Since 1958, more than 600 of Kentucky’s white-tailed deer have made the record books for their trophy-sized antlers and been listed in the Boone and Crockett Club, which tracks and scores big game animals. It may surprise you that hunters took nearly half those deer over the past seven seasons alone.
Kentucky’s production of trophy white-tailed deer now ranks fifth in North America–a little less than Ohio, but more than Saskatchewan, Canada. As the state’s deer herd has grown from fewer than 2,000 in 1945 to nearly a million today, opportunities have likewise grown for hunters to take a trophy.
The big bucks aren’t just limited to traditional places like Ohio, Muhlenberg, Butler, and Christian counties, either. Since 2000, Hart County has emerged as the top producer of trophy deer. Kentucky’s other top areas for big bucks over the past seven seasons include Casey, Henderson, Lewis, and Grayson counties.
Even in southeastern Kentucky–the last place the rejuvenated deer herd has gained a foothold–hunters in Bell, Breathitt, Harlan, Jackson, Johnson, Leslie, Knott, Perry, and Whitley counties have taken trophies. “Just about any county can produce a Boone and Crockett deer,” says Tina Brunjes, who oversees deer herd management for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
There are several reasons why Kentucky produces big bucks. There’s plenty of food for them to eat. Genetics also play a role: records dating back to the World War I era show that Kentucky imported deer from Michigan and New Jersey to bolster the herd. Kentucky also stocked deer brought in from Wisconsin.
Perhaps one of the most significant reasons for Kentucky’s big bucks involves the age of the animals. In 1989, about 80 percent of the bucks taken in Kentucky were less than 2 years old. They simply weren’t old enough to grow big antlers. Today, only half the bucks taken by hunters are that young. Many hunters nowadays choose to ignore small bucks and try for the bigger animals.
However, deer can overpopulate an area if their numbers are not kept in check. Overcrowding means less food and smaller antlers. To prevent this from happening, the department encourages hunters to take does, especially in the higher density Zone 1 hunting areas.
With the help of hunters, Kentucky can keep its trophy deer ranking high.
See how deer season is progressing in your county by going online to www.fw.ky.gov. Click on the “Hunting” tab, then “Telecheck Results.” From there, you can access comprehensive databases of current deer harvest by county, weapon, regions, or public lands.