Kentucky’s early muzzleloader season for deer will be held this weekend, Oct. 16-17. The forecast is calling for rain Friday, but clear and cooler both Saturday and Sunday with lows dipping into the 40s. That should get both deer and hunters stirring after weeks of very warm weather.

Hunting with a muzzleloader used to be called traditional hunting because it harkened back to the days of buckskin-clad hunters stalking the woods with flintlock rifles reminiscent of Daniel  Boone and company. There are a few adventurous souls scattered about these days who wouldn’t think of hunting any other way and I admire their perseverance. For the most part, muzzleloader hunting today is anything but traditional.

Legal firearms for the muzzleloader hunt are defined by the KDFWR as a rifle, shotgun, or handgun that is loaded from the discharging end of the barrel or the discharging end of the cylinder (KAR 2:172(14). Hunters may use black powder or any of the black powder substitutes including both granular and pelleted propellants. Even modern smokeless powder may be used in  muzzle-loading rifles that are designed specifically to use modern smokeless powder. Do not put  modern smokeless powder into a regular muzzleloader however, or key parts of you and your rifle will be scattered about upon the ground. 

As for bullets, hunters may use round lead balls, conical bullets and modern bullets that require  the use of a plastic sabot. Muzzle-loading rifles may also be equipped with open sights,  telescopic sights, red-dot sights, or any combination thereof. Muzzle-loading shotguns may be  used (not regular shotguns), but must be no larger than 10 gauge and shoot round balls, conical bullets, or bullets that require sabots. Buck shot is not legal for deer in Kentucky. Just so you know, cowboy and other antique or modern firearms that use a metallic cartridge that is loaded from the breech are not legal for use during the muzzleloader season even though the cartridges may contain black powder. 

During any muzzleloader or firearm season, all hunters and anyone accompanying a hunter must wear the required amount of hunter orange clothing. This can be accomplished with an orange hat or cap and an orange vest or jacket. The idea is to have hunter orange visible from all sides on the head, neck, back, and chest. Anyone traipsing around outdoors, whether hunting any species of game, working, or just out for a stroll should wear hunter orange during the firearm deer seasons. Hunting deer in Kentucky requires both a hunting license and a statewide deer permit. You do not have to have a license or permit if you are younger than 12. Kentucky residents who hunt on land that they own are not required to have a license or permit. The exemption also applies to the owner’s spouse and dependent children. Non-resident landowners must have a non-resident hunting license and a deer permit. 

The early muzzleloader season will be the first season where hunters within the five-county CWD surveillance zone will be required to have their deer examined at a designated CWD check station. This applies to any deer harvested during the muzzleloader weekend including deer taken 

by bow or crossbow. Any deer taken within the surveillance zone, moved into, or moved through the surveillance zone must have a carcass tag attached that includes: Name of hunter or person in possession of deer, phone number, species and sex of animal, county and state where harvested, date harvested or obtained, and how the carcass was obtained. Now here’s a catch. The whole carcass or any high-risk parts including the head with brain material of any deer, elk, moose, or caribou harvested in another state cannot be brought into Kentucky, and the whole carcass or any high-risk parts of a deer taken within the five-county CWD zone may not be taken outside of the zone UNLESS the meat is deboned and brain matter removed from any skulls or skull parts. A list of check stations, printable carcass tag, and other special CWD information can be found on the KDFWR website, fw.ky.gov.

As expected, rumors regarding the CWD regulations abound. I do not speak for the KDFWR or any other agency in that regard, but most of what I’m hearing is simply conjecture. All I know with an acceptable level of confidence is the information that has been released in writing by the department. The feeding ban went into effect Sept. 13, 2021. This includes grain, mineral blocks, salt blocks, and other attractants intended to be ingested, but does not include grain from normal agricultural practices or food plots. According to the department’s amended hunting guide, all wildlife feeders, and salt/mineral blocks MUST be removed immediately. There is no official transition period and anyone found in violation of the ban can be issued a citation.

The department is also dead serious about preventing deer carcasses from other states entering Kentucky. In past years the department has monitored roads along the Kentucky/Tennessee state line during the gun seasons and I expect these efforts will increase. A hotline has even been established to encourage anyone observing the transport of a whole carcass across state lines to report the incident. Keep in mind that these same regulations also apply in Tennessee and the TWRA takes such matters very seriously.

The rumor about plans to use department personnel to kill large numbers of deer in the surveillance zone this year appears to be unfounded. Some states that have had outbreaks in concentrated areas have resorted to herd reduction, others have not. This is typically considered only in small areas where the concentration of infected deer is significantly higher than surrounding areas. There are approximately 7,000 deer taken each year from the five-county surveillance zone, more than enough to satisfy the current sampling requirements. Kentucky has not banned deer urine attractants, but Tennessee prohibits the use of all deer lures based on natural deer urine.

Deer are beginning to feel the urge to move around with cooler weather on the way so be careful when driving, especially during mornings and afternoons. Hunters are feeling urges too so get those muzzleloaders ready and round up all the various necessities for the weekend hunt. And  above all —  keep your powder dry.