When Kentucky’s modern gun deer season opened statewide on Nov. 8., Gabe Jenkins had been in his new role as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ deer and elk program coordinator for a little more than a month.
“It’s been exciting,” he said.
An avid hunter, Jenkins grew up on a farm in the small southeast Ohio village of Rutland. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Kentucky University, he was hired by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife in 2007 to work in the deer and elk program.
“All of my predecessors have done a fantastic job and I’m here to continue that course,” he said.
Jenkins, 30, recently sat down for an interview at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife headquarters in Frankfort. The following are excerpts from that interview.
What are the duties and responsibilities of the deer and elk program coordinator?
Jenkins: “The deer and elk coordinator conducts statewide management for white-tailed deer and elk. I oversee and conduct biological research, surveys and inventory work on both species. I work with our program’s deer and elk biologists and others at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to make recommendations for the promulgation of regulations that address problem issues associated with deer and elk. It’s my goal to manage the deer and elk herds in the state to provide ample hunting opportunity, yet strike a balance between hunters and non-hunters alike.”
How would you sum up the deer season so far, and what are your expectations for the remainder of it?
Jenkins: “Our September harvest has been increasing and we have been breaking our September harvest record every year. Unfortunately, we didn’t break it this year. October’s harvest is right in the middle when comparing it to previous years. Our youth firearms season was good considering the less than ideal weather. It was our second-highest harvest in the past eight years. The early muzzleloader hunt is very weather dependent. The weather was decent across the state and our harvest was average this year.
“We’re coming off of two record harvest years. We have made a dent in some of the deer numbers. I look for our harvest to be down to where it had been prior to 2012 and 2013.”
What is your assessment of the state’s deer herd, estimated to number about 1 million going into this season?
Jenkins: “We stopped stocking deer in 1999. That’s not all that long ago. We have places where the numbers are good. We have places where the numbers are too high. And we have places where we need to grow the herd a little more. Especially in the southeastern part of the state; how can we get that needle to move a little to get a few more deer in that area? I think our hunters would appreciate that. The habitat can’t support a huge increase but I would like to see it bump up some. That’s definitely an interest of mine.”
Can you foresee any potential adjustments to the zone strategy down the road?
Jenkins: “One thing that I definitely want to open up is a dialogue with our hunters. We need to have some discussions about ways to better manage our doe herd in Zone 1 counties, and how we can get hunters to be better managers of our resources in those counties. They are tasked to manage the resource. We could do a better job of management in many places in Zone 1. So how can we encourage, or make it better, for more hunters to take more does? The population needs to come down a little bit. We’re planning to go on the road and talk with our hunters about ways to deal with deer numbers in Zone 1 counties. We’re going to meet with the public and run some surveys. We hope to take what we learn from our discussions and come up with a new strategy to harvest more deer in Zone 1, specifically female deer.”
You’re a biologist but also an experienced hunter. What do enjoy most about hunting?
Jenkins: “I enjoy going after something new. It could be a new species. It could be a new place. I love to climb up in a tree and shoot a deer, but maybe I want to shoot one with a crossbow this year or go to Colorado and shoot an elk with my bow or tackle turkeys with my bow or a fall turkey with a shotgun. My favorite thing to hunt is whatever’s in season. I might try new tactics, a new place, a new style, but I love to hunt. I’m not one that prefers one weapon over the other. I’ve got a bow. I’ve got a crossbow. I’ve got a shotgun, a muzzleloader, a rifle. I value each one of them. You learn something different and new each time you’re out there.”
Kentucky hunters took a record 144,409 deer during the 2013-14 season, and modern gun season accounted for 72 percent of that harvest total.
This year, modern gun season for deer opens Nov. 8 and continues through Nov. 17 or Nov. 23, depending on the zone. Hunters are reminded to purchase the appropriate licenses and permits and encouraged to review the 2014-15 Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide – recently updated online at fw.ky.gov – before going into the field.