Deer season is open in Kentucky in the fall and early winter, from the first Saturday in September until mid-January. The state is divided into four different zones, and all zones follow the same dates.
There are two different weekends just for Youth hunters. Each zone varies by how many antlerless deer can be taken from that zone. Zone 1 has an unlimited limit on the quantity of antlerless deer, but you must still have the proper permits. Zone 2 and Zone 3 have a four-deer limit, with Zone 3 limiting that only one antlerless deer can be taken with a firearm or air gun. The fourth zone has a limit of two deer, with only one being antlerless and only taken during certain times of the season.
Below we will discuss the various seasons, licenses, and regulations for deer hunting in Kentucky. Be sure to review the current Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources hunting guide for zone maps, licenses, permits, and regulations before going deer hunting for the first time and at the beginning of each season.
Hunting License Requirements
Anyone who takes or attempts to take a deer in Kentucky is considered a hunter. All deer hunters in Kentucky must possess a valid Kentucky hunting license. Hunting licenses can be purchased online. If you purchase your license online, you will not be mailed a paper copy. Instead, you will need to print it. Licenses can also be purchased from a licensed agent.
If you live outside of the state and are not a resident of Kentucky, you must purchase a Kentucky non-resident hunting license if you would like to deer hunt. A hunting license from another state is not valid. When you are hunting, ensure that you always carry your hunting license and photo ID.
The type of license required varies by age. Hunters between the ages of 12 and 15 should purchase a youth hunting license plus a Youth deer permit. Those between the ages of 16-64 should purchase an annual hunting license and a statewide deer permit. Hunters aged 65 and older or disabled hunters only need to purchase a Senior/Disabled license.
If you also like to fish, an annual combination hunting and fishing license is available. If you want to take advantage of all the hunting and fishing opportunities in Kentucky, then a Sportsman’s license is the best option. These are available for youth hunters and adult hunters. It includes hunting and fishing licenses along with a statewide deer permit, spring and fall turkey permits, a state migratory bird-waterfowl permit, and a trout permit.
The statewide deer permit allows the harvest of up to four total deer. However, only one of those can be an antlered deer across the entire state. If you would like to harvest more than four deer since it is allowed in Zone 1, you must purchase an “Additional Deer Permit” that allows you to harvest two additional deer.
If you did not take an antlered deer with your Statewide deer permit, you make take one with the additional permit.
Hunter Education Requirements
Anyone born after January 1, 1975, must successfully complete a hunter education course and must carry proof with them while hunting. Hunters may use hunting licenses or electronic documentation as proof.
Hunter education courses are taught throughout the state and are also available online. Hunter education courses that were completed in other states are valid in Kentucky. Children must be at least nine years old to take the course.
Children under the age of 12 do not have to take the course to hunt but must always be accompanied by an adult who has completed the course. The adult must stay near the child while hunting. In case of emergency, they should be in a position to take immediate control of the weapon being used at all times. One adult can accompany up to two hunters younger than 12 years old simultaneously.
If you have not taken a hunter education course and would like to try hunting before you do, Kentucky has apprentice hunting available. A one-time temporary permit is available online that allows anyone to hunt without completing the hunter education course for up to one year. This permit is only available to be purchased once.
This permit must be carried while hunting and requires the apprentice hunter to accompany a licensed adult at least 18 years or older. The adult must stay with the apprentice hunter while hunting. This applies even if the apprentice hunter is an adult.
Deer Season Types
There are four basic types of deer seasons in Kentucky: Archery, Crossbow, Muzzleloader, and Modern Gun.
Archery season is open from the first Saturday in September until the third Monday in January. Crossbow season also opens on the first Saturday in September. It is limited to only Youths and Seniors for the first two weeks. Crossbow season closes on the same day as Archery season. Muzzleloader season is split into two seasons, early and late. The early Muzzleloader season is open the third weekend in October on Saturday and Sunday only. The late Muzzleloader season is open on the second Saturday in December for nine consecutive days.
Modern Gun season is open from the second Saturday in November until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This second weekend in October is open to Youths only. The first weekend after Christmas is a free Youth weekend, when Youths may hunt without having to purchase a hunting license or permit.
Season Type Regulations
While hunting during the various season types, hunters must use approved hunting devices and methods for that season. Below are details of each season type:
During the Archery season, hunters may hunt with archery equipment such as long bows, compound bows, or recurves. Wood, carbon, or metal arrows can be used but must not be chemically treated.
Broadheads must be used and can be fixed blades or mechanical. They must be at least 7/8 of an inch in diameter. There are no minimum draw weights for bows. Any type of firearm may not be used during the Archery season.
During the Crossbow season, hunters may use crossbows of any draw weight with a working safety. Arrows have the same requirements as archery equipment during the Archery season.
During this season, hunters may use muzzleloading rifles and handguns of any caliber that shoot round balls, or conical bullets. Muzzleloading shotguns may be used that are no larger than ten gauge and shoot single projectiles the same as rifles.
These single-shot firearms must have their firing components (bullet and powder) loaded into the muzzle end of the barrel. Modern firearms that fire cartridges are not allowed during this season.
Modern Gun Season
During the Modern Gun season, hunters may use any caliber centerfire rifle or handgun. Full metal jackets or tracer ammunition is not allowed. Rifles or handguns may not be fully automatic and cannot fire more than one round with one trigger pull. Shotguns may be used that are no larger than ten gauge with slug ammunition only (buckshot is not allowed).
Rifles, handguns, and shotguns may not be capable of holding more than ten rounds. Air guns that are .35 caliber or larger may be used, must be charged by an external tank, and fire a single projectile designed to expand upon impact. Muzzleloading rifles may also be used during this season.
The two youth hunt weekends are open only to youth hunters who have not yet reached their 16th birthday. Youth hunters can use any of the Archery, Muzzleloader, or Modern gun equipment described above.
All youth hunters that hunt with a firearm must be accompanied by an adult. The adult may not use firearms to take deer and are not required to possess a hunting license or deer permit since the adult is not hunting (but they are required to wear hunter-orange clothing as described in the next section).
During the first weekend, the Youth hunter must have all required licenses and permits. During the second “free” weekend, youth hunters can hunt without a hunting license or permit. All bag limits, zone restrictions, and deer hunting rules apply during these special youth weekends.
Overall Regulations and Safety
Here are some key regulations to be aware of before you deer hunt in Kentucky. This list is not comprehensive, so be sure to read and understand all of the rules in the Kentucky hunting guide as they may apply to you.
- An antlered deer is defined as a deer with visible antlers.
- Bag limits in zone 4 have a few key differences from the other zones. Antlerless deer cannot be harvested during the modern gun season, the early muzzleloader season, or the first six days of the late muzzleloader season.
- You may not enter private property to shoot, hunt, or retrieve game without the landowner’s verbal or written permission. If you do not obtain permission, you could be charged with trespassing and subject to arrest and prosecution. Railroad tracks and other rights-of-way are private property.
- Everyone who deer hunts and anyone that accompanies them must wear a hunter-orange garment that is visible from all sides on the head and upper body. This must be worn during the modern gun, muzzleloader, and youth hunt seasons. The garment can be made of mesh material as long as the mesh is no wider than ¼ inch by any measurement. If you are Archery or crossbow hunting during any firearm season, you must wear hunter orange.
- Hunting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
- Shooting or discharging any firearm, bow and arrow, crossbow, or other hunting devices from, on, over, or across any public roadway is not allowed.
- Hunting from any type of vehicle is not allowed unless you have a special disabled hunting permit.
- It is not allowed to use an aircraft to hunt, harass, or attempt to take deer.
- Using dogs to chase or pursue deer or taking a deer with the aid of dogs is not allowed.
- Hunting deer on horseback is not allowed.
- Taking a deer while swimming in a body of water is not allowed.
- Using electronic decoys or calls while deer hunting is not allowed.
- Using a spotlight or other artificial light in a field, pasture, woodland, or forest to locate deer is not allowed.
- If you legally possess a handgun, you may conceal carry one while hunting. However, only legal methods for the season you are hunting may be used.
- Constructing a tree stand by cutting limbs of trees or using metal nails or screws driven into a tree is not allowed on state land. On private land, permission from the landowner is required.
When deer hunting and handling a deadly weapon, safety should be a top priority. Always follow the four basic rules of firearm safety: Treat every firearm as if it were loaded, always keep the muzzle of your firearm pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Since you can only take one antlered deer annually in Kentucky, ensure that your target deer is the type of deer you are allowed to take. Also, make sure that there is not another deer immediately beyond your target deer if you are using a firearm. If you miss your target deer, you could inadvertently take the wrong deer and violate your bag limit.
More importantly, ensure no roads, buildings, or other areas where people may be beyond your target deer. You are responsible for every bullet that leaves your firearm.
Being safe while using a tree stand is also important. A common belief is that most hunting accidents come from hunters mistaking other hunters for game and shooting them by mistake. More hunting accidents result from falls from tree stands than any other injury. If you use a tree stand, understand how to use it properly before the day you go hunting.
Inspect it and replace or tighten any missing or loose parts. Use a safety harness and line, and attach yourself to it before your feet leave the ground. Also, do not attempt to climb with a firearm, bow, or any other gear. Use a haul line to pull up your equipment after you are safely in your stand, and make sure any firearms are unloaded.
Chronic Wasting Disease Concerns in Kentucky
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal nervous system disease that affects the cervid family (deer, elk, moose, and caribou). While CWD has been detected in other states and was detected in nearby Tennessee in 2021, it has not been detected in Kentucky as of 2022.
Once CWD is present in an area, it is impossible to eliminate. To prevent CWD from entering Kentucky and affecting the native deer population, the state has implemented a CWD surveillance zone in Calloway, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, and Marshall counties. This zone may be expanded in the future if CWD is detected in new areas. Go to www.fw.ky.gov/cwd for the most up-to-date information.
The season dates and hunting rules do not change in the CWD surveillance zone. However, some special regulations do apply.
If you harvest a deer inside the CWD surveillance zone, you will be required to bring your harvested deer to a mandatory CWD check station for testing when they are open. In 2022 there will be 13 stations within the CWD surveillance zone. The check stations will only be open on weekends during the Modern Gun season.
After you have telechecked your deer, hunters may bring an intact deer carcass, a field-dressed deer, or just the head of the deer for sampling. Hunters will receive a card verifying their visit to the check station containing info on how to view test results for their deer. Results are typically available within six weeks or less.
Outside of the open check station dates, it is not mandatory to bring your harvested deer to the check stations. However, there are free voluntary deer sample collection sites. Only the deer head is needed for sampling, and instructions, bags, and tags are available at the collection site. Testing is available through these sites for any deer harvested in the state.
To help prevent the spread of the disease, a few other precautions have been put in place. It is important not to have many deer congregating in one area. Mineral blocks, feed, grain, salt blocks, and other baits used to attract deer cannot be used in the CWD surveillance zone counties, as it tends to cause deer to congregate around it for long periods of time and possibly spread the disease.
Also, high-risk parts of deer harvested in the CWD surveillance zone must not be taken outside the zone. If you harvest a deer inside the zone, it must be fully processed, and any taxidermy must be completed inside the zone. Only de-boned meat, antlers, clean skull caps with antlers, clean skulls, clean teeth, hides, and finished taxidermy products may be taken out of the zone.
Similarly, if you harvest a deer outside the state, only the deer parts mentioned can be brought back into the state. Whole carcasses of any deer, elk, moose, or caribou from another state cannot be brought into Kentucky.
CWD has not been found to affect humans. However, health officials advise that people should avoid eating deer or elk meat that appear to be sick or have tested positive for CWD. Be sure to wear gloves when field dressing and/or butchering the meat of your harvested deer.
Another option is to have a qualified deer processor butcher the deer for you.
Thoroughly wash your hand and tools after handling any deer, and avoid contact with the high-risk parts, mainly the brain and spinal cord. Always properly dispose of the remaining carcass parts in a landfill, and do not leave them outdoors to rot.
What to do After a Deer is Harvested?
Immediately after harvesting a deer and before you move it, you must fill out a harvest log. The harvest log should be filled out with the species and sex of the deer, the date, and the location where the deer was taken.
The harvest log includes any paper license or permits purchased from a licensed agent. If you purchased your license online, a harvest log is available to print by clicking on the “Hunt” tab on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage by choosing “Hunting Home” from the dropdown menu. Once a harvest log is completed, you may field dress and transport your deer.
Before midnight on the day you harvest your deer, you must report it via the Telecheck system by calling 1-800-CHK-GAME. The harvest may also be reported online at www.fw.ky.gov. This must be done before processing the carcass. If the hide or head is removed from the carcass before the deer is telechecked, the hunter must provide proof of the sex of the deer.
After answering all of the questions during the check-in process, you will then be given a confirmation number. This number is proof that the animal was legally harvested and reported. The number must be recorded on the harvest log and kept for the season.
Fines for not Following Regulations
If you harvest a deer in Kentucky illegally, you can face fines, lose your firearm, lose your hunting privileges, and even spend time in jail. If you intentionally poach deer and are convicted, you can be fined up to $1000 and be sentenced to a year in jail. You could also face restitution costs and civil penalties, not counting your own lawyer fees and court costs.
In addition, if you are convicted of poaching in Kentucky, you forfeit your hunting privileges for up to three years. Kentucky is a member of the Wildlife Violators Compact, a system to share between states and those who have had their licenses suspended. If your license is suspended in Kentucky, it will also extend to 41 other states.
Another violation that is common in areas of rural Kentucky is hunting on private land without permission. The penalties for this offense are fines up to $300 for the first offense, a $1000 fine for a second offense, and up to $1000 and/or a year in jail, plus loss of hunting privileges for the third and subsequent offenses. Always be sure you know the land you are hunting on and if it is private property or state land.
As you can see, there are many ways you can break the law if you simply do not know the law. Before planning your first deer hunt in Kentucky, read and understand the license requirements, regulations, and rules for the season you plan to hunt. Even if you are an active hunter in other states, certain rules could be different in Kentucky from what you are used to. Take the time to understand the Kentucky hunting guide.
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