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Room to roam

Wildlife management areas available for public use

Many years ago, my friends and I had the fortune of having deer-hunting access on a gorgeous farm located in the highlands of Carroll County.

We camped inside an abandoned farmhouse braced with plywood nailed across its windowless sockets. Each morning before daylight, we tramped into the darkness to find a good spot to begin our hunts.

The memories lasted, but not our access. The owner wisely leased hunting rights to the farm to pay his property taxes. Our group of college-age hunters was far too broke to match the offer of the other group.

Finding a place to hunt isn’t quite as easy as in days past. Kentucky’s population now reaches beyond 4.4 million, according to the latest U.S. census. The state’s rising national reputation for trophy deer also draws an influx of out-of-state hunters every year.

Fortunately, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources owns, leases, or manages more than 80 wildlife management areas (WMAs) for the public to use. That’s on top of numerous public lands open through the federal government’s stewardship.

These properties appeal to the explorer in all of us.

On these public lands, you can walk through a century-old wagon tunnel carved through the capstone of Stone Mountain at Cranks Creek WMA in Harlan County.

Sharp-eyed birdwatchers visiting the Sloughs WMA near Henderson in winter just might catch a glimpse of dozens of tundra swans on the water.

Visitors to Adair WMA in Boone County just might find a patch of rare running buffalo clover, Kentucky’s only native clover and a remnant of the buffalo traces that once crossed the state.

Some areas are still new and have only opened to the public in the past year or two. Rolling Fork WMA, for example, includes nearly 3,000 acres of riverfront, old farm fields, forests, and rugged terrain. This area, located in the Knobs region of LaRue and Nelson counties, offers an extensive trail system for hours of exploration. Be aware that the trails are not maintained—they are remnants of previous owners, including farm lanes and logging skid trails. Access is by foot only.

Start your journey on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website, fw.ky.gov. Click the “maps” tab at the top of the page to find the wildlife management area nearest you.

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