Get A Blast Out of your Arkansas Muzzleloading!

This month's window of muzzleloading opportunity is small. To make the most of it, take the advice of our expert.

By Jim Spencer

Arkansas deer hunters have a lot of diverse public hunting opportunity from which to choose. It doesn't matter whether you prefer pineywoods or hardwoods, uplands or bottoms, mountains or swamps - the chances are pretty good that you can find a public hunting place within the state's boundaries to suit your taste.

Both the muzzleloader and modern gun seasons are shorter this year throughout Arkansas - a result of a substantial downward turn in the statewide harvest over the past couple of years. The late muzzleloader season this year is only three days, running from Dec. 20-22. Even with this reduction in hunting dates, though, there's still a lot of excellent hunting to be had this month. With a little advance thought and preparation, there's still substantial opportunity for Arkansas hunters to smoke a good buck in December.

Here's a rundown on a few of the better places to hang your tree stand this month.

Located in the heart of the scenic but rugged Boston Mountains, White Rock WMA is bisected by "The Pig Trail" (Highways 16 and 23 between Fayetteville and Ozark). This huge chunk of rough country sprawls across parts of five counties (Crawford, Franklin, Madison, Johnson and Washington) and its boundaries enclose more than 280,000 acres.

White Rock WMA has a decent network of all-weather Forest Service roads, and partly for this reason, and partly because it's within easy driving distance of the population centers of Fort Smith and the Fayetteville-Bentonville corridor, the area attracts a lot of deer hunters. On the other hand, a place as big as this one has room to absorb a lot of hunters, so it's a rare occasion on White Rock when hunters feel crowded. Most of these hunters usually stay fairly close to the roads and ATV trails, too, which means that there's a lot of rough real estate on White Rock that will never feel the wheels of a vehicle. It's not hard for a hunter who's willing to put a little effort into it to find a place to call his own. Because White Rock WMA has so much rugged terrain, it has the potential to grow some impressive bucks, and several of these outsized specimens are taken each deer season.

This year, as previously mentioned, blackpowder hunters throughout the state have a much shorter late hunting season than they have in previous years. But the timing of the late season is such that muzzleloader hunters at White Rock should be there while the rut is still going on, and may well have a good chance of taking one of those rough-country old-timers with heavy headgear. Rattling and grunting into the heads of a few deep hollows may yield big results.

There are three developed campgrounds on White Rock WMA, but camping is basically unrestricted elsewhere in the area except for food plots (of which there are many.) Official maps of the Ozark National Forest are available for $6 from the headquarters office, 605 West Main, Russellville, AR 72801; (479) 968-2354. However, the scale of the Forest Service map is small, and it doesn't have enough detail to do you a whole lot of good once you leave the roads. To find those remote hollows that hold the big bucks, you need topographical maps. Contact the Arkansas Geological Commission - 3815 West Roosevelt Road, Little Rock, AR 72204; (501) 296-1877; - and get an index to the topo maps of Arkansas. From the index, you can order maps of the areas you plan to hunt.

Photo by Paul Tessier

Caney Creek WMA is every bit as rough and rugged as is White Rock, but the terrain is considerably different, since Caney Creek WMA is in the southern Ouachitas instead of the central Ozarks. Since the tops of Caney Creek's east-west ridges and mountains are mostly rocky outcrops with little cover and water, most of the good deer habitat at this 85,000-acre area (and, thus, most of the good deer hunting) will be found on the lower slopes of the ridges or in the bottoms of the valleys. Therefore, it's not as hard a place to hunt as the region's rough terrain would suggest. Even so, it's still no walk in the park.

Caney Creek WMA lies between Arkansas highways 246 and 375, about 15 miles south and east of Mena. The area can be reached by going north off 246 or south off 375, but there aren't very many interior roads in the management area. However, there are numerous logging traces, hiking trails and ATV roads that provide access and a way to get away from the main roads.

This portion of the Ouachitas has a larger and more diverse hardwood component than does most of the mountain range, and it has a good number of American beech trees in the flats and hollows. Beech mast is highly favored by deer, but the species is a notoriously irregular and spotty mast producer. In years that see the beeches yield, though, the deer hit them hard, so it's always worth your while to check for deer sign in every beech grove you find.

Because of the scarcity of roads and the rough country involved, Caney Creek WMA may be the most likely place in the Ouachitas for a serious, dedicated hunter to take a trophy buck. The southwest corner of the management area is set aside as the Caney Creek Wilderness Area, and its 14,433 acres are some of the most remote in the state. There's little hunting pressure here, and some big bucks as a result.

The U.S. Forest Service has three designated campgrounds on Caney Creek WMA that have running water and bathroom facilities. Bard Springs Campground is located in the middle of the WMA, while Little Missouri Falls and Albert Pike campgrounds are on the Little Missouri River along the WMA's eastern boundary. Camping is also allowed throughout most of the area, except in food plots.

Topographical maps covering the area are Eagle Mountain, Nichols Mountain, Big Fork, Polk Creek Mountain, Bakers Springs, Umpire, Athens and Langley. In addition, a map of the entire Ouachita National Forest is available from ONF headquarters at P.O. Box 1270, Hot Springs AR 71901, (501) 321-5202, for $6.

Although the muzzleloader season on Camp Robinson WMA is by permit only, and though the drawing for this year was held last summer, this area should be a prime candidate for any central Arkansas hunter for next year's WMA permit hunts. Camp Robinson is owned by the Arkansas Army National Guard and is primarily used as a training post, but managed hunting is allowed on more than 26,000 acres. The approximately 14,000 acres closed to hunting (mostly the cantonment area and the artillery and firing range impact areas) serve as refuges for deer and thus keep the quality of hunting high. The deer herd o

n the post is healthy and abundant.

Camp Robinson WMA's habitat is diverse, to say the least. Steep, rocky ridges cloaked in grasses and blackjack oaks separate hardwood valleys laced with cypress-tupelo swamps. Many acres of pine plantations of all ages are intermingled with hardwood flats, brushy thickets, open pastures and old field sites now tangled and overgrown. It's a deer paradise offering hunters a varied mixture of terrain from which to choose and plenty of room in which to spread out.

All hunters entering the area must carry a "to-hold-harmless" permit, available at the Camp Robinson Fire Station. Hunters are also required to check in and out at the fire station before and after hunting. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, security on the reservation has been beefed up, and in addition to their permits, all hunters must have photo ID, vehicle registration papers and proof of vehicle insurance to get through the main gate off Camp Robinson Road in North Little Rock (the only gate open since the attacks.) The check-in procedure is fairly quick, but all vehicles are subject to search. A clean, uncluttered rig will probably get you through the security checkpoint quicker and with less hassle. No overnight camping is permitted. Checkpoint permits are issued only on a daily basis.

Topographical maps covering the area are Cato, Conway, Hamlet, Mayflower and North Little Rock.

Covering a total of 83,832 acres in Drew and Ashley counties, the jumble of leased lands comprising Casey Jones WMA belongs to Georgia Pacific. The land is leased by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission as part of its leased lands program, and the lease is paid for by sales of annual use permits for hunting, fishing, camping or trapping there. This $20 permit is required of all users, in addition to the regular hunting license and stamps.

Most of the lands in Casey Jones WMA are located near Crossett, but two sizable segments are located just east and south of Monticello. One parcel more or less surrounds Seven Devils WMA, and the other parcel is on the western boundary of Cut-Off Creek WMA.

Casey Jones WMA Area 1, the segment surrounding Seven Devils, is between Arkansas Highways 4 and 35 just east of Monticello and can be reached via several county roads off those highways. The Collins and Selma topo maps cover this segment. Area 2, near Cut-Off Creek WMA, is south of Highway 35 and is reached via Snyder Collins Road, the main access road for Cut-Off Creek WMA. Its associated topo map is the Line quadrangle. Both these segments of the WMA are low country, combining swampy bottomland hardwood and pine flatwoods, and much of the land is subject to seasonal flooding. The other WMA lands near Crossett are for the most part on higher, drier pineywoods ground more typical of the Gulf Coastal Plain.

Although Casey Jones' hunter success rates are good in general, and a few good bucks are taken here each year, no single one of the WMA's constituent parcels has a reputation as a trophy deer area. But the deer herd is plentiful, and filling a tag here isn't a difficult task.

To help hunters find the scattered parcels of leased land, each permit purchaser is given a detailed locator map showing all Casey Jones lands and access roads. The locator maps also give the names of the topographical maps that cover the areas. On the ground, the leased lands boundaries are marked prominently with yellow paint. Camping is permitted in designated campgrounds only.

While it probably doesn't have quite as much trophy potential as Caney Creek does, Muddy Creek WMA still produces its share of big-racked bucks, and its deer herd is in good shape. At 150,000 acres, it's not quite twice the size of Caney Creek, but Muddy usually yields five to six times as many deer as Caney does. That's partly because Muddy gets more hunting pressure, but it's also because Muddy has a lot of deer.

Even so, the annual harvest at Muddy Creek WMA amounts only to about a deer per 400-500 acres, and the area could easily support more hunting pressure. This light pressure is what makes this a good bet for a getting a good buck. As is the case with Caney Creek WMA, Muddy Creek's bucks have a good chance to live long enough to grow good antlers.

There are no developed Forest Service campgrounds on Muddy Creek WMA, but Old Forester (in the northwest corner), just off Highway 28 east of Waldron, is a popular camping area. Primitive camping is allowed practically everywhere in the WMA except in food plots. National Forest maps are available at the Hot Springs address already given. It takes sixteen topo maps to cover all of Muddy Creek WMA, so consult the topo index map and order the ones for the part of the area you want to hunt.

This is another of the AGFC's popular leased lands WMAs. As with Casey Jones WMA, those who want to hunt, fish, trap or camp on Cherokee leased lands must buy a $20 annual permit, which comes with its own locator map that lists the topos you'll need.

Owned by Green Bay Packaging, Inc., Cherokee WMA is much more fragmented than is Casey Jones, stretching from Cleburne, Faulkner and Perry counties all the way to central Stone County. The entire Cherokee WMA holdings total more than 141,000 acres.

Because most of the parcels of Cherokee WMA lands are smaller and more fragmented than the Casey Jones WMA lands in south Arkansas, they don't attract quite as much attention from hunters. If a hunter is willing to do some scouting, it's possible to find uncrowded, high-quality hunting on some of these smaller Cherokee parcels. Camping is permitted only in designated campgrounds.

For hunters looking for something different, the Ouachita National Forest lands surrounding Lake Ouachita may be just the ticket. This 40,000-acre lake, the largest manmade impoundment in Arkansas, has the largest amount of undeveloped shoreline of any big lake in the state. Most of Lake Ouachita is bounded by national forest land and has been protected from the blight of shoreline development that so often happens on flood-control impoundments.

This situation provides excellent deer-hunting opportunities for those able and willing to boat to their hunting areas. The numerous islands and peninsulas on the lake provide excellent deer habitat that's often difficult to reach overland. Camping on the lakeshore or on one of the many islands is a pleasant experience, and Ouachita's fishing winter can be fantastic.

The north shore of the lake is farther from population centers and harder to reach than is the south shore, so it generally receives less hunting pressure. But no matter where you hunt on this beautiful lake, you're going to be pleasantly surprised at the low hunting pressure.

Lake Ouachita and its surrounding lands are depicted on the Ouachita National Forest map, but you'll also need a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map of the lake itself for navigation purposes. These are available free of charge from the AGFC, 2 Natu

ral Resources Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205; (501) 223-6351. Topo maps of your chosen hunting area are also useful, of course.

There are many other promising public-land hunting places that can serve as settings for good late-season muzzleloader hunting this year and in the years to come. Piney Creeks WMA north of Russellville, Sylamore WMA north of Mountain View and Winona WMA west of Little Rock are three good examples.

This month's window of muzzleloader opportunity is brief, though, so get busy now getting hold of your maps and making those other last-minute preparations. When the season opens, you want to be ready for it.

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