Outdoors: Fall hunting opportunities aplenty
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 26, 2023) - As the weather transitions into cooler temperatures, fall is a beautiful time to spend outdoors. Many people take advantage of the season by heading afield with bows, muzzleloaders, shotguns and rifles. Many are seeking the white-tailed deer that put Kentucky on the hunting map.
However, deer aren’t the only exciting game to hunt. Seasons for more than a dozen game species open under statewide regulations throughout October, November and December.
Hunters should begin by consulting the fall Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide published by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. This summary of the state’s hunting regulations is available online at fw.ky.gov or wherever hunting licenses are sold. Be sure to acquire the proper licenses and permits before all hunting trips. These may be purchased in-person at licensed vendors or online through the MyProfile portal at fw.ky.gov. Visit the department’s licenses webpage for in-depth information on all state licenses and permits offered by the department.
For a quick reference to fall hunting season dates, use the department’s online Hunting and Trapping Seasons 2023-24 downloadable poster.
Above all, it’s important to become familiar with the behavior, needs and habitats of Kentucky’s different game species. Learn more about all game species in Kentucky through the department’s online Hunting webpage at fw.ky.gov.
Basics for most hunters include the appropriate license and permits for the species being hunted, and hunter education certification. The hunting guide includes information about exemptions for resident landowners or youth hunters. Some species include requirements for reporting the harvest or wearing bright orange while hunting; details are available in the hunting guide.
Hunters under the age of 12 do not need a hunting license. For those hunters ages 12-15, Kentucky offers a free youth hunting and trapping week. This season begins Dec. 30 and concludes Jan. 5, 2024.
Small Game Hunting
Kentucky’s small game seasons include squirrel, rabbit, quail and grouse. For safety, small game seasons temporarily close during the opening weekend of modern gun deer hunting season, Nov. 11-12.
Fall hunting kicked off with the opening of squirrel season on Aug. 19. The season ends Feb. 29, 2024 – one day longer due to the upcoming Leap Year.
For small game, scouting is key. Squirrels, for example, are actively burying and hiding food caches in preparation for winter, meaning that trees with a good production of nuts will be hotspots. If you look close enough, you may find anthill-sized piles of acorn hulls on the ground, similar in appearance to sawdust. This means squirrels have been feeding in the area.
Use a shotgun early in the season when leaves are still on the trees. Switch to a .22-caliber rifle when the branches are bare and longer shots are possible.
Quail and rabbit are often hunted on grassy areas with brushy habitat, such as that found at Peabody and Clay Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). Rabbit and quail hunters often bring along their dogs to assist in the hunt.
Shotgun (first segment): Oct. 28 – Nov. 3; (second segment) Dec. 2-8
Archery: Sept. 2 – Jan. 15, 2024
Crossbow: Oct. 1-22 and Nov. 11 – Dec. 31
Kentucky’s wild turkeys are a current research topic for the department. In correlation with new population studies, statewide hunting regulations were amended to reduce the fall bag limit to two turkeys. Hunters may harvest only one bird with a beard longer than 3 inches and one bird with no visible beard (or a beard shorter than 3 inches). In addition, baiting limitations clarified that turkey hunters shall not hunt within 600 feet of a baited site nor for 30 days after bait is removed. Bona fide agricultural practices and planted food plots are exempt from this rule.
Quality habitat draws turkeys. Hunters should key on areas that have undergone habitat management that has spurred the growth of new vegetation, such as forest management and prescribed burns.
For tips on locating these areas, use the online County Contact search function at fw.ky.gov to speak with a local wildlife regional coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Furbearer game species include raccoon, opossum, coyote, bobcat, river otter, muskrat, mink, beaver, red fox, gray fox, weasel and striped skunk. Most of these species are open to hunting under statewide regulations in fall, although coyote may be hunted year-round.
Regulations for coyote hunting vary across different public lands. It’s best to consult the current fall hunting guide for details about coyote hunting and night seasons.
Bobcat hunters should make sure to acquire a free bobcat hunting permit before going afield. In addition, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is collecting lower jaws from harvested bobcats and river otters for a population study. See the fall hunting guide for submittal information.
Migratory Birds and Waterfowl
A variety of migratory game bird and waterfowl hunting seasons open as winter approaches.
Kentucky’s migratory game bird species include dove, snipe, rail, gallinule, woodcock, sandhill crane and crow. Waterfowl species include various species of duck and geese, as well as teal, coot and mergansers.
All migratory bird hunters must fill out the Harvest Information Program (HIP) survey before going afield. Hunters can access the HIP survey online through MyProfile at fw.ky.gov.
Several of the department’s public lands are specifically managed for these species. These may include dove fields open to all hunters, or waterfowl hunts managed through a quota drawing system.
While teal and Canada goose have seasons in September, the bulk of waterfowl seasons open on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23. Check the 2023-24 Kentucky Hunting Guide for Waterfowl for complete regulations and season dates for all goose and duck species.
Waterfowl hunters may not use lead shot. Only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved non-toxic shot, such as tungsten or steel, is allowed.
Hunt with Dogs
Zone 1: Oct. 23-27
Zone 2: Oct. 23-27 and Nov. 2-10
Zone 1: Oct. 28-30
Zone 2: Oct. 28 – Nov. 1
Zone 1: Dec. 9-11
Zone 2: Dec. 9-13
Kentucky has a growing black bear population. Because Kentucky does not allow baiting for bears, hunters often head into the mountains with trained dogs during the hunting with dogs season. A hunter may only take one bear a season.
Remember that all members of a hunting party that uses dogs must have a bear chase permit. Anyone planning to harvest a bear must have a bear hunting permit in addition to a bear chase permit. Kentucky residents may purchase a combination permit which covers both permits. People who live outside the state may hunt bears if they have the non-resident bear hunting and bear chase permits.
Hunters must report their bear harvest through Kentucky’s telecheck system by 8 p.m. (Eastern). The hunter also must call 1-800-858-1549 within 24 hours of the harvest to arrange for a physical check of the animal and to receive a tag from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Of course, Kentucky’s white-tailed deer hunting cannot be overlooked. On top of being consistently rated among the top states for trophy bucks, Kentucky offers ample opportunities to harvest deer. Archery season opened Sept. 2 and will continue through Jan. 15, 2024. Modern gun season, the most popular deer season among hunters, is Nov. 11-26.
The rut and mast are two keys to deer behavior in fall. The rut is mating season. Mast is nuts produced by trees. According to the National Deer Association, November is the peak of the rut across the continental United States. Kentucky times its modern gun season to coincide with the rut.
The rut captures the attention of bucks more than mast in mid-November. Food becomes more of a driver for bucks following the rut. When the rut fades, look for deer trails or beds near sources of mast. Acorns are the main food source for deer during the fall and winter - they prefer the less acidic acorns from white oaks over those from red oaks.
Kentucky is divided into four zones; these determine the number of deer a hunter may harvest. Regardless of zone, hunters may only take one antlered deer per hunting year. If a hunter takes a buck during bow season, for example, the hunter may not take another buck during modern gun, muzzleloader or crossbow seasons.
Consider donating extra venison to Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry, a non-profit organization which provides lean meat to local foodbanks. All hunters need to do is drop off their harvest at a registered deer processor, free of charge.
Kentucky offers ample acreage with public access for hunters. Some are managed for deer through quota hunts, while other are open under statewide regulations. Find these areas by going online to fw.ky.gov and clicking the “hunting” tab. Next, select “Find a place to hunt.”
Hunters may not hunt on private property without permission.
Remember to check for rules and regulations specific to the hunting area. Some WMAs, such as Ballard and Boatwright WMAs, have additional requirements to follow or may close during parts of the year. In addition to Kentucky’s annual Hunting and Trapping guide, hunters can view current regulations in full as well as proposed amendments through the Kentucky Administrative Regulations’ (KAR) online database.
Fall is a shorter-lived season – but don’t worry, hunters. Many of these hunting opportunities and seasons persist into the winter months.
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