The brown and brittle grass and the cracked scorched earth across Kentucky left by this year’s drought eased somewhat with the recent rains. If the rain continues heading into opening day for duck and Canada goose seasons, Kentucky waterfowl hunting should be productive.
The season for Canada goose, white-fronted goose and brant opens Nov. 23 (Canada goose season in the Northeastern Goose Zone opens Dec. 25) while duck season opens statewide Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving Day).
“There is still a lot of hope for this season, despite the drought,” said Rocky Pritchert, migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We have high expectations and wouldn’t be surprised if we have a really good waterfowl season this year.”
A lot of waterfowl food in moist areas awaits rain. “On the plus side, it’s dry in the moist soil areas and basins,” Pritchert explained. “When we get some water in there, there’s ample food waiting for waterfowl. We had a pretty good crop of moist soil plants. I feel reasonably good about conditions later this year when we get the fall rains.”
States to the north of Kentucky report good duck numbers. “In northern Illinois, duck movement is increasing,” said Robert Colvis, area manager at Ballard Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Ballard County, near where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet. “We are a little short on water out here, but the ducks are using what water we have.”
Colvis reports good numbers of gadwalls, northern pintails, shovelers and mallards using the area. “The rain will help,” Clovis said. “If we can pump water for a week and a half or so, we’ll be at full pool. We had about 12,000 ducks on the area last weekend.”
Nationwide, duck numbers remain about the same as last year. Figures released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveal a total national duck population of about 41 million birds. Mallard ducks are the biggest population, with well over 8 million birds. Blue-winged teal are the second largest population of ducks with slightly over 6 million birds while roughly 4 million northern shovelers make up the third largest duck population.
Duck populations, except northern pintail and scaup, are up double digit percentages from the long-term average. Green-winged teal populations are 78 percent while northern shovelers are up 76 percent. The population of gadwall is now 67 percent higher than the long-term average and redheads increased 63 percent.
“The wetlands to the north of us were in good shape this year,” Pritchert said. “They had good breeding and brood rearing conditions.”
The first segment of statewide duck season opens Nov. 25 and closes Nov. 28. The season opens again on Dec. 6, 2010, and closes Jan. 30, 2011. Canada goose, white-fronted goose and brant season opens Nov. 23, 2010, and closes Jan. 30, 2011, except in the Northeastern Goose Zone. This zone, comprised of the counties surrounding Cave Run Lake, opens to hunting Dec. 25, 2010, and closes Jan. 2, 2011. The second segment of goose season in the Northeastern Goose Zone runs from Jan. 19-31, 2011. Hunters no longer need a special permit for goose hunting in the Northeastern Goose Zone.
Hunters must possess a valid Kentucky hunting license, Kentucky waterfowl permit and a Federal waterfowl permit, commonly called a duck stamp, before hunting waterfowl.
For more information about waterfowl hunting, pick up a copy of the 2010-2011 Kentucky Hunting Guide for Waterfowl, available free wherever hunting licenses are sold. A free copy also is available by calling 1-800-858-1549. The guide is available in print form on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.
Kentucky’s Youth-Only firearms season for deer, first held in 1996, is the weekend of Oct. 9-10.
The season was created to offer resident and non-resident boys and girls ages 15 and under an introduction to deer hunting with the maximum opportunity for success. Youth hunters must be accompanied by an adult. This adult might be a parent, grandparent, relative, family friend or mentor at least 18 years of age. The adult must be in position to take immediate control of the youth hunter’s firearm at all times. Non-hunting adults accompanying youth during this season do not need a valid Kentucky hunting license or deer permit. Adults who plan to hunt with a youth during this season must use archery equipment only.
“Youth hunters must be able to handle and control the firearm independently,” said Brunjes. “Even though the adult has to be at the youth hunter’s side, the adult can’t hold the firearm for the youth.”
Deer of either sex may be taken during Youth-Only firearms deer season. Unless license exempt, boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15 must possess a valid hunting license, deer permit and hunter education card. Hunters under age 12 aren’t required to possess a hunting license or a hunter education course to participate.
Youth hunters must abide by bag limits, zone restrictions and all other deer hunting regulations applicable to the county in which they hunt. They must use their own Social Security number to Telecheck harvested deer.
The deer harvest on this weekend can vary widely due to the season’s two-day length and October time frame. For example, youth hunters bagged 4,024 deer in 2009, while they took just 2,266 in 2008.
“Over the last five years, the harvest has averaged 3,747 deer,” said Brunjes. “Severe weather, such as a rainstorm or heat wave, can essentially wipe out a season.”
Deer typically feed on acorns in the woods in early October. They eat as much forage as they can find such as winter wheat, clover and alfalfa before the first frosts kill back greenery. But this year, the drought conditions of August and September made forage unavailable or unpalatable to deer because it is dry and in poor condition. Acorns started falling earlier than normal and many small creeks dried up. Look for deer to linger near water sources in woodlands.
The Youth-Only firearms season for deer is the first of five firearms deer seasons. The early muzzleloader season is Oct. 16-17. Modern Gun deer season opens Nov. 13 and closes Nov. 28 in Zones 1 and 2, and Nov. 22 in Zones 3 and 4. Late muzzleloader season is Dec. 11-19 and Free Youth Hunting Weekend is Jan. 1-2, 2011.
Kentucky’s 135-day archery season begins Saturday, Sept. 4. At the beginning of archery season, Kentucky deer are focused on food. Fields of clover, alfalfa, or sprouting wheat, planted as a cover crop, are good places to hunt.
Pick a tree that provides good cover in a fenceline for your treestand, or a brushy area in the corner of the field for a ground blind. Early in the season the wind predominately blows from the west or southwest, but frequently shifts to the northwest with the advance of cool fronts.
Facing your stand northwest is the ideal positioning for hunting cool front. That way you’ll have the sun set over your left shoulder, and the wind in your face. Deer approaching from upwind won’t be able to smell you, and you’ll be hidden in the shadows as the sun moves to the western horizon.
Early in the season, concentrate on hunting in the late afternoons, especially during the first and last quarter moon periods. This is when the moon is a thin crescent and positioned at 12 o’clock in the sky at dusk. Deer are most likely to converge on feeding areas before dark during this time.
Modern gun deer season opens Nov. 13 statewide. The season runs until Nov. 28 for Zone 1 and Zone 2 counties and until Nov. 22 for Zone 3 and Zone 4 counties. Picking the right entry and exit route to your treestand or ground blind might be more important to success in deer hunting than where you actually hunt.