January 22, 2019
You can kill a monster whitetail anywhere in Arkansas, but the counties in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain — The Delta — produce the overwhelming majority of the bucks that qualify for recognition by the Boone and Crockett
According to B&C records, most of our best bucks since 2013 were killed in the lower drainages of our major rivers, specifically the Arkansas, White, Cache and St. Francis rivers.
That area is a fertile agricultural region containing vast farms that grow soybeans, corn and rice. The soils are rich in minerals that contribute to antler development, and the amount of natural and agricultural food for deer is astonishing.
Because most of the land is privately owned, hunting pressure is light. However, some of the state’s most storied hunting clubs are also in this region. They emphasize quality deer management and are selective about killing bucks.
There is also a surprising amount of public land where a hunter can encounter a record-book buck. These include the White River NWR, Cache River NWR, Wattensaw WMA and Dagmar WMA.
At the heart of it all is Phillips County, which abuts the Mississippi River roughly from Helena-West Helena southward almost to Snow Lake.
INSIDE THE LEVEES
The best big buck habitat in Phillips County is in the immediate floodplain of the Mississippi River inside the levees that border both sides of the river.
Because the river changes course, the boundary between Arkansas and Mississippi is peculiar and in places indeterminate. Some Mississippi lands are on the Arkansas side of the river and vice versa, and some clubs straddle both states.
One such property is Jackson Point Hunting Club near Elaine. Its members include some of the state’s most prominent business and political figures. People of equal stature populate the other clubs along the river, and most have comfortable lodgings on site.
Covering 8,700 acres on Mississippi River Islands 64 and 65, Jackson Point is typical of the floodplain habitat along the banks of the Mississippi. It is basically a massive isolated sandbar forested primarily with bitter pecan, cottonwood, red oaks and shrubs.
Of course, clubs like Jackson Point invest thousands of dollars to provide supplemental forage for deer. Jackson Point dedicates more than 265 acres to food plots. Food strips are found throughout the woods, and every open space is planted with food, including both sides of every road.
The strips contain oats, winter wheat, turnips, clover and soybeans.
Jackson Point, like the other major clubs inside the levees, employs a resident manager that lives on site. That person is in charge of the agricultural operations and overseeing timber cutting operations.
I’ve hunted antlerless deer at Jackson Point several times. All deer, including does and yearling bucks, have big bodies and are in excellent overall condition. The bucks generally sport wide typical racks with excellent mass, and members commonly kill bucks that weigh 240 pounds with antlers that net 150 B&C or larger.
Jackson Point rules require a buck to score at least 130 B&C or have a minimum 18-inch inside spread. A cull buck program allows hunters to kill bucks with 8 points or less with a minimum 15-inch spread.
Members accept the fact that they might go several seasons without seeing a legal buck, but when they do, it’s a dandy.
One equity share in the Jackson Point Hunting Club entitles a member to three stands. In addition, the club has a walk-in cooler, a mechanized deer skinning apparatus and an airstrip.
One equity share, including a two-room, two-bath metal house, is currently advertised for $250,000.
Check out this video to learn how to manage your small track of land to bag your trophy buck.
WHITE RIVER NWR
Bordering the western side of Phillips County is the South Unit of the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge.Spanning nearly 161,000 acres from Clarendon roughly to Tichnor, the White River Refuge is one of the best public areas in the state to encounter a mature buck.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service limits deer hunting with modern firearms and muzzleloaders to four controlled quota deer hunts. Modern gun hunting is allowed during two, two-day hunts in early November. A single two-day muzzleloader hunt is held in mid-October. A two-day quota hunt for youths is held in early December.
Special permits are not required for bowhunting, which is allowed from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. That is two months less than the statewide season, which starts the last Saturday in September and ends on February 28.
Camping is allowed on about two dozen designated primitive campgrounds. If there is a federal government shutdown during the dates of a quota hunt, that hunt is cancelled, and permittees must leave the refuge. That happened in 2013 and 1995.
The White River NWR is wild, untamed country that skirts the White River. The South Unit is wider than the North Unit and consists of a vast, generally continuous tract of mature bottomland hardwoods, primarily oaks.
An October bowhunt is the best time to hunt because deer populations are at their highest, and because bucks are largely undisturbed.Acorns start falling in late October. Of course, an abundant mast crop allows deer to disperse. That makes it hard to pattern deer herds, let alone pattern individual bucks. It’s easier in a sparse mast year when only a few trees produce. Deer concentrate on good mast trees, increasing the likelihood of seeing a mature buck.
Hence its name, the White River NWR is a refuge area that holds the deer that disperse into neighboring agricultural fields. Farms adjacent to the refuge grow a lot of corn and soybeans, which provide excellent nutrition for deer in addition to forestland forage.
Deer feed all night in the fields and then retreat back into the woods shortly after dawn. Hunting a trail connecting a crop field with the refuge is a proven strategy for bagging a mature buck.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the quota hunts on the White River NWR. For more information, call (870) 282-8200.
ST. FRANCIS NATIONAL FOREST
On the north end of Phillips County is the St. Francis National Forest. Covering only 22,000 acres, the St. Francis National Forest is unknown by non-local hunters, but it spans a portion of a legendary big buck hotspot known as Crowley’s Ridge.
Rising 250 to 550 feet above the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, Crowley’s Ridge is an ancient loess escarpment that stretches about 150 miles from Cape Girardeau, Mo., to Helena, Ark. Its width ranges from one-half a mile to 12 miles.
Composed of deep soil, it supports one of the finest mature hardwood forests in eastern Arkansas. It contains a mixture of white oaks in the uplands, red oaks in the lower elevations, hickories, beech and various shrubs.
The topography is very rugged due to a web of deep, interlaced ravines. This creates ideal deer habitat that can be difficult for a hunter to navigate on foot.
When the area was settled, the land bordering both sides of Crowley’s Ridge was swampy and undeveloped. Now that land has been converted to cropland that grows mostly soybeans.
Because it is basically a forested island amid many thousands of acres of cropland, Crowley’s Ridge is largely transitional and refuge habitat. Deer that live in lowland thickets and swamps in the alluvial plain cross the ridge to access cropland on either side. Deer generally don’t linger on the ridge except for a few weeks in the fall when acorns and soft mast become available.
Hunting with modern firearms and muzzleloaders is limited to three controlled hunts. The Game and Fish Commission awards 100 permits per hunt through a random drawing. The modern firearms hunt runs from November 10-14. The two controlled muzzleloader hunts run five days each and begin on the third and fourth Saturdays in October (October 20-24, 27-31).
The application period runs June 1-July 1. Apply online at agfc.com.
Special permits are not required for bowhunting. Archery season runs from September 22 to February 28.
A legal buck on the St. Francis National Forest must have either a 15-inch inside spread or one antler of at least 18 inches.
Camping is available at Storm Creek Lake Recreation Area, about 4 miles northwest of Helena-West Helena. For more information, call the St. Francis National Forest at (870) 295-5278.