Put Your Trust In Trusten Holder

Five days of gun hunting, five months of bowhunting; tight control over access; helpful local regulations. Little wonder that big bucks aplenty roam this swampy Arkansas County bottomland! (January 2008.)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

I don't know about you, but sometimes my deer hunter psyche demands that I get away from the noise and problems of everyday life.

Trusten Holder Wildlife Management Area, which lies in as-far-as-you-can-go southeast Arkansas County, is one such place. But before we get to it, let's talk about some deer and deer-hunting generalities that provide background for understanding the WMA's deer herd and its characteristics.

Deer in general, and big bucks in particular, make use of drainages in a variety of ways. You can clearly observe this preference in the flatland states of Iowa, Kansas and the Dakotas, where waterways serve as highways for deer movement. However, this travel pattern takes place anywhere rivers, creeks and streams are present.

From the viewpoint of a burly whitetail buck, good reasons exist for using drainages for travel: (1.) Because of the increased moisture in the soil along drainages, cover will generally be thicker, and old bucks especially are partial to thick cover. (2.) That same cover provides a food source that may very well be better than that available in surrounding areas. (3.) Whitetails -- in fact, all wildlife -- will take advantage of terrain features that make travel easier. (4.) Given a choice, deer prefer to move in as straight a line as is possible, and waterways, by their very make-up, follow paths of least resistance; in most cases, those paths tend to run in straight lines.

I've now studied and hunted one such drainage in Arkansas for more than 30 years. This waterway heads up in the Boston Mountains east of Fayetteville. In its downstream travel it flows north, makes a loop through southern Missouri, and then reenters Arkansas near Diamond City, just north of Lead Hill. The river continues southeast through the black-dirt plains of the Mississippi Delta to its confluence with the Arkansas River. Figured it out? Yep: the White River -- the primary watershed of north and northeast Arkansas, and one of the state's prime wildlife magnets. Ducks, deer and bears inhabit its length, particularly along the river's lower reaches, and I seem to recall reading somewhere that 160 species of fish swim its waters. White River National Wildlife Refuge, the state's No. 1 public big-buck hunting area, lies at the bottom of the drainage. And Cache River National Wildlife Refuge stretches northward just beyond its sister-refuge lands.

In 1998, hunter Wayne Lindsey arrowed the current state-record typical bow-killed buck on White River, and, in 1999, hunter Bill Dooley killed the current state-record non-typical buck along the edges of the Cache River.

Several years ago, I made a trip to Tichnor, in the lower White River drainage, to interview Donald Ray Sweetin, who had just taken a 5x6 typical whitetail that scored 172 0/8 Boone and Crockett points. Sweetin's buck was the state's first bow kill large enough to make the Boone and Crockett Club's all-time record book.

While in the Tichnor area, I took time to ease along the western edge of White River NWR, just looking the country over. That's when I crossed "the chute" at Arkansas River Lock No. 1, and entered Trusten Holder Wildlife Management Area.

Beyond southeast Arkansas, this relatively small 18,000-acre WMA may be relatively unknown. Sited in Arkansas and Desha counties some 35 miles southeast of DeWitt, the lands that comprise the WMA are owned in parts by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Management of the area's wildlife came under the direction of the AGFC when the WMA was established in 1973.

About that time, a grass-roots movement to save prime bottomland hardwood areas -- which were rapidly disappearing in Arkansas as clearing for farmland took its toll throughout the Delta -- was stirring. Trusten Holder WMA may or may not fit the precise definition of a "big-woods" area, but it remains a tract well worth protecting.

The area's namesake was one of the foresightful old-timers who worked for the AGFC as a biologist and federal aid coordinator back in the 1950s and '60s. While Trusten Holder is, perhaps, better known for his involvement with Bayou Meto WMA -- many will tell you that he was the primary force behind its acquisition -- his passion lay in saving land to be used by both wildlife and future generations of outdoorsmen.

Today Trusten Holder WMA is a diamond in the rough in terms of harboring big deer. Roger Milligan, AGFC wildlife supervisor for Region 3, gave some reasons. "As you know," he remarked, "to produce good deer you have to have a good food source, you have to have good genetics, and you have to have age. On Trusten Holder we've always had the first two. And now, on all state facilities here in Region 3, we've gone even farther than the statewide 3-point rule and enacted the 4x4 slot."

(The 4x4 slot restriction, aimed at building an older buck segment in the local deer population, means deer hunters may take a buck only if it has fewer than 4 points total or more than 4 points on one side of its antlers. Refer to the current edition of the Arkansas Hunting Guidebook for other applicable hunting guidelines.)

"We feel that this rule allows us to remove some 'cull' bucks from the herd," Milligan continued. "We realize the term 'cull' means different things to different people, but the plan seems to be working, and today we have some very good bucks on Trusten Holder."

Milligan also touched on the primary reason for Trusten Holder WMA's place among the prime bowhunting spots in Arkansas, particularly during the late season. "There is no modern-gun hunting on Trusten Holder," he explained. "We have a single five-day muzzleloader season that takes place in early October" -- permit required, 400 available -- "so the rest of the year, the only hunting allowed is bowhunting."

Five days of gun hunting and five months of bowhunting! Combined with tight controls on hunter access, local regulations almost guarantee that plenty of big bucks will roam Trusten Holder WMA.

"We probably don't have quite the trophy prospects they have over on the White River NWR," Milligan added, "but we do have a number of good deer here, including several in the 140 to 150 class."

Bucks that size are trophies anywhere. And one more factor promises that the area can turn out big bucks.

"You have White River NWR adjacent to us," Milligan said, "and you have Choctaw WMA below us. We've already talked about the quality (of deer) on White River, and on Choctaw they have a 5x5 slot (restriction) for deer. So pretty much this entire area of the state is under what amounts to quality big-buck management."

What about food sources? "We plant somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 acres in food plots," Milligan offered. "Most of those are on the big area over around Tichnor and on Jardis Point. There are also lots of bearing trees on the facility, with most of those being pecan, particularly in the 'big area.' On the Jardis Point side you will see some oaks -- mostly overcup and nuttall. What the entire area does have is exceptional soft mast, primarily in the form of persimmon trees."

While the bow season ends on White River NWR at the end of January, the season remains open on Trusten Holder WMA until the end of February. This offers bowhunters the opportunity for some prime late-season hunting.

To reach Trusten Holder WMA, take Tichnor Blacktop Road south from Tichnor toward Merrisach Lake and White River Lock and Dam No. 1. The USFWS recently purchased 300 acres of land that runs beside the canal on its south side. Cross the bridge, turn left on Benzal Road, and you've entered Trusten Holder WMA. From that point you're pretty much in uncharted territory, at least as far as hard-surface roads are concerned.

Trusten Holder WMA lies in two flood-prone zones -- Flood Prone Region F and Flood Prone Region H. Call the AGFC toll free at 1-800-440-1477 for recorded gauge readings and closures. For more information about deer hunting at Trusten Holder WMA, call the area office at 1-877-367-3559.

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