Iowa's Archery A-List
October 04, 2010
Learn how to hunt the cream of the crop of the Hawkeye State's bowhunting hotspots. (August 2007)
Photo by Mike Biggs.
Archers are first in line to tag some big bucks this year, according to wildlife biologist Bill Ohde.
"I think that it goes without saying that nearly every good block of habitat in Iowa has trophy buck potential," said Ohde. "A look at the annual big-rack scores from across the state confirms it."
Willie Suchy, the state's top deer biologist, is optimistic that trophy buck potential is growing. "We're achieving our goal of lowering the deer numbers," he remarked, "but there are still a lot of nice bucks out there. Whitetail hunters have been doing what we've asked and have been shooting does and letting the little bucks grow up. The trophy bucks are fairly evenly distributed across the state in proportion to the available deer habitat, and we've even got trophy-class deer up in the northern parts of the state."
Here's a look at our best areas for a great archery hunt in 2007.
"In Louisa County, the Odessa Wildlife Management Area always holds good numbers of deer," said Ohde. "Much of the area is now covered by extremely thick young forest cover, which provides the secure cover that big bucks tend to seek out."
Ohde noted that the area can be a bowhunter's bonanza. Parts of Odessa are accessible by walking in off the Toolesboro Access Road on the south end, and may be the easiest to reach. Another section has controlled access during the main part of the duck season and offers sanctuary to skittish whitetails. Hunters can target the waterfowl area both before and after the duck season closure.
There are several deer-holding islands on Odessa that require a boat to access and may never see a hunter. These impossible-to-get-to spots will let serious hunters in on the cream of the crop when it comes to racks.
The outside perimeter areas of Odessa get most of the hunting pressure. Even during bow season, the best hunting is sometimes during the week rather than on the weekends. The best hunting may depend not only on where you're hunting, but when.
Odessa covers 3,828 acres of marshland, woods and water a half-mile east of Wapello on Highway 99. Contact the Odessa Unit at (319) 523-8319 for more information.
CEDAR RIVER CORRIDOR
Public hunting areas along the Cedar River are offering outstanding bowhunting opportunities this fall, said Ohde. The Wiese Slough, Cedar Bottoms and Red Cedar areas in Muscatine County each have extensive blocks of river-bottom forest that require a good workout by foot to get into.
"These areas aren't disturbed much and have a chance of holding good bucks," he stated. "Our winter surveys showed that the Cedar River Corridor in Muscatine County continues to have a good whitetail population."
Simply because of a bow's limitations, archery hunters tend to be willing to put a little more effort into getting a good shot than do gun hunters. Hunting the river corridor is a great place to practice sharp woodsmanship, and the result can be a nice rack. Getting a deer out can be a problem, and that keeps some hunters from digging too deeply into the tangle.
The river corridor properties lie near Sutherland and Nichols. Timber and wetlands are the mainstays, along with river-bottom cover, and bucks can disappear without a trace. No single area seems better than another. Deer move freely along the corridor on public lands and have little problem staying in cover.
Call the Odessa Unit at (319) 523-8319 for additional information.
WEST FORK WMA
Bowhunters should be thinking about two good areas in the West Fork Wildlife Management Area, said wildlife biologist Bryan Hellyer, both of them in Palo Alto County.
The Ingham-High Wildlife Unit that includes the West Fork WMA consists of 900 contiguous acres loaded with native grasses, food plots, oxbows, bottomland timber, cool-season grasses and natural-succession willows. Most of the bottomland timber is a long walk from the road, which makes it an attractive destination for bowhunters who know what they're doing.
According to Hellyer, the overall deer herd numbers appear to be steady, a direct result of deer hunters doing an excellent job over the last three or four years of harvesting more does. Antlerless deer harvest is an important component of the overall deer management program and has helped improve the local possibilities for a trophy buck.
Eight miles of the West Fork of the Des Moines River flow through the area, much of which is in the Wetlands Reserve Program.
Another section of the West Fork WMA covers 640 acres two miles south of Emmetsburg. The area is covered by grasses, oxbows and bottomland woods. The timbered portion of this wildlife area, three-quarters of a mile from the closest public road, is, in Hellyer's view, probably under-used by the average bowhunter.
West Fork WMA covers 1,610 acres north of Emmetsburg. For additional information, contact the Ingham Unit at (712) 362-2091.
SEDAN BOTTOMS WMA
"All of the areas in the Rathbun Unit have good numbers of deer," said wildlife biologist Jeffrey Telleen, "but if I had to choose a couple of the best areas, Rathbun would be one of them."
According to Telleen, the habitat is nicely diversified, and perfect for whitetails. There's a lot of opportunity to get away from other hunters and to pick and choose the type of land you want to hunt.
Sedan Bottoms lies along the Chariton River. Bluffs, deciduous forest, shallow marshlands and lots of oak and hickory forest combine into perfect deer country; here, big bucks have a tendency to disappear into the tangle, so archers should look for deer along the river corridor when hunters start to move in. This is the toughest part of the area to penetrate, and where the deer tend to retreat.
Sedan Bottoms lies in Appanoose County. The 4,400-acre area is five miles southeast of Centerville. For more information, call the Rathbun Unit at (641) 774-4918.
COPELAND BEND & AULDON BAR FEDERAL LANDS
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properties along the Missouri River are looking good for archers this year, reported wildlife biologist Carl Priebe.
d Bend and Auldon Bar can be good bowhunting areas," he said. "Both are part of the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project, owned by the Corps and managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Neither project has been completed, and the Corps of Engineers is acquiring additional land as it becomes available."
Owing to the changing boundaries, most of the local maps aren't as accurate as the IDNR would like them to be. Hunters need to watch for public access signs to make sure they don't end up trespassing onto private land.
Part of the draw of the Copeland Bend section is that it's only accessible from the Missouri River -- and the deer herd is showing it. Very few hunters ever reach Copeland Bend.
"These areas in Fremont County have a very good deer population," said Priebe. "There are bucks here that would make any bowhunter proud. But as a reminder: Bucks only grow large if they are not taken when small. Deer hunters do the herd a big favor if they hold out for a larger buck and take a doe rather than a small buck, if it comes down to it."
Updated maps of Copeland Bend and Auldon Bar are available upon request from the Riverton Unit at (712) 374-3133 or by e-mailing Carl.Priebe@dnr.state.ia.us.
This is another of southwestern Iowa's best bets for trophy-class deer. "I'd recommend trying Riverton," said Priebe. "The old established portion of the area north of 250th Street provides the best opportunities for bowhunters. The floodplain area receives more deer hunting pressure than the uplands, but deer are abundant throughout the area."
The wilder sections of the WMA border the Nishnabotna River. Woody, marshy areas offer good bowhunting habitat where archers can set up in concealment.
Parking areas dot the landscape; archers can walk in from the lots. Come prepared to hike into the interior areas to connect with the bigger bucks. Riverton has classic trophy-class potential that's capable of producing racks that are more than worth the effort.
Priebe suggested taking a doe rather than a button buck at this area as well. High-quality bucks take a few years to develop, and there'll be a lot more of them when hunters pass up a shot or two at younger ones.
The area covers 2,721 acres two miles north of Riverton in Fremont County. Contact the Riverton Unit at (712) 374-3133 for additional information.
SAND CREEK WMA
"Sand Creek WMA is probably one of the best bowhunting areas in the Mt. Ayr Unit," said Chad Paup, the area's wildlife biologist. "Deer numbers are good and the trophy potential is excellent. Deer in the 140 class are very common in this woods."
According to Paup, the key to hunting Sand Creek is to visit the IDNR's Web site and check out the interactive map of the area. The satellite view of the WMA shows natural funnels and pinch points that are a lot more productive to hunt than what a hunter can stumble on bysimply keying in on the area as a whole.
"Go to the interior to get away from other hunters and find the bigger bucks," said Paup. "Most guys who are just dropping in for a short time will only walk 200 yards or so. The bucks may be deeper into the timber than that."
Good access into the area is available via the gravel road from the east. Another access road is north out of Grand River on the southeastern corner of the WMA where the most extensive timber is located.
Sand Creek covers 4,400 acres and is one of Suchy's top southern Iowa bow hunting picks.
Sand Creek is in Decatur and Ringgold counties three miles north of Grand River. Archers will find a lot of tapering draws and ridges, bluffs, oak-hickory stands, marsh and river-bottom habitat. For additional information contact the Mt. Ayr Wildlife Unit at (641) 464-2220.
"The deer numbers in the Bays Branch Unit are very good," said wildlife management biologist Ron Munkel.
The harvest of antlerless deer over the past several years is having an impact on the herd, said Munkel. Deer numbers are still high in some spots in his unit, so it would be good for hunters to thin out their antlerless deer a bit -- but even in those trophy-class bucks are available.
At Adair WMA, a little 350-acre public hunting spot surrounded by privately owned deer habitat in which hunting is limited, elbow room can disappear on a busy day; during the week, however, Adair may only hold a couple of hunters. Big bucks that may never see a hunter can freely roam onto the public lands. A little pre-scouting can set you up for that shot you've been waiting for.
Munkel points out that the best opportunities in terms of deer numbers and trophy potential are on private lands, and the closer you can get to them, the better. In general, western Adair County has great deer habitat, with good numbers of whitetails and the ever-present potential for trophy-class bucks. If a hunter's looking to fill a freezer, this public-access WMA is definitely worth checking out.
Adair is uncharacteristically block-shaped, which makes staying on public property easier. Good places to set up in include the edges of woods near the adjoining private properties along the perimeter.
"Doing some scouting can pay dividends in both trophy-class and venison for the table," said Munkel.
Adair is two and a half miles west of Fontanelle on Highway 92. For more information, contact the Bays Branch Unit at (641) 332-2019.
LOESS HILLS STATE FOREST
"For bowhunting, I recommend the Loess Hills State Forest and the Loess Hills Wildlife Management Area," said biologist Ed Weiner. "These areas offer a large volume of unique habitat and many acres of public hunting that interface with parcels of privately owned land. More land is being added to the public acreage as we go to increase hunting opportunities."
Management practices include leased agricultural crops to provide food and nesting areas for wildlife in general, but the deer are particularly benefited. Deer numbers are strong, and the potential for trophy animals is as high as it is anywhere in the state.
According to Weiner, the comparative isolation of much of the Loess Hills forest makes it possible to experience a top-quality hunt any time during the open deer season with limited interference from other hunters.
The steep terrain and narrow valleys pretty much eliminate the traditional deer-driving techniques that will work well elsewhere. In this territory, the lone hunter can do well, and it just might be the best way to go.
"Success for a quality hunt will depend on the degree of scouting," said Weiner. "As always, pre-season scouting
is an important element of the hunt. Part of that is taking advantage of the online aerial photos and printable topographic maps that are available on the DNR Web site. You can do a lot of pre-scouting right from your home computer."
Additional information is available from the Missouri River Unit at (712) 423-2426.
WATERMAN PRAIRIE COMPLEX
"The Big Sioux Wildlife Unit in northwestern Iowa flew the aerial deer surveys and the numbers of deer for 2007 are about the same as last year's results," said Chris LaRue, the area wildlife biologist. "However, numbers are lower than in past years in the open areas, and hunting pressure is high. It can be a challenge for a bowhunter to take a mature buck from public land."
LaRue noted that the Waterman complex near Peterson in southeast O'Brien County is a top archery destination. Several tracts of state and county lands are open to hunting and hold some nice deer.
"The rolling topography and prime habitat along the Little Sioux River Valley has produced some quality whitetails," said LaRue. "The Big Sioux River has good bowhunting access on public lands and is almost a refuge between Iowa and South Dakota. The terrain is rough and rolling and home to some trophy-class deer."
The Waterman Prairie Complex is an area where hunters will be able to see the results of the IDNR's deer management goals.
For more information, contact the Big Sioux Wildlife Unit at (712) 336-3524.