If falling leaves and cooler mornings are a clarion call to pick up your rifle or bow and get back to nature, you might be catching deer fever.

Officials at Fort Knox Natural Resources Branch said it's no wonder with the deer found at the installation.

"The deer population in Kentucky is exploding, and military installations are great places to hunt because of their generally undisturbed habitat," said Jimmy Watkins, a Fort Knox wildlife biologist with the Natural Resources Branch. "We keep our deer populations under check and we manage [our herds] for that quality animal."

With thousands of acres of military training sites that double as hunting grounds, Mike Brandenburg, chief of the Natural Resources Branch, said Fort Knox is prime real-estate for deer.

"Fort Knox consists of over 100 thousand acres of excellent wildlife habitat -- that's 156 square miles," said Brandenburg. "We have some of the best hunting in the state of Kentucky right here on Fort Knox."

Brandenburg said that Fort Knox's established management program now produces healthier deer populations and bigger yields for hunters.

[We] implemented the Quality Deer Management [program] 18 years ago," he said. "As a result, hunting here offers a superb opportunity to take a quality deer."

Watkins said the program produces healthier herds by balancing the habitat.

"We have an abundance of habitat because that's what the Army needs to train, and we've become a type of 'sanctuary' from the urban development that happens in the cities around the fort," Watkins said. "By managing the age structure of the deer herd, herd sex ratios and the habitat itself we allow the deer to get bigger and to produce a better rack.

"Hunters are an important part of the program. Higher deer densities have less food and that affects the health of the heard. Hunters become managers by thinning the herds each year. It is a fine balance."

By requiring hunters to go after bigger bucks, younger ones are allowed to grow up to become next year's trophies.

"Most hunters are after bucks and if you allow the male to grow another year or two he'll grow bigger and he'll have a more impressive rack," Watkins said. We have a 12- inch-size restriction on antlers, and this allows the young ones time. [In this way] the average [deer killed] has gone from 1-year-old bucks to 3-1/2-year-old bucks."

Hunting at Fort Knox is not just for Soldiers but anyone who is able to pass a background check.

"Hunting and fishing at the fort are available to all outdoor enthusiasts and not just those affiliated with the military," said Brandenburg. "Obtaining an annual installation visitor pass is a simple process that is easily completed at the Fort Knox Visitor Center [at the Chaffee Gate]. The required firearms registration is also done at the Visitor Center. It is not difficult and it is good for up to three years."

In fact, civilians are encouraged to participate.

"Military-affiliated hunters and government employees are always able to hunt, and we have a lottery that we encourage anyone else to apply for," said Watkins. "The first [gun hunt] weekend is highly sought after and typically has the best success, and you can apply prior to having your firearms registered in case you don't win."

Watkins said there's still plenty of opportunity to bag one their deer for non-winners.

"If not selected they still have the second and third weekends to hunt without the lottery, and people have plenty of success."

Deer hunters who have successfully filled their deer tags for the state can continue their hunting season on Fort Knox, said Brandenburg.

Fort Knox is one of the few properties in Kentucky where hunters can harvest more than the statewide limit, said Watkins.

"You can get either deer or turkey in addition to your bag limit on Fort Knox," Watkins explained. "The bag limit is one deer of either sex and one antlerless deer with a gun permit and one deer of either sex and one antlerless deer with an archery permit."

"Don't miss an opportunity for a great outdoor experience at Fort Knox," said Brandenburg. "Everything you need to know about hunting and fishing on Fort Knox can be found at the Fort Knox iSportsman website."

Lottery applications are being accepted for civilians from Sept. 1-15 for the first gun hunt weekend, and applicants can apply prior to even having their firearms registered on post.

All hunters interested in hunting on Fort Knox should establish their iSportman account at https://ftknox.isportsman.net and by calling the Hunt Control Office at 502-624-7311.