The History of White-Tailed Deer in Kentucky
When our ancestors first reached Kentucky they found a great abundance
of game, including deer. Early settlers utilized deer for food and clothing.
Due to all the killing of the white-tail deer, around 1925 they were virtually
eliminated in Kentucky. A few survived in areas such as, between the Cumberland
and Tennessee rivers in western Kentucky, and a few survived in eastern Kentucky.
In most places, though deer simply no longer occurred.
When the deer was on the verge of extension in Kentucky, the Kentucky
Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources stepped in. They tried to save the
deer in Kentucky and they succeeded. They regulated the hunting seasons and the
amount of game allowed to kill. Today we have an abundance of deer in Kentucky,
we have about 450,000 deer.
The white-tailed deer breeding season in Kentucky runs from October
through mid January, reaching its peak in November. Most fawns are born in June,
following a seven month gestation period. Newborn fawns will weigh about four
pounds at birth.
Deer offspring are cared for and may remain with the mother until the
next spring. Fawns retain their spots until mid September and nurse until mid
October. About 40 percent of female fawns breed during their first autumn, but
usually bear only one fawn. Does breeding at age 1 1/2 or older generally have
twins, and sometimes triplets. By November, Kentucky’s deer population typical
increases slightly more than one fawn per doe. Although many more fawns are
born than one per doe, some will die before the hunting season arrives.
A deer’s home range averages about 500 acres. In mountains, the home
range may exceed 1,000 acres. Even though this size area can support about 40
deer, these animals will not always stay just within their home range. Many
will travel on and off that amount of land different times of the year looking
for the best food and cover available.
One important key in improving deer numbers is helping provide ample
amounts of the right foods. Healthier deer produce more offspring. White-tails
eat a variety of vegetation, depending on what is available during different
In late winter, deer live mainly on woody twig ends and buds called
browse. They will also eat acorns, corn and winter wheat if available. Spring
foods include tender grasses, clovers and leaves of woody plants such as ragweed,
native and cultivated grasses and clovers. During the fall, deer will use
fruits and nuts such as acorns, persimmons, dogwood berries, corn and browse for
a food supply.
Protection from severe weather, predators and illegal hunting is
essential for deer. For this, white-tails must have stands of forests, thick
brushy areas and over grown fields in which to hide and bed. Deer will not stay
in areas that are too open or that offer them no shelter and refuge.
Age is one of the most critical factors in managing for trophy deer.
White-tailed deer must be at least three and one half years old before their
antlers approach trophy size. Peak antler development usually occurs between
age six and one half and seven and one half. In Kentucky, however, only 30
percent of bucks reach two and one half years old, and only nine percent live
and additional year or longer.
Harvest practices that allow bucks to reach older ages can easily be
designed to maximize the potential for trophy size antlers. The best ways are
through taking fewer bucks and regulating harvest selection. If trophy deer are
desired, hunters must be willing to take antlerless deer. They must also learn
to recognize trophy potential in young bucks and not harvest these animals
before that potential is reached.