A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: Deer season’s prime time opens this weekend across Kentucky

Depending on a county's zone status, modern gun season is either 16 of 10 days long. (Graphic provided)

Depending on a county’s zone status, modern gun season is either 16 of 10 days long. (Graphic provided)


Deer season’s prime time — modern gun season — opens this weekend across Kentucky. The season is 16 days long, Nov. 8-23, in the 36 Zone 1 counties and 27 Zone 2 counties. In the remaining 57 Kentucky counties of Zones 3 and Zone 4, the season is 10 days long, Nov. 8-17.

Hunters in Zones 1-3 may take deer of either sex. In the Zone 4 counties, hunters are restricted to antlered deer only.

All the details on Kentucky’s deer hunting zones and seasons are available here.

Kentucky has about 200,000 deer hunters. A record 101,076 deer were taken last gun season, or about 70 percent of the total harvest of 144,409.

About 70 percent of all deer taken during Kentucky's  deer season, are bagged during modern gun season.  (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

About 70 percent of all deer taken during Kentucky’s deer season are bagged during modern gun season. (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Safety first

Hunt hard, but be safe. Wear hunter orange clothing, as required by law, and obey basic gun safety rules.

“Almost all hunting incidents involve a lapse in following safety rules,” said Bill Balda, hunter education program supervisor for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Accidental discharges and mistaken for game are two scenarios that often play out in firearms deer hunting accidents.

“In accidental discharge incidents the first rule of gun safety is violated,” said Balda “That’s to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. If something happens (the gun goes off accidentally), nobody gets hurt.”

In mistaken-for-game-accidents, Balda said the hunter “doesn’t visually identify the target.”

Frequently, a second gun safety rule has also been ignored in accidental discharge incidents. “Keep the gun unloaded and its action open until you’re ready to hunt,” said Balda. “Looking back over the (hunting accident) data, accidental discharges often involve vehicles.”

In past deer seasons hunters have been shot taking loaded firearms from vehicles, while riding on four-wheelers, and in camp. In one incident a loaded rifle was leaned up against a truck. It fell to the ground and went off, killing a hunter seated nearby.

There’s no reason to have a loaded deer rifle in a truck or while on a four-wheeler. “It’s illegal to hunt or shoot from roadways,” said Balda.

How much does my deer weigh?

You’ve bagged a deer and now the hard work begins. It seems like it weighs a ton as you carry it from the woods. The question is how much does it really weigh?

Unless you have a scale, it’s a guesstimate at best. Harry Whitehead, of Gunners Taxidermy in Nicholasville offers this chart for in-the-field guesstimates of deer weights. Just make sure you have a tape measure back at deer camp.

1 chart

Field care of deer carcasses

Proper care of a deer in the field will ensure good-tasting venison.

Field dress the deer immediately, and rinse out the body cavity. Deer hunters who are camping, or are driving home after hunting, should take along several gallons of clean water for this purpose. Hunters who are able to bring their deer back to the house within minutes of it being field dressed, should hang up their deer and rise out the body cavity with a high-pressure nozzle on a garden hose.

It’s OK to hang a deer overnight if the air temperature is below 50 degrees. If the temperature overnight will rise above 50 degrees, the deer must be skinned and butchered immediately.

The best cut of meat on a deer is the tenderloins, long, tender muscles inside the chest cavity, attached to the bottom of the spine.

The second best cut is arguably the backstrap, long, round strips of meat along both side of backbone, just above the ribs.

The deer’s hams, its back legs, are meaty, but tougher. The hams are typically cut into roasts and steaks, ground into burger or cut into chunks for soup or stew. The shoulders, if not too badly damaged by bullets or arrows, are typically kept whole for the BBQ grill.

If overnight temperatures are going to be 50 degrees or higher, deer must be skinned and butchered immediately after harvest. Shown here is removal of the backstraps.  (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

If overnight temps will be 50 degrees or higher, deer must be skinned and butchered immediately after harvest. Shown here is removal of the backstraps. (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The best advice is to debone all cuts of venison, and remove all the fat. Never saw through bones because it spreads marrow across the surface of the meat, which gives venison a gamey taste.

When freezing cuts of venison, first wrap in clear plastic wrap, then freezer paper. This will prevent the meat from being exposed to air so it can be kept in the freezer longer.

How old is my deer

For decades wildlife biologists have been using tooth wear and replacement as a method for aging white-tailed deer.

Deer are aged by examining the premolars and molars of the lower jaw. As a deer grows older, its teeth continue to wear. As the enamel begins to wear away, and exposes the dark dentine material, noticeable distinctions in tooth wear occur between each age class.

Deer are aged in year and half increments, typically 6 months, 1 1/2 years, 2 1/2 years, 3 1/2 years, etc., since deer are born in late spring and early summer, their harvest does not begin until the fall hunting season.

Deer ages are important to deer herd managers. Age data provides information about deer herd characteristics, and hunting or other mortality pressures on a particular age class. Age data becomes a valuable piece of information when used with other data such as antler characteristics, dressed body weights or lactation in females, to determine herd condition.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife publishes a Guide to Age Determination of White-tailed Deer, which has excellent illustration of deer jawbones of various ages that hunters can use to compare to their deer. The guide is available in PDF format here.


1Art Lander Jr.Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

To read more from Art Lander, click here.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment