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Kentucky hunters’ seasonal deer harvest rivals some of the highest on record

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Kentucky’s white-tailed deer harvest rivaled some of the highest on record, beating every season since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hunters took 144,506 deer last season, at least 7% of which were harvested using muzzleloaders, like modern versions of the same firearms used by the Continental Army to fend off the British.

Experts with Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources say good weather and an abundance of acorns and nuts contributed to the strong seasonal harvest.

“It was a solid season from start to finish,” said Noelle Thompson, deer program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Favorable hunting weather during the 16-day modern gun season in November helped drive the harvest total higher. Average white oak and red oak acorn production also played into hunters’ favor.”

The 2022-2023 season ran from September through Jan. 16. Hunters beat the 10-year average, but fell short of the all time record of nearly 156,000 deer taken during the 2015 season. Christian, Hardin, Shelby, Breckinridge and Pendleton posted the top five harvest totals for the 2022 season.

Hunters relied largely on firearms, making up about 73% of all deer harvested, followed by bows and crossbows.

More than a quarter million people hunt deer in Kentucky every year, but it wasn’t always that way. Unregulated hunting nearly drove the state’s deer population to extinction. What’s now known as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources led successful restoration efforts over several decades.

Today, the state’s deer population is thriving and deer hunting contributes an estimated $800 million to the state’s economy every year.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife continues to monitor for Chronic Wasting Disease, but did not detect it among the more than 5,200 deer and elk samples submitted for testing since March of last year. Chronic Wasting Disease is a fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and other cervids. It’s been found in several nearby states including Ohio, Virginia Tennessee and Missouri, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I consider this year's CWD surveillance effort a success," Thompson said. “Thanks to the hunters' cooperation, we were able to collect a total of 2,490 samples at our mandatory check stations and met our sampling quotas for each county within the CWD Surveillance Zone."

The 2023-24 deer season will open Sept. 2 for archery hunters, youth and seniors hunting with crossbows.

Ryan Van Velzer is Louisville Public Media's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at
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