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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s 2020-2021 deer season results in fifth-highest harvest on record

(Photo from KDFWR)

The coronavirus pandemic had little if any impact on Kentucky’s 2020-2021 white-tailed deer season as hunters checked in 141,630 deer, the fifth-highest harvest total on record, surpassing the 10-year average of 137,008.

“We’re very pleased with the 2020-21 harvest numbers,” said Ben Robinson, assistant director of the Wildlife Division at the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). “Despite rainy and windy weather during the November modern gun season, hunter turnout and number of deer taken were both outstanding.”

(Graphic from KDFWR)

KDFWR reported that hunter numbers surged, with more than 320,000 hunting licenses were sold in 2020, a significant jump from the previous year’s total of slightly less than 308,000 licenses. More than 20,800 new hunters purchased a license last year.

Deer season is a driving force in Kentucky’s economy, each year generating over $550 million in economic impact through retail expenditures, over $86 million in tax revenues to sustain public services and supports more than 13,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.

Overall, the deer harvest by weapon type was: archery, 17,990; modern firearms, 97,609; muzzleloader, 12,861, and crossbow, 13,171.

The deer harvest with crossbows was a record for the weapon type, besting the previous record by 3,384 deer. The big jump in harvest is attributed to a longer season, with more hunters eligible to hunt with crossbows. A legal resident hunter age 65 years or older and a youth hunter age 15 or younger may hunt deer with a crossbow from the first Saturday in September through the third Monday in January.

The estimated one million deer in Kentucky’s herd are healthy, with a favorable growth rate. The herd continues to expand, and populations in some of Kentucky’s 51 Zone 1 counties are at all-time highs.

White-tailed Deer (Photo from Flickr Commons)

Hunters took 54.4 percent antlered deer and 45.6 percent antlerless deer (does) during the season. The female component of the harvest was the third-highest number in the past five seasons, 64,600. Kentucky’s record doe harvest of 70,259 occurred during the 2015-16 season.

In five of the top 10 counties with the highest deer harvest, hunters took more antlerless deer than antlered deer. These counties were: Crittenden, Shelby, Graves, Pendleton and Hopkins. The continued, aggressive harvest of antlerless deer is needed to slow herd growth, especially in the Zone 1 counties, where deer densities are at or above management goals.

The state is divided into five wildlife regions. The deer harvest by region was: Green River Region, 41,358 deer; Bluegrass Region, 39,499; Purchase Region, 22,698; Southeast Region, 21,980, and Northeast Region, 16,096.

Kentucky’s 2020-2021 deer season got off to a fast start.

In September, archers bagged 7,980 deer, the highest total on record for the month. The record harvest was likely due to favorable hunting conditions, cool and dry weather.

For the 136-day archery season, bowhunters checked in 17,990 deer, an 8.31 percent increase over the previous season.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Robinson said the harvest on the opening weekend of archery season in September was the highest on record.

Hunters harvested a combined total of 31,161 deer with archery and crossbow equipment.

The October deer harvest was 16,184, 1,229 more deer than the five-year average of 14,955.

Muzzleloader season saw a slight jump in harvest numbers, with hunters reporting taking 4,670 deer during the two-day October muzzleloader season and 8,402 during the nine-day December muzzleloader season.

The November harvest of 101,762 deer was the lowest in the past eight seasons. Hunters checked in 94,683 deer during the 16-day modern gun season, November 14-29, including the sixth-highest harvest on record for opening day.

Typically, the harvest during modern gun season accounts for about 75 percent of the total season harvest, but this season it was 66.85 percent.

The lower harvest is attributed to unfavorable weather conditions that decreased hunter participation on the first and second Sundays of the season when 8,553 and 3,847 deer were harvested by hunters.

The harvest on the first Sunday of the modern gun season was down almost 46 percent compared to the five-year average (15,825). The harvest on the second Sunday of the season was down almost 49 percent from the five-year average (7,506).

The December harvest was 12,470 deer, and January’s harvest was 3,229 deer, the second-highest January harvest total on record.

No changes to the zone status of Kentucky’s 120 counties, season lengths or bag limits are anticipated for the 2021-2022 deer season.

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