A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: Hunters hit deer harvest records; Chronic Wasting Disease now in six states

Kentucky’s 2018-19 white-tailed deer season closes at the end of shooting hours on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 21.

It’s been a very eventful last four months since the season opened with archery hunting on September 1.

An increase in the bag limit, allowing four deer to be taken on statewide and youth deer permits, a lengthening of modern gun season by six days in the counties of Zone 3-4, and moving 32 counties up in zone status, created more hunter opportunity.

Here are some news and observations:

As of New Year’s Day, the total deer harvested in Kentucky this season was 143,418 — the third highest overall total (Photo from KDFWR)

• As of New Year’s Day, the total deer harvest was 143,418, with archers reported taking 16,141 deer, firearms hunters, 109,820 deer, and muzzleloader hunters, 13,058 deer.

To put these numbers in perspective, consider that at this point in the 2018-19 season, the harvest is the highest in the past three seasons, and the third highest overall.

The five-year harvest average is 142,705.

• On November 30, it was reported that a record 106,797 deer had been taken during Kentucky’s 16-day modern gun season that ended November 25, topping the previous record from 2015 by almost 1,400 deer.

“We anticipated an increase in harvest for the season due to several changes in deer regulations implemented earlier this year,” said Gabe Jenkins, Deer and Elk Program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

While the harvest in the season’s first 10 days was average compared to recent years, there was a significant increase in the final six days, due to the lengthening of modern gun season to 16 days in all 120 counties.

“It’s obvious hunters took advantage of the last six days because 23,553 deer were checked in that timeframe,” Jenkins said. “The 10-year average for the last six days of modern gun season before this year was 15,429.”

• A record number of deer were taken in November — 111,020 — up from 102,506 in 2017.

• Pre-season, in this column, Jenkins encouraged hunters to make an extra effort to harvest does in the Zone 1 and Zone 2 counties.

Kentucky’s deer herd is large, and populations in some counties are at an all-time high.

A record number of deer were taken in Kentucky during November — 111,020 — up from 102,506 in 2017. (Photo provided)

“It’s our goal to get every county down to a Zone 2 or a Zone 3,” said Jenkins last August. “If a county has a Zone 1 designation, the deer population is out of control.”

Eighty-five of the state’s 120 counties now have a Zone 1 or Zone 2 status. That’s nearly three-quarters of the state. A record 51 counties are now Zone 1.

“Herds have not peaked out (biologically), but they have peaked out on what’s socially acceptable in some areas,” said Jenkins.

Since 2000 hunters have taken more does than bucks, which slows herd growth, only twice, in 2004 (51.6 percent) and 2005 (52.0 percent), according to harvest data posted on the department’s website.

So far this season, the percent of does in the harvest was 45.5, the highest percentage in the past four seasons.

Deer herd growth can only be reduced, and management goals met, if hunters continue to harvest more does in the Zone 1 counties.

• Regionally, there was some disturbing deer management news.

On Monday, December 24, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) announced the implementation of emergency regulations to prevent the further spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in their state. Ten wild deer, harvested by hunters in Fayette and Hardeman counties tested positive, after targeted sampling by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA).

CWD has no known risk to the health of humans or livestock, but the contagious, neurological disorder is deadly to cervids, animals in the deer family including deer, elk, moose, caribou, and reindeer.

At the present time, there’s no test on live cervids, and no vaccine to prevent CWD. The disease has been spread throughout North America by the transportation of infected deer or elk between captive herds, the escape of infected deer or elk from captive herd facilities, the interaction of wild cervids with captive animals, and the transportation of the carcasses of infected animals to states where CWD is not present.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a neurological disorder that is deadly to cervids, including white-tailed deer and elk, is now present in six of the seven states that border Kentucky, including Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. (Photo provided)

A CWD Management Zone has been established in Fayette, Hardeman, and McNairy counties, in southwestern Tennessee.

CWD is now present in six of the seven states that border Kentucky, including Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.

For more than a decade KDFWR has been working to keep CWD from infecting the state’s deer and elk herds through restrictive regulations, rigorous statewide surveillance, and the testing of about 30,000 deer and elk.

Hunters may not bring any harvested cervid into Kentucky unless the brain and spinal cord have been removed. Hindquarters, shoulders, or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal cord or head attached, boned-out meat, antlers, antlers attached to a clean skull plate, a clean skull, clean teeth, hides and finished taxidermy works may be brought into the state.

“(CWD) is on our doorstep and ringing the doorbell,” said Jenkins. “As an agency, we will continue to do everything we can going forward to protect our deer and elk herds from this disease.”

According to the Chronic Wasting Disease website, three Canadian provinces, and about half of the Lower 48 states either have infected wild cervids or infected animals in captive populations. For more information visit their website at http://cwd-info.org

The introduction of CWD into Kentucky’s deer and elk herds would be devastating.

State and federal wildlife agencies in the U.S. are not only concerned about the decline of their deer herds, which took decades to establish at a cost in the millions of dollars, but the economic impact CWD could have on hunting and related tourism.

A study by the University of Tennessee Department of Agricultural Economics projected that “an outbreak of CMD in Tennessee would cause an estimated $46.3 million decline in direct total industry output and a loss of 892 jobs.”

Rural economies would be hardest hit by outbreaks of CWD.

There would be less travel and reduced expenditures on fuel, hunting gear, food and lodging, ultimately lower land values and the loss of hunting-related businesses.

Fewer hunting licenses would be sold so wildlife agency budgets would be greatly impacted.

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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.

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