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Early returns from Kentucky 2016-17 deer season

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Shirt-sleeve temperatures. Treetops buffeted by high winds. Acorns crunching underfoot.

Without question, hunters faced challenging conditions for the early muzzleloader deer season this past weekend in Kentucky and it shows in the harvest figures. The two-day take of 2,987 deer was down sharply from last year when hunters benefitted from the timely arrival of a cold snap and a less bountiful acorn crop.

Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources say deer numbers are good across the state, but acknowledge the early returns from the 2016-17 season could portend a smaller harvest overall compared to recent years. Hunters set new harvest records in three of the past four seasons.

“In the end, what matters is what the grand total looks like after the third Monday in January,” said David Yancy, deer biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “That’s one advantage of having parts of a five-month deer season. We start in September and we don’t end until mid January.”

Archery hunters got the 2016-17 season off to a good start. The September opener coincided with Labor Day weekend, and archers telechecked a record 1,746 deer over the three days. The weather then turned dry and hot across the state. By the end of the month, hunters had taken a shade more than 5,000 deer, the fifth highest September total on record.

The October harvest is approaching 10,000 deer. The youth-only firearms weekend earlier this month contributed 3,795 to that number.

Next month brings the modern gun season, which accounted for 70 percent of a record overall harvest total in the 2015-16 season.

“In the past, when conditions haven’t been ideal for one opportunity, we’ve been able to make it up at a later point in the season,” Yancy said. “So if the October muzzleloader season harvest is down, it may be made up during the modern gun season in November. And in some years, when maybe the difference isn’t made up in modern gun, hunters have made some of it up in December muzzleloader and late season archery because there were a lot of deer out there that maybe in previous years hadn’t been. The downside of that is the deer can be pretty spooky by the back-end of the season because they’ve faced hunting pressure since September.”

2016 MAST SURVEY: Results from this year’s mast survey are in and it’s a good year for red and white oak acorn production but poor for hickory and beech nuts.

The annual survey looks at red oak, white oak, hickory and beech trees at more than two dozen locations across Kentucky. The hard mast produced by these types of trees serves as a vital food source for many animals during the fall and winter months.

On average, three out of every five red oaks and white oaks surveyed this year showed acorns. Hickory and beech nut production fell into the poor category. Two out of every five hickory trees and one out of every four beech trees surveyed bore nuts.

In a year with good hard mast, game harvest totals may decrease as animals won’t have to roam as far for food, thus making them less visible to hunters.

“Biologically, more mast is typically a good thing,” said Zak Danks, ruffed grouse and wild turkey program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “I think in terms of grouse and turkey, to the extent they forage on acorns, they’re going to enter the breeding season in better condition.”

ON DECK: The archery-crossbow season for bears and the first seven-day split of the fall shotgun season for turkey open Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

The quota for the archery-crossbow season is 10 bears, or five female bears, whichever is reached first. Hunters who aren’t license exempt must purchase a bear permit and have an annual hunting license to hunt bears in Kentucky.

Any bears taken must be telechecked by 8 p.m. (Eastern time) on the day they were harvested. Hunters must also call 1-800-858-1549 within 24 hours of harvesting a bear to arrange for a physical check of the animal and to receive a tag issued by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. Hunters should check the department’s website at or call 1-800-858-1549 after 9 p.m. each day of the season to see if the quota has been met. If it has not, the season will continue through the next day.

The archery-crossbow season for bears could run through Oct. 28, 2016, but hunters met the quota on the first day of the season last year.

NEW STATE RECORD: A white catfish caught by Ethen Vest this month at Guist Creek Lake is the new state record. The 10-year-old from Frankfort was fishing for channel catfish from a boat with his grandfather and brother when the white catfish tugged on his line. Vest caught his record fish on cut bait and it weighed 5.27 pounds. The old state record of 3.70 pounds had stood since 2007 and also came out of Guist Creek Lake.

TO THE MOON: If this past weekend’s full moon seemed bigger and brighter than usual, that’s because it was the first of three supermoons this year.

A full moon is a supermoon when it occurs as the Moon reaches a point in its orbit that puts it closest to Earth. Supermoons may appear up to 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than regular full moons, according to NASA.

The next supermoon is Nov. 14, 2016 – the Monday after opening weekend of the statewide modern gun deer season. The final supermoon of 2016 arrives Dec. 14, which falls in the middle of the late muzzleloader deer season and the Geminid meteor shower.