Kentucky’s deer harvest did not break 100,000 for a season. The 2016-17 season cleared that mark and surpassed 130,000 for the fifth consecutive season.

Hunters combined to take more than 139,000 deer before the book closed Jan. 16 on one of the three best seasons on record in Kentucky. The only seasons with higher harvest totals were the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons.

“We’ve been harvesting a lot of deer and that’s a reflection of how many deer we have on the landscape,” said Gabe Jenkins, big game program coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The good thing is our quality is still up. I’ve talked to a lot of folks who saw a lot of nice deer harvested this season.”

The 2015-16 season produced new records at nearly every turn, including the overall harvest record. Archery hunters kept the trend going this past September by starting the 2016-17 season with a record opening weekend.

A slowdown ensued as unseasonably warm temperatures set in. High winds, an ample acorn crop and a full moon added to the challenge for early muzzleloader season in mid-October and the two-day take was down sharply from the previous year.

Cooler temperatures arrived for modern gun season in November and coincided with the peak of breeding activity across the state.

Hunters responded by checking 41,796 deer the first weekend of modern gun season and 102,848 for the modern gun season overall. Both figures were the second highest on record behind the 2015-16 season.

“I think the warm weather possibly shifted some early season hunters to later,” Jenkins said. “I’ll have to look at that when I start digging into the numbers. I would venture to say that a lot of folks who normally take deer in September and October didn’t and waited until November.”

For the first time in 18 seasons, Owen County did not lead the state in the number of deer taken. Pendleton County finished ahead of it.

Harvest totals in the northern Kentucky county have been on the upswing for several seasons, and the recent results bring added attention to the fact. Hunters there reported taking more than 3,200 deer this past season. Owen, Crittenden, Graves and Christian counties completed the top-five.

Hunters took more than 5,500 deer on public lands across the state, according to telecheck harvest results. Two areas of interest entering this past season were Big Rivers WMA and State Forest in Crittenden and Union counties and the new Rolling Fork WMA in Nelson and LaRue counties.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife debuted a first-of-its-kind quota hunt for archery and crossbow deer hunting this past season at Big Rivers, which expanded in 2016 with the addition of the 841-acre Jenkins-Rich tract in Crittenden County.

“It was a pretty big move for us,” Jenkins said. “When we looked at this one, it wasn’t people shooting five or six deer. It was one person coming and shooting one deer, and it was a lot of people doing that. So it was strictly a numbers game.”

The action achieved the intended result: the deer harvest on Big Rivers was reduced by 38 percent this season.

Rolling Fork WMA came online this past September and allows modern gun hunting for deer. Of the 27 deer taken with a modern gun on the area, 19 were bagged on the more rugged LaRue County side of the property. A total of 32 deer – 15 male, 17 female – were taken on the WMA across all seasons.

Hunters reporting their harvest to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife through the telecheck process this past season were asked for additional information if they were checking male deer with or without antlers. Their answers will help biologists.

“We will be able to get a better feel for age-at-harvest more than we ever have,” Jenkins said. “It will allow us to analyze how we’ve been estimating in the past through our collections in the field compared to what our hunters are reporting. It will be beneficial to make those comparisons.”

Hunters who took a trophy deer this past season are encouraged to submit the necessary information for recognition in the trophy deer list that will appear in the next Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide. The deadline for submissions is May 1.

To be eligible, a hunter must have taken a white-tailed deer in Kentucky this past season that net scored 160 or higher typical or net scored 185 or higher non-typical going by the Boone and Crockett scoring system. The completed and signed score sheet along with a photo should be sent to Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide, #1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601. Include the county in which the deer was taken and the equipment used to harvest the deer. Emailed submissions to info.center@ky.gov also are accepted.

kdfw-rifleLots of hunters receive a new rifle over the holidays or take advantage of the subsequent sales to add to their collection.

The impulse is to immediately dash off to the shooting range. Fighting back that urge and instead taking time to familiarize yourself with your new rifle is a good first step toward safe and responsible ownership.

Because the mechanics and features of rifles can vary by model and manufacturer, it’s best to approach this getting-to-know-you phase without any preconceived notions. The safety mechanisms on three popular hunting rifles illustrate the sometimes small, but not insignificant, differences between models.

“The Remington 700 has a two-position safety lever on the side of the action. The Model 70 has a three-position lever that is attached to the rear of the bolt. The Ruger bolt guns have a tang safety that is behind the bolt and on the top of the pistol grip,” said Bill Balda, hunter education supervisor with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “These are all good places to put safeties, but this is an example of how manufacturers produce little differences in their rifles.”

The owner’s manual is a logical starting point. It will detail the main parts of the rifle and offer step-by-step instructions for safely operating and maintaining the rifle. If the booklet is missing, contact the manufacturer or check the company’s website for a downloadable copy.

Balda suggests tightening the action screws, sling studs, scope mount and scope rings and giving a newly acquired rifle a thorough first cleaning.

“When you clean it, you should strip it down to basic components,” he said. “I would use the manual when disassembling it for the first time. I would not take the bolt apart unless I absolutely had to. You should not take the firearm out of the stock unless it’s fallen into a big puddle or been in a heavy downpour and you need to get moisture out of it. Ninety-nine times out of 100 you do not need to take the rifle out of the stock.”

At home, practice handling your unloaded gun. A firm grip with your shooting hand will help better control the rifle and makes the trigger pull feel lighter, Balda said. Work the action, focusing on a fluid motion. Dummy rounds can be excellent training aids. Most common modern centerfire rifles can be dry-fired without harming the rifle but check the manual. Pulling the trigger should be a smooth, straight-back motion.

These movements become second nature through repetition.

“This is a very safe and economical way to learn the basics of shooting a good shot, which are sight alignment, trigger control and follow through,” Balda said.

For scoped rifles, boresighting is an excellent way to get “on paper” and expedite the sighting-in process at the range. This can be accomplished with the aid of a laser boresighter. Another method for a bolt action rifle with a scope starts with securing the unloaded rifle in a gun vise and removing the bolt. Place a dot on the wall or pick out an object like a light switch. Look through the receiver end toward the muzzle and move the gun until you can see your aiming point through the barrel. Then, look through the scope and adjust until the aiming point is aligned in the crosshairs.

“This is not a zero,” Balda said. “But it helps you get closer to a zero with less ammo.”

When you’re confident with your knowledge base and are ready to visit the shooting range, consider investing in ammunition from a few different manufacturers that match your rifle’s caliber. Don’t be shy about asking the sales associate or a mentor for recommendations.

If you plan to utilize a tube range maintained by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, bring along eye and hearing protection, targets and either tape or a staple gun to affix targets to the backdrops down range. Invite an experienced shooter to join you. Their feedback can be invaluable.

Balda recommends starting the sighting-in process at 25 yards and focusing on technique. Shoot groups of three to determine the type of ammunition that your rifle shoots best. This is the time to zero-in your scope.

“When you’re shooting, and you should use a rest, what’s really important is that you hold the rifle the same way,” Balda said. “A lot of people like to just lay the rifle across the top of a sandbag and let it recoil freely. Any change of pressure in your shooting hand will change the recoil pattern.

“The rifle starts to move before the bullet clears the muzzle. So if you’re not holding it down the same way, there’s no guarantee that it will be in the same place for each shot. This frustrates a lot of people. They have this big group and they say, ‘This rifle doesn’t shoot.’ Maybe it doesn’t but it probably does. It’s just a technique problem.”

Be a deliberate and safe shooter and follow all the guidelines for the range. Should any mechanical problems crop up with your new rifle, call it a day and contact a gunsmith or the manufacturer.

“Most of the problems with accuracy that people encounter when sighting-in a rifle are due to technique,” Balda said. “It’s not that the barrel doesn’t shoot or the ammo is bad or the sights weren’t tight. It’s usually technique. You need to hold the rifle securely each and every time. Put your head on the same place on the stock in order to get the right sight alignment and pull that trigger smooth and straight to the rear.”

Spending time getting to know your new rifle builds familiarity and trust. But it’s only part of becoming a safe, responsible hunter.

Hunter education courses are offered online and in-person throughout the state. Licensed hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1975 are required to successfully complete the course. A one-year, one-time only exemption card is available for hunters unable to complete coursework by the start of a season.

Consult Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov for more information and to enroll in a hunter education course.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet in Frankfort for a special called session at 8:30 a.m. (Eastern time) Jan. 6 to discuss proposed changes to the state’s elk regulations.

Items on the agenda for discussion include:

  • Compress or reduce the elk season;
  • Eliminate elk hunting in January;
  • Establish a regulation to eliminate elk hunting during deer season;
  • Establish a regulation to mandate a minimum bull size of 3 points on one side;
  • Establish a regulation to mandate wounding an elk ends that hunt if the animal is not successfully retrieved. Convicted hunters get substantial penalties, plus lose the right to hunt elk. Guides lose guide license for 10 years;
  • Establish a wanton waste regulation for elk, deer and bear with substantial penalties;
  • Establish a regulation to establish refuge (no hunting) areas at tourist/viewing areas;
  • Requests for management and data collection plans to be developed by the Department for Commission Discussion;
  • Meet in executive session if necessary.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission meetings are open for the public. Sessions are conducted at the Arnold Mitchell Building on the main campus of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife headquarters is located at 1 Sportsman’s Lane (formerly 1 Game Farm Road) in Frankfort. The entrance is located off U.S. 60, approximately 1½ miles west of U.S. 127.

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