Check out these three public-hunting areas for some late-season bowhunting at its finest. (December 2009)
The Missouri River floodplain is one area in Missouri where there's always a shot at a trophy. It's not that the big bucks are any less wary than anywhere else in the state, but the habitat is good and there are a lot of public lands to hunt on.
Many of the conservation areas are smaller and overlooked by archers, and some require that pre-season applications be filed in July or August. Even so, there are many archery-only hunting spots that create big-buck opportunities only bowhunters enjoy.
In the early 1990s, the MDC and the federal government bought up tens of thousands of acres along the river and all of those areas have big-buck potential. Far too many Missouri archers head for the northern reaches of our state and miss the exceptional opportunities that are a lot closer to home.
Here's a look at three public spots in the floodplains that deserve your attention this winter.
The old adage that "If you build it, they will come," certainly holds true for the Reform Conservation Area. The crops and managed woodlands are just what the doctor, or in this case, maybe the veterinarian, ordered. The white-tailed deer there grow fast.
"There are some quality deer here," said MDC resource assistant Landry Jones. "The deer here know what's going on and they're hard to get. I don't know if they leave the area entirely when the hunting pressure is on or if they have small home ranges and bury in the cover, but there's some big deer here."
Jones points out that the area is heavily timbered and has to be approached in ways other than sitting in the corn and waiting for a whitetail to show up. These deer have to be patterned carefully and they can be full of surprises.
Jones hunts the area himself and depends on scouting to identify the travel corridors and active deer trails. For archers wanting to get away from the crowd, the south end of the area has the majority of timber and is more remote. The northern end has most of the agricultural fields.
Farmers and hunters alike find sheds that tell tales of the big bucks that hunters seldom see. The hunting pressure can be intense during bow season, and every year a few of the nicest bucks are taken.
The biodiversity of the area is good. The grasslands, crop fields, pastures, forest and bottomland habitat gives the herd the best of everything. Nearly 2,000 acres of oak and hickory forest provide a virtual smorgasbord of mast crop and shelter.
Many Reform CA hunters focus on the 1,400 acres of crop fields. Pre-scouting the fields to determine if the bucks are utilizing them is strongly recommended. The fields with the most edge cover and immediate escape routes are the ones that the older bucks will move into, though a lot of the traveling will be done after dark once hunters have arrived. Corn, beans, and wheat are on a two-year rotation.
The Reform CA is owned by AmerenUE and part of the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant property. Most of the acreage is leased by the MDC and managed for hunting and other recreational opportunities. Access to the area will be shut down immediately when the National Security Level terrorist threat level reaches orange or higher. The area covers 6,759 acres in the southeastern part of Callaway County.
Reform bowhunting is on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no managed hunts. The area is only an hour's drive from Columbia or St. Louis.
Contact the MDC at (573) 884-6861 for more information or to find out if Reform is currently open to hunting before you go.
OVERTON BOTTOMS CA
Overton Bottoms yields a lot of nice bucks and is in what may be the state's finest trophy-buck region. The entire Missouri River floodplain offers trophy-class hunting and Overton Bottoms is one of the places where a nice rack can appear at any time.
This is tough country to hunt. The cottonwood trees dominate much of the bottomlands, and the resulting thickets can be hard to push your way through. It's surprising that a big rack can so easily navigate the same thick stuff that keeps archers at bay. Some of the trees are high enough to hunt from, but anyone looking for a place to perch over the thickets probably will go home disappointed. For those who rise to the challenge, climbing up into a box elder, willow or cottonwood can pay off.
Add the river floodplain into the mix and you won't find better big-buck country. The floodplain is half a mile wide in spots and interspersed with scour holes, wetlands and flooded timber. It's inaccessible to the faint-hearted and so whitetails lose hunters with ease.
Needless to say, when hunters start hitting the woods, the big bucks lay claim to the interior and bury themselves in cover. It's possible to spook one that you never saw only a few feet away. The beauty of Overton is that most of the property is that way.
Hunters can also boat into the more remote areas, and if you're looking for a big buck, that probably will be where you need to go. Dominant bucks will stake out a claim and run off the smaller deer in the most remote tangles. Boating is a whole lot easier than walking and it can give you an opportunity to identify trails along the shoreline.
Wildlife biologist John George goes so far as to say that no one area is any better than another.
"There is not a lot of pressure on these deer, and the cover is so thick that hunters may never see each other when they're in it," said George.
Scouting for trails ahead of time is a good idea, according to George. The old levee system is the only elevated ground and that might give archers a tactical advantage.
Overton Bottoms covers more than 3,600 acres. There are 1,200 acres of forest, 900 acres of old-field successional growth and another 900 acres of wetlands. Archers are the only deer hunters enjoying this whitetail paradise.
Overton Bottoms is 10 miles west of Columbia in Cooper and Moniteau counties.
To reach the Taylor's Landing Access and Overton Bottoms North, go north at the Highway 179 exit and follow Highway 98 east into the area. There is parking and access to the Missouri River at that spot.
For additional information, contact the MDC at (573) 884-6861.
The Young CA is one mo
re central Missouri hotspot for bowhunting that's often overlooked and under-hunted. Historically, more does are taken off the property than bucks and so it's a great place to fill a freezer -- but the area does yield up some nice bucks every year.
The best places to hunt the Young are best determined by scouting, according to MDC resource forester Paul Whitsell. The Taconic Trail loops around Young and can be walked and scouted with relative ease. The area harbors well-worn deer trails just about everywhere and the deer numbers are looking good again.
Whitsell has found that most hunters never venture farther in than the two ponds. Those willing to trek into the interior with a GPS have a higher success rate and stand a better chance of tagging a nice buck. Having a hunting partner to help cart the deer out of the woods is a good idea since there's only one parking lot access point and it's possible to get quite a ways off the beaten path.
The section of Young CA open to the public covers 970 acres. It's primarily forested with about 10 acres of glade and 30 acres of open grasslands planted in warm-season grasses surrounding the parking lot above the creek. It's ideal for white-tailed deer and the archers that return year after year know it. The mast crop varies from year to year, but the hickories and oaks keep acorns available. The two ponds cover about three acres in size and provide great watering holes. The pristine LaBarque Creek flows through the area and contains a good biodiversity due to the undeveloped nature of the area.
The Taconic Trail Bridge is washed out, but the creek can be crossed during times of low flow. Contact the MDC to find out about repairs.
The Young CA covers 1,144 acres on Route FF in Jefferson County. This is another archery-only hotspot where bowhunters have great hunting to themselves.
Additional information is available from the MDC at (636) 458-2236.
Numerous public-land archery hunts are available throughout the Central and St. Louis regions. Many are open only to hunters based on a pre-season draw in July and August. Mark your calendar for next year to get in on the action, and visit www. missouriconservation.org for more information.