Normally, I have to chase only the occasional rabbit from my garden. This year, however, a half-dozen of them were drawn to my spinach and lettuce like moths to a lantern.
I learned the hard way that the same spring rains that helped gardens across the state this year also produced a bumper crop of wildlife. Ben Robinson, small game wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, says the above-average rainfall spurred the luscious growth of plants that critters depend on for food and hiding places.
“It’s been a phenomenal breeding season for rabbits this year,” he says. “The number of rabbits that we’ve seen in our annual surveys is the highest it’s been since 1990.”
Summer rains also delayed farmers from cutting their pastures for hay, which helped young wildlife to survive and gave them extra time to grow. Robinson notes that quail populations grew by nearly 60 percent this year, and their numbers doubled in the western and central areas of the state.
The extra cover likely assisted the deer fawn survival rate this summer as well. Biologists estimate the herd numbered approximately 900,000 by the time the statewide deer archery season began September 7.
Hunters who want to put venison on the table will see well-fed deer this season. Tina Brunjes, the department’s deer and elk program coordinator, says bucks have been able to put a lot of nutrition into antler growth because of favorable conditions in the forests and fields.
Persistent rain earlier in the year also delayed the planting and harvesting of corn and soybeans throughout most of the state. Deer key on both of these crops, especially in the big farms of western Kentucky. Corn and soybeans standing in the fields later into the year helped deer come into the fall season in better condition.
Brunjes explains that deer may not be as visible because of the overgrown areas. “Bucks will have plenty of places to hide and little reason to roam for food, but the rut is non-negotiable to a deer,” she says. “They have to get out and seek does, which means leaving security cover. Knowing where the travel corridors are on your hunting land is more important than ever in years like this one.”
So maybe it wasn’t such a good year for salads. However, if you’re looking for organic, free-range meat for your table—such as those dastardly, spinach-raiding rabbits—this is a good year to go hunting.
Looking for a place to hunt or just explore? Go online to www.fw.ky.gov
and check under the Maps & Online Services for listings of wildlife management areas.