Essential information you need to know before going afield
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Sept. 1, 2023) — Archery season for deer opens Sept. 2, the official launch of Kentucky’s 2023-24 deer season. The state is home to a bountiful herd of white-tailed deer, offering many enjoyable hunting opportunities and providing a sustainable source of healthy meat for the table.
Kentucky has a healthy and stable deer herd, affording lengthy deer seasons with opportunities to hunt using a variety of methods. Hunters last year harvested nearly 145,000 deer, providing an abundance of free-range and locally sourced wild venison for the table.
Because of the variety of methods and seasons offered, there are a number of requirements hunters must know before going afield. Keep reading for an overview of some basic information for deer hunting in Kentucky.
Licenses and Permits
Hunting licenses and permits can be purchased online at fw.ky.gov and at authorized license agents throughout the state. Children under 12 do not need a license or permit to hunt deer but must be accompanied by an adult. For detailed license requirements and other hunting regulations, view the Kentucky 2023 Hunting and Trapping Guide.
Resident requirements include:
- Ages 12-15: Youth Hunting License + Youth Deer Permit (or Youth Sportsman’s)
- Ages 16-64: Annual Hunting (or Combo) License + Statewide Deer Permit (or Sportsman’s)
- Ages 65+ or disabled: Senior/Disabled Sportsman’s License or Senior Lifetime Sportsman’s License
- License/permit exempt: Resident landowners, spouses and dependent children hunting their own farmlands of 5 acres or more; tenants, spouses and dependent children hunting on farmlands of 5 acres or more where they reside and work.
Non-resident requirements include:
- Ages 12-15: Youth Hunting License + Youth Deer Permit
- Ages 16 and older: Annual Hunting License + Statewide Deer Permit
- Non-residents who own property in Kentucky are not exempt.
- Archery: Sept. 2 – Jan. 15, 2024
- Crossbow: Sept. 16 – Jan. 15, 2024
- Muzzleloader: Oct. 21-22 and Dec. 9-17
- Modern gun: Nov. 11-26
- Youth-only: Oct. 14-15
- Free youth weekend: Dec. 30-31
Valid proof of hunter education certification is required for hunters born in 1975 or later. For new hunters without hunter education certification, a free temporary exemption permit is available. This allows a person to hunt for one year before certification is required but must be accompanied in the field by an adult who is hunter education-certified or born before 1975.
Kentucky’s statewide deer permit allows hunters to take up to four deer. Each hunter may only harvest one antlered deer statewide per year. Harvest limits for antlerless deer and method restrictions vary across Kentucky’s four deer zones, which are designated based on deer population density.
A hunter in southeastern Kentucky’s Zone 4 may only take two deer, only one of which may be antlerless. However, a hunter may harvest more deer in another zone. Hunters may harvest more than four deer apiece by purchasing additional deer permits for use in Zone 1, or across zones.
Immediately upon recovery of a harvested deer, a hunter must record a harvest log consisting of game species, sex, county and date on the back of the hunting license or elsewhere and kept in their possession. Before midnight, each harvest must be reported to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, even if the hunter is license exempt. Hunters can report their harvest by calling the department’s telecheck number at 1-800-245-4263, or by using the online “MyProfile” portal at fw.ky.gov.
Deer Disease Surveillance
Kentucky is actively monitoring for the detection of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in deer and elk. The disease has not been detected in Kentucky.
Special restrictions apply within Kentucky’s CWD Surveillance Zone in Calloway, Marshall, Graves, Hickman and Fulton counties. Heightened surveillance for the disease and special regulations are in effect due to its occurrence in nearby northwestern Tennessee. Those hunting in these counties must familiarize themselves with the special regulations. As part of the department’s CWD monitoring efforts, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will operate mandatory CWD Check Stations for deer harvested in the CWD Surveillance Zone during the first three days of modern gun season, Nov. 11-13.
Deer hunters outside the CWD Surveillance Zone can aid Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s monitoring efforts by donating the heads of legally harvested and telechecked deer for free testing and aging through the voluntary Deer Sample Collection Station program. Voluntary Deer Sample Collection Sites are also available throughout the state.
Scouting for Hunting Locations
Scouting locations for the presence of deer is key to a good hunt. Deer tend to prefer edge habitat between crop fields and forests, which provides a preferred mixture of cover and foods.
Mast, which is the fruit from trees such as oaks, are key food sources for deer during autumn. In years when trees are loaded with mast, deer typically spend more time in the woods. In sparse years, deer roam more widely and use open areas and seek other food sources. Find the food and you will find deer.
The dynamic is slightly different in western Kentucky due to the amount of crops grown there. “West of I-65, deer are less mast driven because food sources from agricultural activity are more readily available,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife deer biologist Tommy Apostolopoulos said.
Public Lands Available for Hunting
Always obtain permission before hunting private land. For those without private land hunting access, the department’s online public lands directory lists all public lands open to hunting in Kentucky and corresponding hunting regulations. New properties open under statewide hunting regulations include Gabbard Branch WMA in Butler County, Ferguson Creek WMA in Livingston County and Hoskins WMA in Leslie and Harlan counties. https://lnks.gd/l/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJidWxsZXRpbl9saW5rX2lkIjoxMTAsInVyaSI6ImJwMjpjbGljayIsInVybCI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXBwLmZ3Lmt5Lmdvdi9QdWJsaWNfTGFuZHNfU2VhcmNoL2RldGFpbC5hc3B4P0tkZndyX2lkPTk3MTEiLCJidWxsZXRpbl9pZCI6IjIwMjMwOTAxLjgxOTk1MzMxIn0.xeqoGITLJ2YOOsp4l-Lyi_PMmwI1o3-06CVaFRVdr5I/s/760176818/br/225186754492-l
Prepare for Your Hunt
Practice to gain proficiency in your hunting method before you go afield. For assistance locating a place to shoot a rifle or muzzleloader, hunters can visit the interactive online Kentucky shooting range map.
Familiarize yourself with the regulations and know your local deer zone limitations before hunting. Essentials hunters should pack for the field include:
- Proof of hunter education, licenses and permits, if required
- Harvest log and pen
- Camouflage clothing
- Hunter orange cap and jacket if gun hunting
- Field dressing tools such as a sharp knife and surgical gloves
- Water and snacks
Gun hunters should always check that they have packed their ammunition before leaving the house. Solo hunters should let someone know where they will be hunting and what times. Start your hunt with a fully charged cell phone and the ringer set on silent. Eye and ear protection is also advisable.
Tree Stand Safety
Tree stands are widely used by hunters to elevate themselves above the ground and be less detectable by deer. Tree stand hunters should always use a safety harness and lifeline (such as a high-tensile rope and Prusik loop) to prevent falls while climbing a tree and while in the stand.
A haul rope to pull up the bow, crossbow or unloaded rifle is also essential, keeping hands free while climbing to the stand and reducing the chances of a fall. Avoid homemade stands, such as those with boards nailed to a tree trunk for steps, as they can quickly deteriorate and often are hazardous. Videos highlighting tree stand safety are available via our Learn to Hunt Deer webpage.
Kentucky is consistently one of the top states in the country for trophy bucks scored under the Boone and Crockett Club system. Kentucky’s top counties for trophy bucks over the past decade include Breckinridge, Grayson, Ohio, Pulaski and Todd counties.
Suspected illegal activity may be anonymously reported using the KFWLaw smartphone app. Tips can also be submitted by texting the keyword “KFWLaw” along with a message to 847411 (tip 411) or by calling 800-25-ALERT.