Hunters in Kentucky harvested more white-tailed deer during the 2022-23 season than the season before and posted an overall harvest total rivaling some of the highest on record.
The 144,506 deer taken by hunters from early September through Jan. 16 is the highest total since 2019 and the fourth most taken in a season over the past decade. The 2015-16 season harvest of 155,734 remains the benchmark in Kentucky’s modern history.
The top five counties by total harvest this past season were Christian, Hardin, Shelby, Breckinridge and Pendleton.
“It was a solid season from start to finish,” said Noelle Thompson, deer program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Favorable hunting weather during the 16-day modern gun season in November helped drive the harvest total higher. Average white oak and red oak acorn production also played into hunters’ favor.”
The abundance of acorns and nuts (hard mast) produced by Kentucky’s hardwood trees influences whitetail behavior throughout the season as a deer’s primary food source. Biologists noted before the season that dry conditions observed during the late summer and early fall would likely lead to early mast drop of all hardwood species, meaning available hard mast could be exhausted sooner.
Beyond being driven by natural instincts in the fall, deer also become more active and travel farther distances as food sources grow scarcer.
Hunters took more deer than the 10-year average harvest (142,712 deer) and roughly 12,000 more deer than were reported taken in the 2021-22 season.
Female deer comprised 45% of the harvest, while the remaining 55% were male. Of the male deer harvest, 68% were mature animals aged 2 ½ years or older.
Most deer harvested each year in Kentucky are taken by firearm.
This past season,104,878 deer were harvested with modern firearms, making up 73% of the total. Archery hunters harvested 11% of the total with crossbows and muzzleloaders contributing 9% and 7% respectively.
Hunter success also aided Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s efforts to monitor for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the always fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and other cervids. The disease has not been detected in Kentucky.
The department has submitted more than 5,200 samples for CWD testing since March 2022. That figure includes deer and elk samples. The disease was not detected in any.
This past season, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife operated 13 mandatory check stations in five western Kentucky counties (Calloway, Marshall, Graves, Hickman and Fulton), where special regulations remain in place following the 2021 detection of CWD in a mature deer in northwest Tennessee. It also operated three voluntary check stations in two southeastern Kentucky counties (Harlan and Bell).
The check stations were open on weekends of modern gun deer season.
“I consider this year’s CWD surveillance effort a success,” Thompson said. “Thanks to the hunters’ cooperation, we were able to collect a total of 2,490 samples at our mandatory check stations and met our sampling quotas for each county within the CWD Surveillance Zone.”
Current information about CWD is available online at fw.ky.gov/cwd.
As a reminder, the new license year starts March 1.
The 2023-24 deer season will open on Sept. 2 for archery hunters as well as youth and Kentucky resident seniors hunting with crossbows. Crossbow season will open Sept. 16. Archery and crossbow seasons run through Jan. 15, 2024.
The youth-only gun season will be Oct. 14-15. Muzzleloader seasons are slated for Oct. 21-22 and Dec. 9-17. The modern gun season will fall between those timeframes, opening Nov. 11 and continuing through Nov. 26. Finally, the free youth weekend will be Dec. 30-31.
More than a quarter-million people hunt deer in Kentucky each year.
Venison is an important and healthy source of protein for these hunters and their families, as well as many food banks and shelters they help to support through donating venison or making charitable contributions to Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry. Deer hunting also contributes an estimated $800 million to Kentucky’s economy annually.
Hunters can access the MyProfile online portal to purchase licenses, view telecheck history, submit quota hunt applications, and more.