‘Free youth’ deer, small game seasons on statewide | Sports

Free youth seasons are under way in Kentucky right now, but alas, that doesn’t mean old people can reclaim any lost vitality.

What it does mean that kids younger than age 16 can enjoy sessions of hunting without any requirement of licensing or permits. And without expense to gain such authorization, parents or guardians are relieved of what might be a hurdle that would prevent youngsters from being allowed to participate in such experiences.

Today and Sunday is Kentucky’s free youth deer hunting season, regularly the first Saturday and Sunday after Christmas. The weekend season allows those 15 and younger (who are accompanied by supervising adults) to hunt with modern firearms for deer.

The “free” part of the season in this case means that junior hunting licenses and deer permits for kids ages 12-15 are not required. (Licenses and permits are not required for those younger than 12 even during regular hunting seasons.)

Hunting license and deer permit exemption for those for whom they normally would be required is a feature offered by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources to promote recruitment of future hunters. Removing barriers to early hunting experiences, say managers, is key to many youngsters becoming hunters for life — and future hunters are needed to support wild resources.

The free youth deer hunt over the weekend is conducted under conventional Kentucky deer hunting regulations including the harvest limit. The ongoing rule for that is each Kentucky deer hunter is limited to the taking of a single antlered buck for the entire hunting year regardless of season and/or weaponry used.

However, in Kentucky’s Zone 1 deer hunting counties, which includes all those in far western counties, there is no limit on the number of antlerless deer that can be taken. The harvest rules in Zone 1 counties remain highly liberalized toward the taking of female deer to control and even reduce deer numbers in counties with the highest population densities.

As during any firearms deer season, participants in the free youth deer weekend hunt must wear clothing of unbroken fluorescent orange on head, chest and back. This applies to both the young hunters and their adult overseers.

During the youth firearms deer season, other hunters afield during daylight for other small game and furbearer seasons also must wear the fluorescent orange — typically, orange cap and vest — for safer visibility.

Among those other hunters is another set of “free youth” hunters. Today is also the start of Kentucky’s free youth small game and trapping season. This is a full week (Jan. 1-7) during which youngsters under age 16 can participate in small game and trapping pursuits, again without the necessity of what is normally the appropriate state youth licenses.

Small game hunting and trapping is available under conventional seasonal regulations including bag limits. In these pursuits, however, accompanying adults with appropriate licensing can participate as well.

• Does the new year generally require new Kentucky hunting and fishing licenses? Eventually, but not so fast.

Once upon a time Kentucky’s sporting license year was concurrent with the annual calendar. For some long while, however, the state’s hunting and fishing year extends beyond the calendar year by a good two months.

Numerous things in life may have expired with the stroke of midnight last night, New Year’s Eve, but Kentucky hunting/fishing licenses and permits were not among them. The current licenses for the 2021-22 seasons are valid through the entire month of February.

Kentucky licenses for these outdoors endeavors are based on a March-February license year. Indeed, licenses for the 2022-23 year (sounds futuristic, doesn’t it?) will be required for pursuits beginning March 1.

One need not wait until current licensing expires before re-upping with fresh credentials. It is way too common to wait until the seasonal end time and then forget and find oneself caught without valid licensing when it is needed.

The 2022-23 licenses are not obligatory now, but they can be purchased presently and held at the ready until they go into effect. Licenses and permits are available at many retail outlets and county court clerk’s offices via computer terminal connections. All licenses and permits also are always available online from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources website, www.fw.ky.gov.

• Friday, the final day of 2021, was also the final day of the fall turkey season for crossbow hunters. Turkeys can be taken by archery hunters through Jan. 17.

While turkeys are off the harvest list to them, crossbow hunters like archery hunters can continue to deer hunt through the Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

• Regarding comings and goings of migratory bird hunting, Tuesday will be the opening day of the late crow hunting season. It will run through Feb. 28.

Per Kentucky regulations, crows can be shot at any time of year if they are committing or are about to commit an act of depredation. But it requires an official hunting season in order for hunters to employ camouflage, shooting blinds, calls, decoys or other aids to attract them.

Meanwhile, the third and final segment of Kentucky’s long mourning dove hunting season continues. This last, winter segment of hunting, open since Dec. 18, continues through next Sunday, Jan. 9. Kentucky’s dove season totals 90 days of hunting, with the longest and most popular stint beginning on Sept. 1.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to [email protected] or phone 270-575-8650.

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