February 06, 2019
By Tony Kalna Jr.
There are about 500 trophy whitetails entered into the Boone and Crockett record book each year. Although that might sound like a lot, consider that there are about 10 million deer hunters in any given year too. That puts your odds of bagging a Boone and Crockett class buck at around 1 in 20,000.
Research has shown that counties along the Missouri River corridor are trending as some of the top counties in the Show-Me State for trophy-class bucks over the past five years. Further research shows that these counties are also historically some of the top trophy producers in Missouri.
The mineral-rich soils, which produce tons of whitetail forage, the agricultural crops, and the mosaic of habitat in this region along the Missouri River makes it prime trophy whitetail habitat.
“The Missouri River corridor counties’ trophy buck productivity could be linked to three things in my opinion,” said Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Cervid Program Supervisor Barbara Keller. “First, these counties have good soil productivity, which produces much more biomass of high-quality deer forages. Second, the area along the river probably provides more cover for deer. And third, the long history of antler-point restrictions in counties in this area in years past.”
Three specific riverine counties we will be focusing on for this article are Callaway, Chariton and Howard counties. Other river corridor counties worth mentioning include Saline, Carroll, Moniteau, Lincoln, St. Charles and St. Louis, which, as many serious deer hunters know, is where the famous “Missouri Monarch” 333 7/8-inch non-typical whitetail was found dead.
The age class of bucks is a determining factor on the size of their antlers. The harvest of 3.5-year-old bucks in Callaway County is 32 percent, which is about 12 percent better than the 20 percent statewide average harvest of bucks that old. And the percentage of 4.5-year-old (12 percent) and 5.5-year-old bucks (4 percent) harvested in Callaway County is double that of the statewide average of 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively, for those age classes.
The trends in antlered buck harvest have been increasing over the past five years in Callaway County. Hunters bagged the low mark of 1,432 antlered buck in 2013 to a high harvest of 2,347 in 2017.
Reform Conservation Area
This 6,759-acre tract of public land is a great place to begin your quest for a trophy buck. With plenty of room to roam, you can get away from the pressure. This area includes a very diverse array of habitat, including crops, pastures, grasslands, woods and even some Missouri River floodplain.
Another factor that makes Reform CA such a good place to hunt for trophy-class bucks is the fact that there’s no firearm hunting pressure on this large area. Hunters are limited to archery methods only to hunt deer here.
Seventeen parking lots dot the area, giving hunters good access to much of the property. Hunters should note that AmerenUE owns the property and has a nuclear power plant on site. The rest of the area is leased to the MDC. For more information call 573-254-3990.
Whetstone Creek Conservation Area
For years the 5,208-acre Whetstone Creek Conservation Area has been a favorite among trophy buck hunters. Deer hunting on this area is via “Managed Deer Hunts” only. Hunters must apply to be drawn for a hunt here between July 1-31. Keep this area on your radar for 2019 and apply for a hunt. Hunters should note that in 2018 there were two managed deer hunts here: a roughly month-long archery hunt and a three-day muzzleloader or cap-and-ball firearms hunt.
This area also has a range of habitat. Camping is permitted here. For information call 573-254-3330.
The percentage of 3.5-year-old bucks harvested in Chariton County is 30 percent. This figure is 10 percent better than the statewide average. And 10 percent of the bucks taken are 4.5 years old, which is 4 percent better than the statewide average. When it comes to 5.5-year-old bucks harvested, just 1 percent were that old, which is 1 percent less than the average for Missouri. However, this county also represented well in this region with four B&C bucks recorded in the past five years.
Antlered buck harvest in this county is also trending up from a low harvest of 972 in 2013 to the high mark of 1,066 in 2017.
Yellow Creek Conservation Area
This 618-acre public deer hunting gem is one of the biggest blocks of bottomland timber in the region. This alone makes it a magnet for local deer, but when you factor in that it also borders Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, then that’s double the pleasure.
Although mostly bottomland timber, this area also includes some oxbow sloughs and wetland-type habitat, which makes for some great deer habitat.
Another reason why this property is apt to grow larger bucks is because it too escapes firearms deer hunting pressure. Hunters can only use archery methods. Individual campsites are available. For info call 816-271-3100.
Helen K. Wiese Conservation Area
This 105-acre area is comprised of mostly river bottom timber. A couple of factors reason into this being an opportunity for a place to bag a big buck. Although open to both firearms and archery deer hunters, this area is only accessible by the Grand River downstream from the Bosworth Access or by permission from surrounding landowners. The difficult access keeps most weekend warriors away. For more info, call 660-646-6122.
The percentage of 3.5-year-old bucks taken in Howard County was 29 percent, which is 9 percent more than the statewide average of 20 percent. The percentage of 4.5-year-olds was 14 percent, which is 8 percent more than the statewide average of 6 percent. And the 5.5-year-old harvest percentage of 3 percent is a full percent better than the 2 percent statewide average.
Antlered buck harvest is also trending upward over the past five years. The 2013 season was the lowest number of antlered bucks taken with 889, and 2017 was the highest with 1,147.
Franklin Island Conservation Area
This 1,625-acre public land tract is a hotspot for big bucks. Much of this land is bottomland timber situated along the Missouri River and the Bonne Femme Creek corridors. The remainder of the land includes grasses on the levees and cropland. Some of the crops are left unharvested to help provide food for deer and other wildlife.
Hunters are limited to archery and muzzleloader methods to harvest deer. Individual campsites are available. For information call 660-248-3358.
Davisdale Conservation Area
The 2,701-acre Davisdale Conservation Area is limited to archery methods only to harvest deer, which makes it a great place to look for a trophy buck because hunting pressure is less here.
This tract of public hunting land includes 800 acres of woods overlooking the Missouri River bottomlands. There is a patchwork of habitat at Davisdale, making it attractive to deer, including 300 acres of crops, some of which is left for deer and other wildlife.
Davisdale CA also offers Managed Deer Hunts. Keep this in mind for next season’s application period. Managed hunts in 2018 included a firearms youth hunt and a historic-methods hunt. For information, call 660-248-3358.
LEASING PRIVATE LAND
If you don’t own your own property or have a friend or family member that lets you hunt, you’ll have to start knocking on doors to find someone to let you hunt their land or to try and secure a lease. It’s hard to find someone to let you hunt for free anymore, so leasing is a very viable option.
Ed Griffin, of Jefferson City, Mo., is the leasing agent in Missouri for one of America’s largest lease companies, Base Camp Leasing. This company has leases in 24 States and over 200 leases in Missouri.
“Lease prices depend a lot on location and size of the property,” Griffin said. “But an average cost per acre for a prime lease in Missouri could go anywhere from $15-$20 per acre.”
Unless you have a lot of time and energy to do much door knocking, a company like this is a good alternative to check out. Base Camp Leasing has been in business since 1999. If you are looking for a lease, visit the company’s website at basecampleasing.com or call Ed Griffin at 573-619-8905.
You just never know where a B&C buck might pop up, but the counties we included in this story are both historically and currently some of the best at growing big trophy whitetails, and the above options give you some choices when planning your next hunting trip.
Exceptional Recorded Deer
TOP MISSOURI B&C BUCKS
Hunter: Larry W. Gibson
Owner: Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club
All-Time Category Rank: 3
Measurement: 333 7/8
County: St. Louis
Hunter: Picked Up
Owner: Missouri Department of Conservation
All-Time Category Rank: 1