posted on September 24, 2004 00:00
Hunters, beware! There is such an abundance of game prowling the woods that an inattentive nimrod could be trampled into the sod.
That's an exaggeration, of course, but as summer melts into hunting season, wildlife numbers are strong and populations are healthy — so far as those things can be measured.
Kentucky's archery deer season opened yesterday, and the outlook for the commonwealth's No.1 game animal is particularly bright, according to state wildlife biologist and deer specialist Jonathan Day.
Kentucky's herd has grown to 900,000, far fewer than the habitat would support but just about right to promote healthy hunting while keeping the non-hunting public happy.
Traditionally, deer numbers have been high in the western part of the state and low in the eastern part. That vague generalization no longer is completely accurate.
"Of course, we have concentrations of deer," Day said. "Western Kentucky and Northern Kentucky are definitely the high deer-density areas. We're still trying to grow the herd in Eastern Kentucky, but that area is coming along quite well."
He added that one remaining long-term management goal is to offer a modern firearm hunt in every county for either sex of deer. Currently, Zone 4 counties (all of which are in the southeastern section of the state) are limited to antlered deer during the modern firearm season.
"That's coming," Day said. "Not next year and not probably the following year, but I think within four years we'll have a (modern) firearm doe season in Eastern Kentucky."
The state continues to be the envy of whitetail hunters everywhere. Large, healthy deer live here, evidence of which can be found in the record books. Kentucky hunters entered more than 50 bucks in the Boone and Crockett record book last year. That's largely the result of genetics, but management plays a role, and that means hunting.
Kentucky hunters are doing their part by taking nearly as many does as bucks (last season's harvest was 49percent antlerless). Hunter selectivity when releasing an arrow or pulling the trigger on a buck is another factor.
Day would like to see hunters take a few more deer from Northern Kentucky — roughly the area bounded by Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati. It's a region where the human population is growing, and although those folks generally like seeing deer, they don't care to see them shredding their gardens and expensive landscaping.
"We hear a lot of complaints from that area because that's where all the people are," Day said. "And consequently, that's where most of the encroachment in the deer habitat is coming from."
In the west, where deer are probably just as numerous, complaints are few. The rural landscape easily could harbor many more deer, but farmers would object.
"We don't hear much about overpopulation in Western Kentucky," Day said. "We leave it at Zone 1 because they know how to manage the herd under those conditions. The farmers and hunters know what needs to be done, and they do it."
The small-game outlook for 2004-05 also is promising. With the exception of squirrel season, which opened in August, small-game hunting will begin in November.
John Morgan still is digesting survey data gathered during the spring and summer, but the buzz points to quail numbers on the rise. Quail once were the premier game birds across the Southeast, but they were largely erased by relentless habitat destruction and the infusion of fescue as a cover drop.
Thanks to a number of state and federal programs that promote the non-cultivation of marginal farmland and the replanting of native grasses, the birds are making something of a comeback. A mild spring and cooperative weather for nesting points to a promising season. And what's good for quail is generally good for rabbits and other ground-nesting game.
"Squirrel numbers are pretty fabulous this year," said Morgan, small-game biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "And what I've been hearing from the field is that I think we've had a pretty darn good production year for quail. We may have experienced some double brooding this year.
"And since the news is pretty good for quail, I'd expect rabbits to be good, too. The grouse outlook is good. We're looking for good things this year. I think there's reason for optimism."
Waterfoul hunters who can't wait for the migratory seasons can get some action this month during the early Canada goose and wood duck and teal seasons.