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Deer and squirrel hunting are state traditions 

When leaves turn and cool air sets in, listen for the rustle of leaves

KENTUCKY IS HOME TO some of the best deer hunting in the country. With 1,048 entries in the official Boone and Crockett Club’s sixth edition Records of North American Whitetail Deer, Kentucky ranks No.6 for Boone and Crockett whitetails. Knowing that these big bucks are roaming the Bluegrass State is enough to get any deer hunter excited about the upcoming season.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources leases or manages more than 85 wildlife management areas for public use. As a public land deer hunter, I can appreciate the many opportunities the agency provides to Kentucky deer hunters. The diversity of habitat, whether on public or private land across the state, enables hunters to choose the way they hunt. From hardwood ridges and swamp bottoms to agricultural fields, Kentucky deer hunters have it all.

Kentucky deer season opens the first Saturday in September, offering an opportunity to harvest a trophy buck earlier than most states—but with a one-buck limit. That doesn’t deter Christian Swarts of Bardstown, a consumer-member of Salt River Electric cooperative. 

An avid Kentucky deer hunter and with several great bucks to his credit, Swarts prefers to limit out early. “My favorite time to hunt is the early season. I like to watch the deer from afar and pattern their movements from food to bedding area. To me, this is the best time to take a nice Kentucky buck,” he says.

The pre-rut begins in October—the favorite time for many hunters to hit the woods. When Swarts fails to harvest a buck during the early season, he shifts his focus to cruising bucks that are looking for does—his second favorite time for deer hunting. 

“When the leaves begin to turn, and the air begins to cool, I like to set my trail cameras in likely travel routes of these cruising bucks. You never know what you are going to see when bucks are traveling outside their home range during this phase of the rut,” he explains. “Monitoring trail cameras and figuring out when a particular buck is up and moving through a certain saddle or across a certain ridgeline, is a lot of fun. It can also lead to a great buck for the wall.”

September and October are reserved for archery hunters here in Kentucky, but October is still a great time to scout the woods for the upcoming modern gun season in November. The rut is usually in full swing come opening morning of gun season, giving hunters an opportunity to harvest one of those Boone and Crockett bucks and help move Kentucky up in the rankings.

Kentucky squirrel hunting

Squirrel hunting is as synonymous with Kentucky as Daniel Boone himself. The grey squirrel was part of America’s early days—squirrel recipes were served in the finest restaurants and dinner tables throughout the early frontier. Many young hunters today began by chasing squirrels along fence rows and hardwood ridges across Kentucky. Squirrel hunting opportunities in Kentucky are as plentiful today as ever before.

October is one of my favorite times of the year and squirrel hunting is one of the reasons why. The cool mornings, fall colors and the barking of a grey squirrel in a hickory tree has always signaled the beginning of hunting season. I prefer to hunt squirrels when the days cool, and Kentucky offers a long squirrel season. 

The opening day of squirrel season is a tradition for many Kentucky hunters—like Vince Dorman and his father, Troy, consumer-members of Kenergy Corp. who have been hunting in western Kentucky for several seasons now. 

“I look forward to opening day of squirrel season every year,” says Vincent. “I carry my grandfather’s double-barrel .410 and get to spend time with my Dad doing something we both love to do. It is one of those things that I hope continues for many more seasons.” 

While the two animals couldn’t be more different in appearance, squirrel hunting is arguably the best first step to deer hunting, a route taken by many Kentucky hunters. Whether we’re sitting still or slowly sneaking through the oak and hickory trees, the practice of scanning ahead for the flick of a tail or listening intently for the rustling of leaves, prepares us for hunting deer. 

Another commonality the two share is woodsmanship and marksmanship—the two most important skills for any hunter to take to the woods. Woodsmanship is best learned over time spent afield, while marksmanship should be practiced and learned before the hunt and honed during it. 

Have fun this hunting season and consider introducing someone new to the great outdoors and to the many exceptional hunting experiences that Kentucky has to offer. 


Betty A. Pugh, Falmouth

2 dressed squirrels, cut into pieces

¾ C red wine

1 C water

2 bay leaves

1 large onion, chopped

2 carrots, sliced

1 ½ to 2 C barbecue sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil, then simmer the squirrel pieces in the wine and water with the onion, carrots, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook covered for an hour. Remove squirrel pieces, place in a baking dish and cover with barbecue sauce. Bake in a preheated oven at 300° for 45 minutes or until tender. 

Source: Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources 

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