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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s modern gun season for whitetail deer opens November 11

Modern gun season, the main event of Kentucky’s annual white-tailed deer season, opens next weekend.

This year the 16-day statewide season opens on Saturday, November 11 and continues through the Sunday after Thanksgiving, November 26. The season dates are slightly different, from year to year, due to calendar shift.

Modern gun season, the most important of Kentucky’s seven deer seasons, is when the most hunters are afield, and the most deer are taken. The season is timed to coincide with the rut, the whitetail’s annual mating season. Some bucks are in search of does going into heat (estrus), while other are already paired up and breeding. Typically, deer are active throughout the day, not just at dawn and dusk.

A white-tailed deer buck (Photo from KDFWR)

But weather, the mast crop and other factors influence deer movement, hunter participation, and ultimately the number of deer taken. Fluctuations in deer harvest, from year to year, are a normal occurrence.

The 2022-23 deer season harvest of 144,493 was the fourth highest in the last decade, and exceeded the 10-year average by about 2,000 deer.The total number of female deer harvested during the 2022-23 season was 65,334 deer. This was 1.2 percent above the 10-year average and an 14.4 percent increase from the 2021-22 season (57,126).

The percentage of female deer harvested has been relatively stable over the last decade, according to the 2022-23 Kentucky White-tailed Deer Harvest and Population Report.

Seventy-one percent of the overall deer season harvest last season occurred during modern gun season. That’s a fairly typical percentage, which is usually about 70 percent, slightly more, or less, from year to year.

Based on harvest trend data it is unlikely that this year’s deer harvest will mirror last season’s total.

That’s because in the last decade the deer harvest has been seesawing up and down, trending in a range from a low of 132,328 in 2021, to a high of 155,720 2015.

The report also stated that the statewide deer population estimate has been trending downward the past eight seasons from a high of almost 1.4 million in 2015 to almost 1 million in 2022, which is in line with the current management strategy.

Most of the population decline is in the Zone 1 counties, where deer densities are unsustainably high.

(Graphic form KDFWR; click to enlarge)

Northern Kentucky deer herds

All of the counties in Northern Kentucky are Zone 1 counties, which have the most liberal bag limits.

This includes the counties along the Ohio River from Mason County downriver to Hardin County, south to Scott and Woodford Counties on the edge of the Bluegrass Region, and southwest to Hart County.

Some of the counties in northern Kentucky with the highest harvest of antlered bucks per square mile of habitat are:

• Pendleton, 4.71 bucks per square mile.
• Robertson, 4.23 bucks per square mile.
• Bracken, 4.21 bucks per square mile.
• Gallatin, 4.09 bucks per square mile.
• Campbell, 3.49 bucks per square mile.
• Kenton, 3.48 bucks per square mile.
• Boone, 3.39 bucks per square mile.

Pendleton County also led the state in female deer harvested per square mile of habitat, 5.52 per square mile.

Hunters in Zone 1 counties are urged to take antlerless deer to keep deer sex ratios in balance and decrease reproductive potential of herds, but the deer harvest statistics prove otherwise.

Last season 73.6 percent of all successful hunters took only one deer, and only 18 percent of successful deer hunters took two deer or more.

Only one antlered deer per hunter may be harvested statewide, regardless of zone, method or season (Graphic from KDFWR; click to enlarge)

Season outlook from a weather perspective

Weather affects hunter participation and ultimately deer harvest. Kentucky weather is so unpredictable. We’ve had a warm, windy October, but freezing temperatures are in the immediate forecast.

A White-tailed deer doe (Photo from Flickr commons)

The weather forecast for November is for seasonal temperatures, with highs in the 50s and lows near freezing at night.

Stay tuned, keep your fingers crossed for cool temperatures.

Deer season regulations

The complete regulations for the 2023-24 Kentucky deer season are available online.

Get out there and bag a deer or two. Venison is the ultimate organic, free-range protein and your harvest will benefit Kentucky’s quality deer herd. Good luck hunters.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. 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.

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