FRANKFORT - Kentucky deer hunters will have lots of ground venison for chili this winter, roasts to bake with onions, celery and vegetables and back strap chops to grill during the summer.
That’s because a record deer harvest was posted for the 2012-13 deer season, which ended with the close of archery season on Jan. 21.
Hunters bagged 131,388 whitetails of which 56 percent were male and 44 percent female. Firearms hunters reported taking 95,612 deer while archers harvested 18,705 deer. Muzzleloader hunters took 14,583 deer and crossbow hunters, 2,488 deer.
The previous record harvest of 124,752 occurred during the 2004-05 season.
“We had exceptionally good weather, with no rainouts over the three weekends of modern gun season this past November,” said David Yancy, deer biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Coupled with that, we had an average to below average mast (acorn) crop. Deer had to search for food and that made it more likely they would be seen by hunters.”
Looking over the harvest data, Yancy said the increase in the number of deer taken by firearms hunters really jumps out and is the number one reason for the overall harvest record.
“Firearms hunters bagged 12,249 more deer than last season,” said Yancy. During the 2011-12 deer season, Kentucky firearms hunters took 83,363 deer. This season the total spiked to 95,612.
Archers also experienced an excellent season.
Archery hunters arrowed 18,705 deer, which represents the fourth consecutive harvest record dating back to the 2009-10 season.
A longer than normal season may have contributed to this year’s record archery harvest. “Because of calendar shift, there was an extra seven days of hunting,” Yancy. “Bow season opened on Sept. 1, the earliest it could have been.”
Archery season for deer opens on the first Saturday in September and continues through the third Monday in January. On average, that’s about 136 days of hunting.
The 2013-14 archery season dates are Sept. 7 through Jan. 20, 2014.
Prior to the 2012-13 deer season, Kentucky’s deer herd was estimated to number about 850,000, a decrease from one million in 2003.
Good habitat, aggressive doe harvest and the one-buck limit are thought to be the main reasons for the development of Kentucky’s quality deer herd. This herd grants good hunting opportunities in all 120 Kentucky counties.
Looking forward to next season, Yancy said odds are the deer harvest will remain within the statistical range of recent seasons.
“At this point, weather and the size of the mast crop or the availability of acorns are more of a factor in how many deer will be taken, than the actual size of the deer herd,” explained Yancy. “Our herd has stabilized.”
With hope, that stabilization will produce more harvest records next deer season.
Author Art Lander Jr. has been writing about the outdoors since the 1970s. He is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine.