Outdoors: Year in review

By Art Lander, Jr., Staff Writer at Kentucky Afield Magazine Published:

It was a year for deer and bear season records, expanded public hunting opportunities and improved access to Kentucky’s premier trout stream.

Here’s a look back at a few of the top stories from 2012:

Deer harvest

takes record

Kentucky hunters harvested a record number of white-tailed deer.

With 35 days of archery hunting and a two-day youth season remaining before season’s end, hunters eclipsed the overall deer harvest total record. As of Dec. 18, hunters harvested 126,923 deer. This total breaks the previous season record of 124,752 set in 2004.

Earlier in the fall, hunters reported bagging 92,737 whitetails during Kentucky’s modern gun season, which ended Monday, Nov. 25. Last spring, a record 68 deer from the 2011-12 season in Kentucky qualified for entry into the Boone and Crockett record book, the most for any state or Canadian province.

“These records demonstrate that we have a stable, quality deer herd,” said Tina Brunjes, deer program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “But what drives the harvest is good hunting weather, particularly during the modern gun season, when the majority of our deer are taken.”

Bear season

comes of age

Kentucky’s 2012 bear season was the first time hunters reached the harvest quota and in the process set a new state record.

Doug Adkins of Jenkins, Ky. took a 410-pound male bear in Letcher County. “That’s the field-dressed weight,” said Steve Dobey, bear program coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The live weight would have likely exceeded 450 pounds.”

Hunters purchased 359 permits for the 2012 hunt. Nine of the 11 bears taken were males.

By the late 2000s, black bears had made a comeback and were well established in eastern Kentucky. These bears did not come to Kentucky by a planned restoration effort, but by natural range expansion. Bears again colonized eastern Kentucky’s mountain region from the neighboring states of West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, where bear populations were never extirpated.

Three new properties

With the help of partnering agencies, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife acquired three new properties, totaling 5,731 acres, for public use as state wildlife management areas (WMAs).

Known locally as the Rogers Gap property, Veterans Memorial WMA is just minutes north of Georgetown, off I-75.

Jon Gassett, commissioner of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, characterized the acquisition of 2,497 acres in Scott County as “a historic event. This is great for people in central and northern Kentucky who enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

This large chunk of undeveloped land is within reasonable driving distance of about one-third of Kentucky’s population. The new area has a large deer herd along with excellent potential for small game and wild turkey.

Big Rivers WMA and State Forest is in Union County, west of Sturgis. The Kentucky Division of Forestry and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife jointly acquired 2,488 acres at the confluence of the Ohio and Tradewater rivers, bounded on the north by KY 1508, on the west by the Ohio River and on the south by the Tradewater River.

About 70 percent forested, the property has good populations of deer, wild turkey, small game and seasonally attracts migratory waterfowl. From a resource perspective, the region is very significant; home to federally-endangered bats and mussels and a forest type uncommon in Kentucky: Post Oak Flat Woods.

An ecological treasure, Griffith Woods WMA is a 746-acre remnant of Bluegrass savanna. The property is on U.S. 62 about five miles southwest of Cynthiana in Harrison County.

Managed as a research and demonstration area since 2004, the property was purchased from the Nature Conservancy and the University of Kentucky.

“Griffith Woods has the largest known collection of old Bluegrass trees,” said John Cox, of the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry. “There are more than 600 trees over 28 inches in diameter at chest height.”

This includes a large number of ancient blue ash trees and a chinkapin oak tree that’s on Kentucky’s State Tree List. This specimen is the largest known tree of that species in the U.S.

The area is about 40 percent forested and 60 percent open land, holding populations of deer, turkey and small game.

Fishing opportunities

Anglers have two new places to wade fish in the trout-rich Cumberland tailwaters: the island adjacent to Rainbow Run shoal and Long Bar Island. This 75-mile section of river extends from Lake Cumberland’s Wolf Creek Dam to the Tennessee line.

Both properties are in a bend of the Cumberland River near the Rock House, a natural arch off Ky 379 on the Russell-Clinton County line.

Long Bar is on the left side of the river, just upstream of the Rock House. It is off Ky. 1730 on Wells Bottom Road in Clinton County.

Rainbow Run is on the right side of the river, just downstream of the Rock House, and can only be reached by boat.

“These purchases are important because of the lack of good wading access in the river,” said Dave Dreves, a department fisheries research biologist who’s studied the river for years. “Long Bar is a place where you can drive up, walk a short distance and you’re fishing.”

Federal money from the Sport Fish Restoration Fund paid for 75 percent of the purchase price of the properties. Wading anglers have only a handful of places on the river to fish.

The department’s new property at Long Bar is situated near a former ferry landing. Some old maps also refer to it as Snow Island.

From Long Bar’s gravel parking lot it’s a short walk to the half-mile long, 12-acre island. At low water, anglers will encounter depths of 2-3 feet when wading to the island.

Downstream of the island, on the same bank as the access parking lot, is a scour hole littered with tree trunks. When the dam is generating power and pushing high water flows downriver, this hole harbors large striped bass and trout.

At low water, anglers can wade along the entire length of the island. The river channel includes shoals, potholes and downed trees. Anglers can expect to find brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout.

Rainbow Run is a relatively new name for the shoal located just downriver of the Rock House, since trout weren’t introduced there until the Cumberland River was impounded in the early 1950s.

Old maps refer to the 3,500-foot island adjacent to Rainbow Run as Wells Island. The island is about 10 acres at low water, but may go underwater when all the generators are operating at Wolf Creek Dam. A rock beach at the head of the island offers anglers a place to land their boats and wade.

Rainbow Run is one of the most heralded trout fishing spots on the river because of its productivity.

The shoal is one of five sections of the river sampled for trout every fall by biologists using electro-fishing equipment at night. Since 1995, Rainbow Run has traditionally yielded more rainbow trout 20 inches or longer than all the other sampling locations combined and also holds trophy-sized brown trout.

With hope, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will have many other positive accomplishments in 2013.

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