Learn how to hunt the cream of the crop of the Show-Me State's bowhunting hotspots. (August 2007)
Photo by R.E. Ilg.
The success rates for bowhunters in Missouri just seem to get better each year. Last year's 92-day archery deer season produced a record number of deer taken. Bowhunters bagged an unprecedented 43,524 deer last year, surpassing the old record of 37,646 set in 2004 by 5,878 deer. The top counties: St. Louis, with 1,151; Callaway, 966; and Jackson, 964.
"Participation in bowhunting has not dropped, and probably has grown a little bit," said Lonnie Hansen, resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "We've also seen the archery deer harvest increase just about every year."
Hansen attributes the annual increase in archery harvest to a number of factors including a more liberalized season, better equipment, and the wealth of information available to deer hunters today. "I really believe that deer hunters are getting better each year," he said. "A lot of this really does have to do with all of the great info available to them out there in reading material."
If you weren't one of the bowhunters fortunate enough to fill a deer tag last season, you're probably wondering where you can go and what you can do to increase your odds of bagging a whitetail during the 2007-08 season.
We've compiled a list of some hot-spots for you to use in beginning your quest for a whitetail bow kill this year. Many of these areas are wetlands managed primarily for waterfowl; they allow archery methods only and prohibit deer hunting through much of the season, which makes them true sweet spots for some really big bucks. Read on to discover public lands that are hunting honeyholes, learn what they're like from MDC biologists and land managers, and find out how to get there and get hunting!
GRAND PASS CA
Grand Pass Conservation Area is in Saline County along the Missouri River. The 5,096-acre area is primarily managed for waterfowl and migratory game birds -- but don't let that fool you: Often, managing for ducks equals trophy bucks. You'll find about 1,600 acres of luscious agriculture on site, with the balance of the area in cottonwood and silver maple -- typical river-bottom softwoods.
Grand Pass is only open to archery methods for taking deer. Bowhunters should note that they may hunt the entire area from opening day of the archery season on Sept. 15 through Oct. 15; after that, most of the area is closed as a refuge or a waterfowl-only hunting zone.
"After Oct. 15, most of the deer hunting is limited to the exterior areas of timber on the area," said MDC biologist Chris Freeman. "There are a couple of other areas bowhunters can venture including a small area in the southwest portion of Pool No. 2, next to one of the primary refuges. But the majority of the levied portion of the area is closed to deer hunting after that date."
Bowhunters are required to check themselves into the area daily, fill out a harvest report card at the end of each hunt, and drop off the card at the area headquarters.
To reach Grand Pass CA, go eight miles west of Marshall on state Highway 65 and then five miles north on County Route N.
Freeman suggests that anyone venturing into Grand Pass CA should get an area map before beginning a hunt. You can get a map and detailed hunting information inside the foyer of the area headquarters or you can call the MDC's central regional office at (573) 884-6861.
YELLOW CREEK CA
Relatively small at 680 acres, this conservation area is a favorite among hardcore deer hunters in the Show-Me State. It comprises common bottomland hardwoods, including good stands of oak and silver maple, and a few oxbows create some semipermanent wetlands on the area.
Factors that account for Yellow Creek's positive reputation with deer hunters: It's right next to Swan Lake refuge -- a known haunt for huge Missouri whitetails -- it offers archery-only deer hunting, and it's in an antler-point-restriction county.
"Chariton County is getting a reputation for having some really nice bucks," said MDC biologist Chris Freeman. "The added fact that Yellow Creek is in a county with the 4-points-or-better-on-one-side antler-point restriction, and that the area is next to Swan Lake, really attracts a good deal of bowhunters to this area."
Access to Yellow Creek is generally good, but can be a problem when the creek floods. You may want to check local weather conditions before making a trip to Yellow Creek.
To get to Yellow Creek CA, go about three miles south of Sumner on County Route RA and then right on a gravel road at the cantilever sign. Primitive camping is allowed on the area.
As in the case of all public-use areas, hunters should get an area map and complete regulations before hunting. Contact the MDC's northwest regional office for a map and more details at (816) 271-3100.
BOB BROWN CA
"Ducks and bucks" could be the phrase to describe this 3,302-acre wetland area in Holt County. It's archery only for deer hunters on this area. About 2,300 acres of this tract comprise a wetland, but about 1,000 acres of agricultural land, the crops there including milo and legumes, occupy the north portion of the area.
Archery deer hunters can hunt just about anywhere on the area from Sept. 15 thru Oct. 15; after that, much of the area is closed to deer hunting.
"A lot of times there's not going to be as much habitat here for deer hunters to hunt on after Oct. 15," said MDC wildlife biologist Martin Marks. "There's very limited opportunity, because deer hunters are pretty much restricted to the northern one-third of the area, which is managed for upland game."
Marks wants archers to be well aware that they will be sharing that 1,000 acres of treelines and crops with pheasant, quail, and rabbit hunters. Getting a head start during the first month of the archery deer season is your best bet at both Bob Brown and many other wetland areas. However, anytime could be a good time for the dedicated bowhunter to stick a mature whitetail buck or any deer at Bob Brown CA.
"I would like for hunters to go to an area parking lot, get a map, and check out the rules and regulations before hunting," Marks said. "You can also call the northwest regional office for a map or more information."
To get to Bob Brown CA, go two and a half miles wes
t of Forest City on Old Highway 111. For a map or more info, contact the MDC at (816) 271-3100.
Its nearly 6,000 acres open to archery-only deer hunting, this CA in Callaway County is a favorite among bowhunters in Missouri. The north end of the area is made up of mostly crop fields and old pastures, while the south end is timbered, rolling Ozark hills.
"Both habitats on the area contain good numbers of deer," said MDC biologist John George. "Based on our observations and what we know about deer, we believe that there are about 40 deer per square mile at Reform."
In case you didn't know, Reform CA is part of the property on which the Callaway County nuclear power plant is sited. Hunters should note that as the area is under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, an increase in the nation's security level to orange or higher will immediately result in the entire area being shut down.
There is good access throughout the area, and several parking lots, but there is no camping allowed.
"What I would recommend bowhunters do is to haul in a deer cart into the south end of the area and look for a natural funnel to hunt," George said. "For whatever reason, most of the hunters flock to the north end of the area. By hunting the south end you will enjoy a much more serene hunt, and the deer traffic is just as good there."
Reform CA is nine miles east of Fulton on County Route O. For a map or more information, contact the MDC's central regional office at (573) 884-6861.
WHETSTONE CREEK CA
Lying in Callaway County, this 5,147-acre conservation area was the first public use area to implement deer management for older age-class bucks. Today, Whetstone Creek boasts a deer population of upwards of 60 deer per square mile.
"We've taken 200 deer off the area for the last two years in a row," said MDC resource assistant Gene Tuma. "We also have good numbers of 3.5- and 4.5-year-old bucks here because of our management efforts."
Whetstone Creek is open for managed hunts only. The application period is July 1 through Aug. 15. Apply online at www.missouriconservation.org/hunt/deer or by phone between 4 a.m. and midnight at 1-800-829-2956. Those hunters chosen randomly by lottery must purchase a managed deer-hunting permit.
Primitive camping is permitted on the area at Big Lake and the shooting range. Gravel roads throughout the area are limited to walk-in only, but offer good access points throughout the area.
"A lot of guys use bicycles to get deeper into the area," Tuma said. "But a good stiff 30-minute walk from any of our parking lots will get you into some good hunting."
To get to Whetstone, take County Route D (Williamsburg exit off I-70) north to the stop sign; turn west, continue on D to County Road 1003, and continue north on 1003 two miles to the entrance.
Several managed deer hunting opportunities are available at Whetstone Creek. Contact the MDC's central office at (573) 884-6861 for an area map and complete details.
LEACH MEMORIAL CA
This 4,314-acre archery-only tract bordering the Mississippi River in Lincoln County is managed for wetland waterfowl. Archers can access most of the area from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 before the waterfowl season kicks in. In years past, deer hunting was closed after that, but a new regulation taking effect this fall will for the first time allow archery deer hunters only to hunt on a designated 400 acres during duck season. This should be an incredible bowhunting hotspot this fall, and for at least a few more seasons in the future.
The 400-acre section that will be open to archery deer hunting during duck season is broken up into two tracts. Locals know the sections as the Sherman tract and the northwest portion of the River Slough tract. If you're not familiar with the area, a new map will be available this fall that clearly marks these areas.
Hunters will find about 100 acres of beautiful bottomland hardwood timber on the area, and a lot of young willows and ash trees. Some croplands are also on site but the area is mostly a wetland.
"In the past, the entire area has been closed to all other activities during duck season," said MDC biologist Brian Loges. "However, beginning in 2007, we started a new regulation that allows archery deer hunters to hunt on a specified 400-acre tract during the duck season."
Spotlight surveys reveal an extremely high density of deer on the area with a skewed buck-to-doe ratio, which was one reason to implement the archery hunting regulation. "The private lands around us get a lot of deer hunting pressure and once the firearms deer season kicks in, the deer from all the surrounding properties pile into the Leach Memorial area," Loges said. "There are very good deer hunting opportunities here, but we do get a lot of deer hunters too."
There is no camping on the area, but good access can be had on access roads throughout the tract. Hunters should be careful not to enter the refuge areas or the duck hunting areas.
As noted, Leach Memorial is broken up into two tracts. To reach the main tract, go three miles south of Elsberry on state Highway 79 and three miles east on County Route M. For an area map and more information, call the MDC's St. Louis regional office at (636) 441-4554.
WOODSON K. WOODS MEMORIAL CA
This 5,600-acre conservation area in Crawford and Phelps counties is one of the public-use areas that switched to archery-only deer hunting methods in 2005. "We switched to archery only because we thought that our area was more suited for managing for better quality of deer," said MDC resource forester Brian Hall. "Our hunter surveys have shown very positive attitudes with the new regulation, and that hunters are seeing more deer and bigger bucks each time they go out."
About 85 percent of Woodson K. Woods is oak/hickory forest. There are some pine plantings, 300 acres in agriculture in the bottom-lands, a variety of stages of clearcuts, and 33 intensely managed food plots scattered throughout the area. "Our clearcuts range from one to 25 years old," Hall said. "These areas still offer deer good cover and browse."
Since the Woods area switched to archery only, hunting pressure has dropped by about 50 percent according to Hall. Diverse habitat and lower pressure make the Woodson K. Woods area a prime destination for bowhunters this fall.
No camping is available at the Woods area, all of which is walk-in only. The area lies southeast of St. James on state Highway 8. For a map and complete details, contact the MDC's Ozark regional office at (417) 256-7161.
PLATTE FALLS CA
The Platte River bi
sects this entire 2,366-acre area in Platte County. You'll find a lot of river bottomland habitat and river corridor along the waterway. Once away from the river, you climb into upland habitat including crops like soybeans, corn, and wheat. Food plots of milo, sunflowers and millet can also be found in the area. Still farther from the river you'll find bluffs with oak/hickory forest, and even some native grasslands.
"I generally tell folks that the corridor following the river is a main thoroughfare for deer," said MDC wildlife management biologist Kevin Slates. "If you can hoof it back into the thicker, brushier habitats along the Platte River, the better chances you'll have of finding the deer."
To avoid the crowds afield for the rut, Slates recommended, hunt either early or late in the archery season.
The area is open to archery deer hunting only as a means of harvesting whitetails. You can walk into the area on a number of levee tops and field-access roads. Primitive camping is allowed adjacent to parking lots.
"The Platte River sometimes floods which can be either a blessing or a curse for deer hunters," Slates said. "This area gets a lot of use by folks other than deer hunters as we are close to Kansas City. The deer learn quickly how to avoid people."
To get to Platte Falls, take I-29 to County Route HH in Platte City and then go a half-mile north on Knighton Avenue. For a map or more info, contact the MDC's Kansas City regional office at (816) 655-6250.
Aside from good numbers of deer just about everywhere in Missouri, hunters can expect to see a larger number of mature deer, especially in counties with the antler point restrictions.
So no matter where you choose to bowhunt this year, take the time to enjoy your time in the outdoors. If you get a deer, it's just icing on the cake.