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
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 seasons.
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
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.