Worth the read.
Yesterday I gave everyone the history of wild turkeys in Kentucky – today, deer. As before, I contacted the KDFW for information about Kentucky’s whitetail deer history. Here is the report I was given, titled:
“Timeline of White-tail Deer Management in Kentucky” by Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
In 1750: Dr. Thomas Walker reports that deer are “plentiful” in portions of what is now southeastern Kentucky (the area he and his party explored is contained within today’s Bell, Estill, Jackson, Knox, and Laurel Counties).
In about 1767, John Finley led another group into Kentucky, spending much of that year hunting along what is now known as the Kentucky River. He later told Daniel Boone about the abundant deer resource he’d encountered there, and in 1769 made a return trip (accompanied by Boone). Daniel Boone returned again in 1775, this time settling in the region. Such plenty didn’t last long under the growing year-round harvest pressure of increasing numbers of settlers arriving from the colonies to the east. In 1773, Robert McAffee and his group of Virginia hunters traveled through what is now known as the Bluegrass Region of north central Kentucky, and reported seeing an “astonishing” number of deer at a mineral lick in what is today Henry County.
However, while heading back to Virginia via southeastern Kentucky, they nearly succumbed to starvation when they only managed to take one small whitetail buck. Thus, in the span of about 20 years time, white-tailed deer numbers were evidently greatly reduced in the eastern and southeastern portions of the future state of Kentucky. The story would play out much the same way all across the land that was to become Kentucky.
1775: Virginia Colonial Legislature (which governed the Kentucky territory before statehood) passes laws regulating the take of deer for the hide trade and prohibiting the use of fire to drive and harvest deer. Also that year, settlers at Fort Boonesborough enact several “game laws” and name Daniel Boone to head their “game committee”.
1775-1783: England’s colonies on the Atlantic Coast of North America (and their territories to the west) successfully defeat her in the Revolutionary War and separate to eventually become the new nation of the United States of America.
In 1787, a settler named Mose McWaters reported abundant deer numbers in the area that we now know as Lyon and Trigg Counties (in western Kentucky). He added that he was able to “kill all he wanted without leaving the cleared area around his cabin”. Kentucky enters the Union as the 15th state (the first west of the Appalachians) in 1792.
Around 1810, John James Audubon noted that the vast numbers of deer that once roamed the Ohio River valley of Kentucky had already “ceased to exist”. In retrospect, the white-tailed deer population decline that occurred in North America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries is not surprising considering that in 1819, venison hams sold for $0.15 each and the pioneer mentality was such that every settler believed it was their right (ordained by God) to kill deer whenever and however they pleased.
1894: Kentucky’s Legislature outlaws the killing of any buck, doe, or fawn from March 1 to September 1. The new law did little to halt the decline in deer numbers, however, as enforcement was left up to local officials (i.e., no specific wildlife law enforcement unit of personnel was established).
1898: The United States successfully emerges from the Spanish American War as a world power, complete with newly acquired overseas territorial possessions.
Nationally, Congress passes the Lacey Act in 1900 (outlawing market hunting in America).
1904: First County Game Wardens appointed (County Judges control hiring) in Kentucky.
1912: General Assembly creates Division of Game and Fish within the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Funding to come from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. Authority for hiring Game Wardens transferred to Division of Game and Fish.
1916: White-tailed deer likely number less than 1,000 animals (mostly in Caldwell, Christian, Lyon, and Trigg Counties). Upon recommendation of the Division of Game and Fish, General Assembly prohibits deer hunting.
The United States enters World War I in 1917, emerging as a victor (along with England and France) in 1918.
1919: The Hillman Land Company acquires 30 white-tailed deer (and 20 fallow deer) from Wisconsin and releases them on its holdings (between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers) in Lyon and Trigg Counties. Area is then declared a “State Wildlife Refuge” in the mid 1920’s.
1929: Stock market collapse plunges America into the “Great Depression”.
1931: Division of Game and Fish acquires original 1,604 acres of Jones-Keeney Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Caldwell County.
The League of Kentucky Sportsmen (LKS) forms in 1935. This same year, “political problems” lead to the closure of the Lyon/Trigg County Refuge and poaching then reduces the deer population to 100 or less animals.
1936: LKS successfully lobbies Legislature to transfer Division of Game and Fish to the newly created Department of Conservation. Under terms of the Reorganization Act of 1936, unspent license dollars no longer revert to the state’s general fund, but remain in Division’s coffers instead.
Nationally, Congress passes the Federal Aid In Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937. Commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act (for it’s two co-sponsors), this law established a pool of funds (raised via a federal excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition) to be allocated to state fish and wildlife agencies to assist them with wildlife research, restoration, and management.
In 1938, the former Lyon/Trigg County Refuge becomes Kentucky Woodlands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Division of Game and Fish purchases initial 1,288 acres of Cranks Creek WMA in Harlan County.
1941: The United States is drawn into World War II.
1944: LKS again successfully lobbies Kentucky General Assembly to place Division of Game and Fish employees under civil service laws, thus protecting them from politically motivated hiring and firing decisions. Over 500 League delegates were present in chambers the day the state House of Representatives voted on this bill.
World War II ends victoriously for America, England, France, and the former Soviet Union in 1945. Also that year, deer numbers in Caldwell, Christian, Lyon, and Trigg Counties are estimated to have increased to approximately 2,000 animals.
1946: Division of Game and Fish initiates a three-pronged white-tailed deer restoration project in Kentucky. Components consist of refuge establishment, trapping and translocation of deer from existing populations, and habitat improvement work (via forest management and creation of wildlife woods
openings, water holes, and food plots). Thirteen refuges are set-up across the state. Eleven are on federally- or state-owned property, while the other two occupy private land.
1947: In the very first trapping season, 77 deer are captured at Kentucky Woodlands NWR and Jones-Keeney WMA, and released on Beaver Creek WMA (McCreary and Pulaski Counties), Kentucky Ridge State Forest (Bell County), Mammoth Cave National Park (Edmonson and Hart Counties), and Pennyrile State Forest (Caldwell and Christian Counties).
Responding to lobbying by LKS, the Legislature converts the Division of Game and Fish to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) in 1952.
1954: Public cooperation and wildlife law enforcement efficiency have improved to the point that no new refuges are established for deer stocking. Emphasis instead switches to restoring deer on a statewide basis (i.e., reestablishing them on private land in all suitable areas of the state). Just seven years into restoration efforts, deer numbers have increased sufficiently enough on the Mammoth Cave and Pennyrile Forest refuges that animals are trapped from there and released in Estill, Jackson, Lee, and Menifee Counties.
1955: KDFWR establishes Ballard WMA (primarily as a wintering area for Canada geese) on the floodplain of the lower Ohio River in Ballard County, Kentucky.
After 40 years of season closure (and only 10 years into the restoration effort), Kentucky resumes deer hunting in 1956. The pre-hunt population is believed to number 25,000 animals and twenty-seven counties are open for the three-day November season. Only antlered deer are legal game (and there is a one-deer bag limit), but it is estimated (via post season mail survey) that about 7,000 hunters participate and 750 adult bucks are harvested.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, deer live-trapped at Kentucky Woodlands NWR are released on Ballard WMA.
Overall, Kentucky’s white-tailed deer population continues to increase and the list of counties open for deer hunting grows as well. By the 1962 season, 43 counties can be hunted, nearly 14,000 hunters take part, and a little over 5,000 deer are harvested. Active trapping and translocation continue, however, even as deer hunting returns to more and more counties. During the early years of restoration, counties were stocked with about 50 deer each, however, later releases numbered around 75 animals. Fifty additional deer were transported to counties when initial stockings appeared unsuccessful. In order to give the newly released animals time to become established and reproduce to huntable levels, deer season was closed in counties during stocking efforts and for at least five years afterward.
1964: Kentucky Woodlands NWR is incorporated into the Kentucky portion of the newly created Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. After 1965, Mammoth Cave National Park and Ballard WMA become the two main sources of animals for Kentucky’s deer restoration efforts.
Throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s, deer numbers grow very slowly and KDFWR continues to monitor harvest via mail survey. During this period, Kentucky’s deer population appears to have stabilized and is consistently estimated to number about 35,000 animals. The 1972 Deer Season consists of two months of archery hunting (October and December), and a five-day Firearm Season in mid November. Any deer can be taken by bow, but during the firearm hunt only deer with a forked antler or antlers can be harvested. There is a one deer per hunter (per year) bag limit, and all counties except Jackson and Owsley are open for hunting. Also during these years, KDFWR staff determine that given the high quality habitat found over two thirds of Kentucky, deer numbers should be growing faster than kill data indicate. Therefore, either the herd is being over harvested, or the population is increasing faster (thus there are more deer) than they realize because the annual legal harvest is being under reported. Either way, if growth in deer hunting opportunity is desired, then the only responsible way to obtain it is with a much-improved method of recording and tracking harvest.
1976: Mandatory deer check stations begin in Kentucky and 3,431 animals are registered.
From 1978 through 1981, while estimates of the size of the state’s deer population increased from 64,000 to 149,000 animals, KDFWR adopts a deer management zoning strategy. Under this system, each of Kentucky’s 120 counties is assigned to one of six or seven different zones, which vary as to deer season length and bag limit. This scenario provides the flexibility needed to encourage greater antlerless
harvest pressure in counties where overabundance problems are starting to develop, yet still limit or prohibit antlerless take in counties with newly established deer populations.
During this same period, restoration efforts are completed in all regions of the state except southeastern Kentucky. Counties there just have a 2.5-month archery season and a three-day early November firearm season, and only antlered (must have at least one forked or unforked antler that is four inches long or longer) deer can be harvested. The season limit is two antlered deer per hunter, but only one of them can be taken with a gun.
Despite the translocation of hundreds of deer to southeastern Kentucky during the previous 30 years (coupled with the application of restrictive harvest regulations designed to promote population growth), most counties in the region still have deer densities of only two to four animals per square mile of land area. While harassment and predation by free-ranging dogs, lack of early successional or “edge” habitat, and illegal harvest are often cited as reasons for the failure of deer restoration in Appalachian Kentucky, KDFWR staff feel that poaching is the most important factor. With this in mind, in 1984 they begin a high-density stocking program in which 500 whitetails are released in each county demonstrating stagnant or slow population growth. The effort is intended to release enough deer into a county to reach the threshold density necessary for population establishment and growth even in the presence of considerable illegal harvest pressure. In addition to capturing and transporting deer to southeastern Kentucky, KDFWR staff also mount a public education effort (in the form of local newspaper, radio, and television interviews, talks to sportsmens’ clubs in the region, and publishing articles and project updates in the agency’s Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground magazine) to discourage poaching and encourage control of free-ranging dogs. Approximately 150 deer are trapped each year by the employees at Ballard WMA, while around 200 more are usually captured at a variety of State Parks and military bases by a mobile trapping crew of seasonal employees.
1986: After evaluating several computerized deer population simulation programs, KDFWR staff select DEER CAMP. It will be used with harvest data from previous seasons to generate estimates of the number of deer that will be present on the ground in a county the next year. This information will then be used (along with crop damage complaint and deer/vehicle collision data, etc.) to formulate county deer zone recommendations for the coming deer season. This year, the DEER CAMP program estimates that there are 206,557 deer in Kentucky. About 175,000 deer hunting permits are purchased for the 1986-87 Season, and 39,520 deer are harvested.
1988: we began the 2-deer for one Basic/Season Deer Permit system that we still use today). This was done for several reasons: 1) To better/more finely manage deer harvest in Appalachian Kentucky (i.e., in order to more rapidly increase deer numbers there); 2) To increase the take of female deer outside of Appalachia by facilitating additional antlerless harvest by local/area resident deer hunters in
those regions, but also by encouraging Appalachian KY deer hunters to travel to the central and western portions of the state in order to “fill their two deer (on one Deer Permit/for one price) limit” (because back then, a hunter could only harvest one deer per year in many/most Appalachian KY Counties); and finally 3) to establish a deer permitting system that would make a one-buck limit possible (i.e., if/when our 9-member Commission voted to enact one), yet also still encourage doe harvest where we needed it (= you paid for a 2-deer permit so you might as well use the other [antlerless] half of it
Switch to one-buck limit occurs from 1989 to 1991. For the 1989 Season, a one antlered deer limit was put in place for the Muzzle-loader and Modern Gun Deer Seasons; archery hunters were still allowed to harvest two antlered deer. Starting with the 1991 Season, however, archers were also brought under (included in) the one antlered deer per person, per Deer Season/year limit.
1991: Final year of deer trapping on Ballard WMA. Mobile trapping team continues catching deer for the southeastern Kentucky restoration project at several State Parks and military bases around the state.
1999: Active deer restoration ends in March with the release of the final load of animals in Perry County. After 52 years of trapping and translocation, 10,096 white-tailed deer have been stocked around the state. While some of the deer released in Kentucky’s restocking efforts came from out-of-state sources (Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin), the overwhelming majority were translocated from in-state trap sites, and their lineage ultimately traces back to early 20thb century remnant deer populations in Caldwell, Christian, Lyon, and Trigg Counties.
Use of the Telecheck Deer Harvest Reporting System begins with the 1999-2000 Season. 95,229 deer are harvested and phoned-in.
2000: County deer zoning system is restructured and simplified. Six zones are condensed down to four.
2002: Downing Reconstruction method of deer population modeling adopted as a result of change from physical “hard” county stations to telecheck system (i.e., ability to collect adequate yearling buck antler diameter data has been compromised, thus ruling-out the use of Deer Camp).
This completes your Kentucky Deer History Lesson. There will be a test in tomorrow’s edition, that you must pass to obtain a Deer Permit, LOL.