Kentucky's 2019-20 hunting season for white-tailed deer opens tomorrow, with the beginning of archery hunting, a 136-day season that continues through Monday, January 20, 2020.
Below are some news and observations about our most popular big game animal.
• Deer numbers in the U.S. have grown since the 1930s when the population had dropped to an all-time low estimate of 300,000.
• In the past 150 years, more than 35 subspecies of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have been described in the scientific literature, but recent genetic studies have proven that there are just 16 subspecies.
• In Kentucky, more than a century of habitat destruction and subsistence hunting by 19th-century settlers took its toll on local herds. Deer numbers crashed.
By 1915 deer were absent from most of Kentucky, except for remnant herds in a handful of counties in western Kentucky. It would be 84 years before deer restoration efforts would be complete in all 120 Kentucky counties.
Upon the recommendation of the Division of Game and Fish, the Kentucky General Assembly prohibited deer hunting in 1916. Deer hunting in Kentucky would not resume until 1946.
• Today there are more than 30 million white-tailed deer in the U.S.
• Under the careful management of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), the state's deer herd rebounded through the decades, from about 35,000 in the late 1960s to 149,000 by 1981, and 610,00 by 1999, when restoration ended.
Today, Kentucky's deer herd is stable overall, trending higher in some counties.
According to deer reports posted on the KDFWR website, the statewide herd estimate at the start of the 2017-18 hunting season was 858,876 deer, a number generated from harvest and age structure data.
• For the second year, all 120 counties will have a 16-day modern gun season this November.
• On average, modern gun hunters take about 75 percent of the total deer harvest for a given season.
• Deer harvest in November, which includes prime time for archery hunters and the state's 16-day modern gun season, has trended in a steady, narrow range for the past six seasons, from 105,666 in 2013 to 111,020 in 2018.
• Last season's deer harvest of 145,753 was the second-highest on record.
• By permit type, 71 percent of harvested deer are checked in on a statewide permit, 19 percent on a landowner permit and 9 percent on a senior/disabled permit.
• Hunters get anxious and excited when they see a deer coming into range.
But, in Kentucky, and five surrounding states, there's a good chance that excitement might come during the drive to or from your hunting area when there's a deer in your headlights.
In the October 2019 issue of Consumer Reports their feature "Map of the Month" asks the question "How likely are you to hit a deer?"
Fifteen states east of the Mississippi River, mostly in the Great Lakes region and Southeast, are considered high-risk states for vehicle/deer collisions.
The graphic shows that Kentucky, and five of its seven surrounding states, are high-risk states. In Kentucky, your chances are 1 in 107 of a vehicle collision with a deer.
Compiled by the Consumer Reports automobile testing and research staff, the information in the graphic showed that driving in West Virginia poses the highest risk in the U.S., 1 in 48.
The other four high-risk states adjoining Kentucky are Virginia, 1 in 99; Missouri, 1 in 110; Ohio, 1 in 134 and Indiana, 1 in 147. Tennessee and Illinois and considered medium-risk states.
Motorists, including deer hunters, should remain vigilant when driving rural backroads, early and late in the day, during the fall and early winter, when deer are most active.
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.