My backyard opens to about an 80-acre field hemmed by a patch of woods and a natural swale, beyond which croplands stretch northward and easterly until they encounter encroaching subdivisions. The croplands’ complexion shifts with the seasons. They usually are row crops: soybeans, wheat, corn … occasionally a patch of tobacco. The crops are rotated; the land cultivated carefully. My farming neighbors are conscientious stewards.
During the growing season, deer are usually twice-a-day visitors. It doesn’t take a biologist to figure out that they come for the food.
Kentucky is home to about 1 million whitetail deer. The wildlife experts who oversee and manage the state’s deer herd are pleased with that number, although they would like to see a few more deer in some eastern and southern Kentucky counties and a few less in some western and central counties.
You’ve probably seen deer browsing along the highway, grazing near a woods lot or prancing through your subdivision.
People love deer. They are beautiful, graceful and surprisingly social animals.
They are also voracious eaters and, like most wild critters, rarely pass up an easy meal … like a field of soybeans or corn.
“Deer can, and do, a lot of crop damage,” said Mike Ohlmann.
It’s true. In some spots, deer do inflict considerable crop damage. And while most farmers and landowners have an inherent fondness and appreciation for wildlife, they don’t particularly enjoy watching deer buzz through a stand of crops like a Husqvarna MZ61 commercial-strength mower.
Where deer-related crop depredation is a problem, Ohlmann wants to help. He wants to help farmers. He wants to help landowners. He wants to help hunters.
But mostly, he wants to help people who are hungry.
Ohlmann, a longtime Louisville taxidermist, is chairman of the board for Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry, a nonprofit group that distributes donated venison at no charge to shelters and other organizations that provide food for the needy. Last year, the group distributed more than 65,000 pounds of venison.
The donated venison comes from hunters. Deer processors who participate in the Hunters for the Hungry program offer a reduced rate to butcher and package venison destined for food banks and other distribution centers.
Aided by a regulation change what allows farmers and landowners a bit more leeway in removing depredating deer, Hunters for the Hungry has unrolled Kentucky Whitetail Access, a new program designed to team farmers and landowners with hunters to help thin deer numbers from areas where whitetails are chewing up profitable crops.
Ohlmann, of course, would like to see some of those deer go to Hunters for the Hungry.
“Kentucky Whitetail Access is a web-based program that will allow a farmer or landowner who has deer depredation problems to sign up,” Ohlmann explained. “And the landowner or farmer sets the parameters that they want. This is primarily a tool to help landowners.”
Hunters sign up, too. Then Hunters for the Hungry cross matches the two databases and informs landowners how to reach hunters who meet their criteria.
Landowners can remove depredating deer any time, although they are required to adhere to some fish and wildlife guidelines and regulations. They also can request deer depredation permits, up to five of which can be provided to a hunter but only during legal deer hunting season (September through mid-January). Hunters can take depredating deer outside deer-hunting season dates but only under the direction and permission of a landowner and with a wildlife control permit issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
What Kentucky Whitetail Access does is provide information to landowners about hunters who are willing to meet and abide by their guidelines.
“The landowner may only want to allow archery hunting,” Ohlmann said. “Or he or she may allow muzzleloaders. They may not allow treestands. Or they may only want ground blinds. They may only wish to allow supervised youth hunts. The landowner tells us what they want, and we supply the landowner with contact information for hunters willing to meet their requirements. We work with the landowner directly. It’s up to the landowner to contact the hunter.”
Interest in Whitetail Access has been high among hunters but not so much among landowners. Ohlmann thinks this will change as news of the program spreads.
“Right now, we have a high number of hunters who have applied because they have heard about it,” he said. “We’re trying to spread the word among landowners.”
Find out more or apply online at kyhuntersforthehungry.info. Click on “Kentucky Whitetail Access.”
For other information or to receive a mail-in application, contact Mike Ohlmann at (502) 645-4816.