By now, most hunters who wanted to tag a deer this year have succeeded or surrendered for the season. Kentucky’s deer season opened in September for archers. Crossbow shooters, blackpowder hunters and youngsters were afforded special deer days afield in October. The November modern gun deer hunt was open to everyone (firearm, muzzleloader, archers and crossbow hunters). There’s a second, 10-day blackpowder deer season in December; crossbows are allowed through Dec. 31; and archery extends through mid-January. There is still time for a late-season whitetail, but most deer hunters are done.
The resurgence of whitetail deer is one of wildlife management’s major success stories, and nowhere more so than in Kentucky. A century ago, whitetail deer likely would have been placed on the endangered species list, had one existed at that time. Unregulated hunting always receives—and deserves—a share of the blame when wildlife folks recall game numbers hitting historic lows. But habitat loss is the main culprit. Give animals proper cover and food, and more often than not, they not only survive, but prosper. Today, Kentucky has become a deer destination state, thanks to the high quality of the state’s herd, which includes more than 1 million animals. Hunting, by the way, is the management tool that keeps whitetail numbers in check.
Deer hunting maybe winding down, but duck hunters are just getting started.
Waterfowlers like me wait all year for December and January. We welcome plummeting temperatures, and embrace ice and snow. A cold rain is welcome. Sleet is our friend. These are things only duck hunters understand.
Duck season, as well as goose season, opens Thanksgiving weekend, but ducks and geese and their kin traverse the continent on their own schedule, departing from and returning to wild places most of us will never see.
In many ways, ducks and geese are the wildest of wild critters, arriving without warning and departing without notice. They are driven south by necessity, pushed by varying factors, primarily the weather, along with their search for food and their need for open water. Kentucky typically offers plenty of all three, although changes in land management and the expansion of refuge properties flanking the upper Mississippi River seem to keep more geese north of the Ohio River than in years past.
There are moments in a waterfowl blind that border on magical. Few outdoor experiences equal mallards dropping into flooded timber at first light. Or a Canada goose—a critter the size of a small dog—cupping its wings and floating feather-like toward a frost-covered field.
Waterfowl conservation has its own ups and downs, but numbers for the past 70 years have generally been on the upswing. For an interesting take on how duck numbers have rebounded go to aba.org/birding/v37n2p186.pdf.
The caller was succinct but a little misguided.
“Why would anyone want to hunt a black bear? They’re so cute.”
Most readers might be surprised to learn that Kentucky has a bear season and has had since 2009.
For those unaware of the bruin hunt:
~ It’s short—Dec. 12-14 for firearms.
~ Geographically limited—open only in parts of 16 southeastern Kentucky counties (Bell, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Leslie, Letcher, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Wayne and Whitley).
~ Open only to Kentucky residents.
~ Tightly controlled—The season limit is 10 bruins or five females, whichever comes first. There also was an archery/crossbow bear season that opened in late October that had a 10 total bear/five female limit.
I like bears. They are curious animals, intelligent and resourceful, and when bears are present, it’s a solid indication that the forestlands are healthy and thriving. Black bears were once common across much of Kentucky, and then they vanished when their habitat was stripped, not unlike elk, which have since returned. Now, bears are returning, primarily to the eastern highlands, but eventually will expand to where food and cover can be found.
They are not cute, at least not in the friendly sense. Bears are large, powerful, dangerous and unpredictable animals. They can appear clumsy and slow, almost sloth-like in their movements and seemingly pet-like. They are not. Bear attacks on humans are rare, but across a short distance, a black bear can outrun a horse and can take down a person in less time that it takes to read this sentence. Bears are back. If you are fortunate to see a bear, enjoy it from a distance. If you hunt one, do so wisely. You are not the only omnivore in the woods.
For details on deer, waterfowl and bear seasons go to fw.ky.gov. Information on deer and bear is in the hunting and trapping guide. Waterfowl are in a separate guide. These guides are available at most sporting goods outlets or can be viewed or downloaded from the website.
Readers may contact Gary Garth at firstname.lastname@example.org