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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Modern gun season for deer comes with optimism for big harvest

Modern gun season, the main event of Kentucky’s deer season, opens Saturday Nov. 9, with optimism for another big harvest.

“I think we’ve going to have another big season for three reasons,” said Tina Brunjes, deer program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The weather forecast for opening weekend is good, we had a record harvest in September and a top five harvest for October, and there seems to be a lot of young deer out there.”

Last year hunters bagged a record 92,737 deer during gun season, surpassing the previous record of 87,205 set in 2004.

“That’s what happens when you don’t have snow or rain all three weekends of gun season,” said Brunjes. “To break our harvest record by almost 7,000 deer was significant, and shows the importance of good hunting weather.”


About 70 percent of all deer taken during deer season in Kentucky, are killed during modern gun season in November. Last year hunters bagged a record 92,737 deer during gun season, surpassing the previous record of 87,205 set in 2004.

Modern gun season for deer opens every year on the second Saturday in November, with the exact dates of the season determined by calendar shift. Counties are assigned a zone status which determines their season length and bag limit.

In Zones 1-2 (78 counties this year) the season is 16 days long, Nov. 9-24, and in Zones 3-4 (42 Kentucky counties this year), the season is 10 days long, Nov. 9-18.

All deer taken must be reported, either by calling (800) 245-4263 or by going online to fw.ky.gov.
Several factors point to an above average fawn crop this year. “We had a wet spring and summer which benefits fawn survival. There’s plenty of groceries and hiding cover out there,” said Brunjes, who has managed the state’s deer herd since 2006.

Also, record acreages of soy beans and corn have been planted this year across Kentucky, providing a fall and winter food source for deer. “In Western Kentucky there continues to be a lot of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land being converted, to maximize acreages of row crops,” said Brunjes.

Kentucky’s deer herd is very stable and if plotted on a graph, the population estimates and annual harvests of recent seasons would be nearly parallel. The state’s deer population estimate after last season, and before this spring’s fawning, was about 750,000.

Brunjes said she believed the good to fair mast crop would not be a major factor in the deer harvest statewide, but local herds could be impacted by a lack of red and white oak acorns in some counties. “It could be a factor in how and where you need to hunt,” said Brunjes. “Fields cleared of beans and corn will change deer travel patterns.”

During the 2012-13 deer season, hunters posted a record harvest of 131,395 deer (55.6 percent bucks, 44.4 percent does).


Venison is quality free-range red meat

November is the month when most Kentucky deer hunters “put up” their winter’s supply of venison.

Usually about 70 percent of the overall harvest for deer season occurs in November.

Venison as tablefare is unmatched. It’s the original local, free-range red meat, with fewer calories than beef or pork, and less cholesterol than chicken.

The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory reports that a serving of three ounces of venison has 133 calories and only about 7 grams of fat. This includes more than four grams of monounsaturated fats, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke if eaten in moderation, according to the American Heart Association.

Venison is a good source of protein, too, as well as vitamins B12, B6, B3, and B2, and trace minerals – phosphorous, selenium, zinc and iron.

Deer in the wild are also free of the growth hormones and antibiotics that commercial beef cattle typically receive when they are fed corn and other grains while being “finished” in feed lots. 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 with the skin on 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.

The best advice is to de-bone 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.

Venison is a versatile meat that can be preserved several ways. 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.

For tasty venison steaks, marinate before cooking, to tenderize and neutralize any gamey taste. Soy sauce-based marinades work great with venison, and can be bought at most grocery stores, or mixed up fresh. For best results, marinate the cuts of meat overnight in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Here’s a tip for better burger. Chunks of venison that are going to be ground up should be lightly salted, covered in water, and refrigerated overnight. The light salting draws out any blood and strong taste in the meat.

Venison really shines when it’s cooked on a BBQ grill, preferably one that has a lid to hold in the smoke and keep the fire from flaming. Dry rubs enhance the flavor of venison.

Here’s the recipe for a basic “Texas-style” rub that works well on venison or beef brisket:

2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons black pepper

This recipe makes a half cup of rub, as one ounce is equal to two tablespoons (T). Rub should be stored in an air-tight jar or zippered plastic bag to retain its freshness. Sprinkle rub on both sides of the meat. Cook over indirect heat.

Don’t over cook venison. Venison is best when cooked medium-rare for maximum flavor and juiciness.

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.

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