Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Hunters Post Near-Record Harvests For Deer And Fall Turkey
Frankfort, Kentucky – Kentucky's 2008-09 deer and fall turkey seasons are now over, with hunters taking the second highest number of fall turkeys and third highest number of deer on record. Hunters checked 5,058 turkeys and 120,571 deer during the fall season.
“There were a couple of factors that went into the near-record turkey harvest,” said Steven Dobey, turkey program coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The outstanding reproduction that we saw in the summer of 2008 put a lot of turkeys on the ground that were available for harvest this winter. Summer 2008 was the highest turkey reproduction since 2000.”
The other factor was hunter participation. Dobey said as the state's turkey flock has grown, hunters have become more interested in fall turkey hunting.
“Turkey numbers are at an all-time high,” Dobey said. “Because turkey season in particular overlaps with deer season, we're seeing a lot more interest in fall turkey hunting.”
Dobey added that even a high fall turkey harvest should not impact overall turkey numbers to the point that spring hunters see fewer birds.
“Relatively speaking, few birds are harvested in the fall,” he said. “Hunters harvested just over 5,000 birds in the entire fall season, while we'll take up to 30,000 in just the month of April. Fall harvest overall doesn't have a detrimental impact statewide.”
David Yancy, a biologist in Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's big game program, believes the near-record deer harvest was due in part to a lower harvest in 2007. Yancy believes concern over the effects of a severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) that year may have kept the harvest down.
“Some people either didn't hunt at all, or only harvested antlered deer,” Yancy said. “That left more deer on the ground for fawning last summer, so there were more deer out there to be encountered by hunters this year.”
Hunters took about 49 percent female deer during the 2008-09 season. Yancy said that's not a bad proportion, since deer numbers need to be reduced in some high-population areas. Still, deer managers would like to see an even higher proportion of does in the harvest to keep deer numbers in balance with habitat.
“We would like to see it be the other way around, with 51 percent female harvest and 49 percent male harvest,” said Yancy. “If we could get back to that next year, we'll be doing well.”
Near-record seasons indicate large deer and turkey populations. Biologists estimate Kentucky's deer herd at about one million animals, while the turkey flock is estimated at about 200,000 birds. After decades of population growth, however, both species' numbers are leveling out. Turkeys and deer have now filled the state's best habitat, limiting the potential for population growth.
“The deer population is reaching an equivalent with the turkey population as far as growth,” said Yancy. “We're probably starting to reach the limit of what the habitat can support.”
While hunters won't post a record harvest every year, this season's high numbers prove that Kentucky's deer and turkey hunting opportunities are in good shape.
Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, has an economic impact to the state of $4.5 billion annually. For more information about the department, visit our web site at fw.ky.gov.
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