Deer Hunting in Kentucky

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  • A
  • 933,000

    Est. Whitetail Population

  • 330,000

    No. Licenses Sold Annually

  • $62

    The annual resident hunting license is $27. The deer permit is $35.

    Resident hunting license and deer permit

  • $335

    The annual non-resident hunting license is $150. The deer permit is $185.

    Non-resident hunting license and deer permit

  • 204 2/8"

    Taken by Robert W. Smith in Pendleton County in 2000, ranked as No. 5 of all time.

    Record B&C Typical Stat

  • 740

    Total B&C Typical Entries

  • 274 5/8"

    Picked up in Christian County in 2004.

    Record B&C Non-Typical Stat

  • 358

    Record B&C Non-Typical Entries

Kirsten Godfrey arrowed this fine Kentucky buck. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Godfrey)


Season Dates (2021):

While season dates are still tentative as of this writing, archery season is September 4 to January 17. Crossbow season spans September 18 to January 17. Modern firearm is November 13-28. Early muzzleloader season is October 16-17, and late muzzleloader runs December 11-19. Youth weekend is October 9-10 and January 1-2. Please check the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) website to confirm.

The Grade: A

Kentucky used to be a secret. Not anymore. Hunters travel from afar to see what the hype is all about. Some go home emptyhanded, but many experience what they came here for — great deer hunting.

“Overall, the statewide deer population estimate shows a stable to slightly increasing trend,” said Kyle Sams, deer and elk program biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “In eastern Kentucky, where deer numbers took a hit from the 2017 Hemorrhagic Disease outbreak, the deer are rebounding, although growth is slow. This is primarily due to the lack of available forage and cover that is associated with forested habitats in eastern Kentucky.”

Fortunately, while Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is not currently in Kentucky, it is closing in along several borders, having been found in all but one of neighboring states. Recent changes included a crossbow expansion in 2019, when the season was expanded from approximately 70 days to 122. It now opens the third Saturday in September and runs until the end of archery season. Some hunters like that, but not all of them. 

All in all, it’s hard to not give Kentucky an A based on Antler Nation criteria, especially considering it just might be the best place in the country to tag a velvet whitetail.

Antler Nation Knowledge

The Bluegrass State is diverse. Western Kentucky offers flat, agricultural land not unlike the Midwest. The entire northern and western edges of the state are bordered by rivers, which produce fertile soils and great river bottom whitetail hunting. Large expanses of forests are found in the central and eastern portions of the state, and eastern counties harbor some rugged, mountainous terrain. Central Kentucky has a good mix of rolling hills, hardwoods, crops and pasture fields.

“Every county in Kentucky has produced trophy whitetails and continues to do so annually, however, I would focus on the Green River Region counties where we typically get more trophy whitetails,” Sams said. “Our hunters do a great job of letting younger bucks and buck fawns walk, as 71% of the males harvested are adults (2.5 or older), 19% of the males harvested are yearlings (1.5 years old), and 10% of the males harvested are fawns (0.5 years old).”

When it comes to top-end bucks, it’s hard to beat counties that border the Ohio River, and those located in the western half of the state. Some of the best include Breckinridge, Butler, Christian, Daviess, Edmonson, Grayson, Hancock, Hardin, Hart, Henderson, Hopkins, Logan, Muhlenberg, Ohio and Todd. Bullitt, Henry, Jefferson, Oldham and Shelby are good, too, if you can find a place to hunt in these heavily populated areas. Still, a giant is possible anywhere in the state. Kentucky ranks behind only Wisconsin when analyzing Boone and Crockett entries from the past decade.

More than 1.5 million acres of public land are available, but much of it receives heavy pressure. Trophy bucks can be found on ground open to all. Some of the larger WMAs in the Bluegrass and Green River regions offer the best chance at a trophy. However, pockets of private property are where the bulk of the big bucks roam. Secure a decent piece of private ground in the state and you’re well on your way to tagging a big whitetail.

And don’t forget, a statewide deer permit allows hunters to take up to four deer. If you don’t want all of that meat, perhaps consider donating a deer or two to the Hunters for the Hungry program. People will appreciate it.

Kentucky Harvests

  • Alizabeth Martin

    Logan, Kentucky

  • Jordan Tong

    Owensboro, Kentucky

From the Realtree Trophy Den