This is a summary of hunting laws, intended solely for informational use and is applicable July 2020 – February 2021. The exact wording of Kentucky's deer hunting laws can be viewed here.
Zero to a million in 100 years. While that may sound slow to SpaceX, the story of Kentucky’s rocketing deer herd growth is an amazing success story. Today, Kentucky is a top-10 state for hunters seeking that trophy buck. The herd also is substantial enough to support the harvest of more than 130,000 deer each year. That’s a lot of venison for the table. Buy a license here .
This success story is brought to you by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s long and storied history of sound, science-based deer management. Nowadays, hunters are the primary managers of the state’s deer herd. The department’s guidelines maximize opportunities for hunters while helping to balance deer herd numbers through carefully considered zones and bag limits. Read on for more information about deer hunting in Kentucky.
DEER HUNTING SEASONS
Bag limits and harvest restrictions apply to all hunters. A person may take no more than one (1) deer with visible antlers, excluding male fawns (button bucks), regardless of zone, method or season.
However, on some federally controlled areas, including Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox military reservations and Blue Grass Army Depot, a bonus antlered deer may be taken, as determined by the governing agency for each area.
- The statewide deer permit and youth deer permit allows for the harvest up to four deer. Hunters may take up to one antlered deer and three antlerless deer, or four antlerless deer using the statewide deer permit or youth deer permit.
- The statewide season limit for anlered deer is one per hunter
- A hunter may take as many deer as allowed for each zone. In order to take more than four deer statewide, an additional deer permit must be purchased.
- An additional deer permit allows a hunter to take up to two additional deer beyond the four deer allowed by the statewide or youth deer permits. Zone bag limits apply. Hunters who did not harvest an antlered deer using their statewide or youth deer permits can take one antlered deer and up to one anterless deer, or up to two antlerless deer with the deer management permit.
Hunters who buy their license or permit by phone or internet must carry while hunting: a picture ID and proof of purchase (an authorization number, paper license or computer printout). Paper licenses/permits must be signed and all information completed before hunting.
CHECKING AND TAGGING
All deer must be telechecked . Hunters must call 1-800-245-4263 or complete the online check-in process through My Profile. See the “Recording, Checking, Tagging and Transportation” portion of this guide's "General Information" section for full details.
If the hide or head is removed before the harvested deer is checked in – to quarter the animal, for example – it is necessary to demonstrate proof of sex by retaining the head or keeping the genitalia attached to the carcass. In such cases, it is still necessary to fill out the harvest log immediately after harvest and telecheck the animal before midnight on the day the deer is harvested or recovered.
A carcass tag is required if a harvested deer leaves the hunter’s possession for any reason.
STATEWIDE DEER PERMIT
All deer hunters ages 16 and older, unless license exempt, must first buy and carry proof of purchasing an annual hunting license and a statewide deer permit while hunting. The permit allows a hunter to take four deer: one antlered, and three anterless or four antlerless. It does not matter if the antlered or antlerless dear is taken first.
ADDITIONAL DEER PERMIT
To take more than four deer, an additional deer permit must be purchased. The additional deer permit allows a hunter to take up to two additional deer beyond those allowed by the statewide permit in the following combinations: one antlered and one anterless, or two antlerless. Regardless of what permit a deer hunter carries, the statewide season limit for antlered deer is one per hunter. The additional deer permit is not valid unless the hunter has first purchased an annual hunting license and statewide deer permit and is able to show proof of that in the field. A statewide or additional deer permit may be used on public and private land, and during some quota hunts.
HUNTING EQUIPMENT RESTRICTIONS
Hunter orange required!
Hunters and people accompanying them must wear solid, unbroken hunter orange color visible from all sides on the head, back and chest when hunting for any species during the modern gun, muzzleloader, and youth firearm deer seasons, or a firearm elk or bear season. However, hunter orange is not
required when hunting waterfowl or
doves during a gun deer, elk or bear
season, or when hunting furbearers at
night during a legal furbearer season.
MODERN GUN SEASON
During modern gun deer season, hunters may hunt with modern guns, including air guns of .35 caliber or larger charged by an external tank, muzzleloaders, and archery and crossbow equipment, and must follow season restrictions, zone guidelines and other hunting requirements.
All hunters, including archery and crossbow hunters, and persons accompanying hunters, must wear hunter orange clothing during modern gun season.
Persons ages 15 and younger hunting deer with a firearm must be accompanied by an adult who shall be in a position to take immediate control of the youth's firearm at all times.
Hunters using archery equipment during a deer firearms season must follow all firearm season restrictions, zone guidelines and other hunting requirements, and must wear hunter orange clothing.
The only exception is on state owned or managed WMAs where firearms hunting for deer or elk is prohibited.
Hunters using crossbows during a deer firearms season must follow all firearm season restrictions, zone guidelines and other hunting requirements, and must wear hunter orange clothing.
The only exception is on state owned or managed WMAs where firearms hunting for deer or elk is prohibited.
A legal resident hunter age 65 years or older or a youth hunter (resident or non-resident), age 15 or younger, may hunt deer with a crossbow from the first Saturday in September through the third Monday in January.
Muzzleloaders, archery and crossbow equipment may be used during this season.
All hunters must comply with the hunter orange clothing law.
Youths ages 15 and younger hunting deer with a muzzleloader must be accompanied by an adult who shall remain able and in a position to take immediate control of the youth’s muzzleloader at all times.
Construction and use of tree stands on private lands is regulated by landowners.
LEGAL HUNTING EQUIPMENT
MODERN GUN EQUIPMENT
- Any caliber centerfire rifle or centerfire handgun.
- Rifle or handgun magazines may not be capable of holding more than 10 rounds.
- Rifles or handguns may not be fully-automatic (capable of firing more than one round with one trigger pull).
- Full metal jacketed or tracer bullet ammunition is prohibited.
- Shotguns, no larger than 10-gauge, shooting slug ammunition only (includes saboted bullets).
- Muzzle-loading rifles, handguns, or shotguns shooting round balls, conical bullets, or saboted bullets.
- Air guns of .35 caliber or larger charged by an external tank, shooting single projectile ammunition designed to expand upon impact.
- Longbows, recurves and compound bows of any draw weight (no minimum).
- Wood, carbon or metal arrows, but arrows may not be chemically-treated.
- Fixed blade or mechanical broadheads at least 7/8” wide (when blades extended), but broadheads may not be chemically-treated.
- Crossbows of any draw weight (no minimum), with a working safety.
- Wood, carbon or metal arrows (bolts), but arrows (bolts) may not be chemically treated.
- Fixed blade or mechanical broadheads at least 7/8” (when blades extended), but broadheads may not be chemically treated.
- Muzzle-loading rifles or handguns of any caliber, with flint or percussion ignition (including in-lines), shooting round balls, conical bullets or saboted bullets.
- Muzzle-loading firearms equipped with open sights or telescopic sights (scopes).
- Muzzle-loading shotguns no larger than 10-gauge, shooting round balls, conical bullets or saboted bullets.
YOUTH DEER HUNTING
Q: Can a hunter take a deer for someone else?
A: No. Hunters must claim any deer they take as their own. They must use their own license/permit and harvest log, and telecheck the deer using their own Social Security number.
YOUTH DEER HUNTING
Youths may hunt deer during any open season, including two special deer seasons for resident and non-resident hunters who have not reached their 16th birthday.
Adults accompanying youth deer hunters during either of these hunts may not use firearms to take deer.
Adults accompanying youth hunters are not required to possess a hunting license or deer permit if the adult is not deer hunting, but by law, the hunter and the accompanying adults must wear hunter orange clothing.
YOUTH-ONLY FIREARMS SEASON/FREE YOUTH DEER HUNTING WEEKEND
The first special youth deer season is on the second weekend of October. Youth hunters may take deer with firearms, or any other legal method, statewide. During the October youth-only firearms season, the appropriate hunting license and deer permits are required for hunters ages 12-15. Youth hunters under age 12 are not required to have a hunting license or deer permit.
On the first weekend following Christmas, resident and nonresident youth 15 years of age and younger, who are accompanied by an adult, are eligible to participate in the Free Youth Weekend. Youth hunters may hunt deer with firearms, or any other legal method, statewide without a hunting license or deer permit.
All bag limits, zone restrictions and deer hunting requirements apply during the special youth deer seasons.
CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
If you hunt big game outside of Kentucky, you may not bring any member of the deer (Cervidae) family back into Kentucky unless the brain and spinal column have been removed first.
Allowed parts from outside of Kentucky include: quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached, boned-out meat, antlers, antlers attached to a clean skull plate, a clean skull, clean teeth, hides and finished taxidermy products.
CWD has not been detected in Kentucky.
CWD has been found in 26 states, four Canadian provinces and in Europe and Asia: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Finland, Norway, Sweden and South Korea.
View more info on our CWD page here. Up-to-date news regarding CWD can also be found at the site of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.
KENTUCKY'S TROPHY BUCKS
These lists include deer scored and reported to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. It is possible that unreported bucks taken last year in Kentucky may have scored 160 typical or 185 non-typical or higher.
HOW TO GET ON NEXT YEAR'S TROPHY LIST
To be eligible for next year’s trophy list a hunter must take a white-tailed deer in Kentucky this season that officially net scores 160 or higher typical, or net scores 185 or higher non-typical, as determined by the Boone & Crockett scoring system.
No later than May 1, send the completed and signed score sheet with a photo to Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide, #1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601. Include the county in which the deer was taken, and the equipment used to harvest the deer. Please send a copy as score sheets and photos will not be returned. Emailed submissions to email@example.com also will be accepted.
To get a list of official Boone & Crockett Club scorers in Kentucky visit: http://www.boone-crockett.org.
KENTUCKY HUNTERS FOR THE HUNGRY
Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry (KHFH) is a charitable volunteer run organization comprised of responsible hunters and conservationist who encourage hunters to harvest and donate deer each season. KHFH is a statewide hunger relief program dedicated to providing a healthy source of protein to needy Kentuckians with a mission to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in Kentucky by processing and distributing donated venison to those in need. Additionally, to provide an outlet for hunters to help their communities and promote environmental stewardship through wildlife management. An estimated 684,000 people live in poverty in the Commonwealth and one in every four Kentucky children is living in poverty.
How to Donate your Deer
After the harvest of your deer, a hunter must complete their harvest log and successful record theirtelcheck number (1-800-245-4263). The deer needs to be properly field dressed. If the temperature is above 40 degrees please put two large bags of ice in the deer; one in the chest cavity and one in between the hind quarters . This will help prevent the meat from spoilage before donation.
Contact a Hunters for the Hungry affiliated deer processor before donation to be sure of their shop hours and which deer seasons they are accepting deer. Approved processors are independently owned and operated and are not under KHFH control.
How can you help?
All Kentucky hunters can participate in the Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry Program. This program is completely free service for hunters to donate harvested deer. Funding is essential and without support and charitable donations the program could not exist. To donate see the Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry donation page. Additionally, you can also donate $2 when renewing your vehicle registration. Your donation will help pay the cost for turning venison into a nutritious meal for the less fortunate in communities across Kentucky!
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