If your preference is bowhunting, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands where gun hunting for whitetails isn’t allowed. Some are large forests, such as the 18,000-acre Tug Fork Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia. At the other extreme are public bow-only areas of 100 acres or less. Such places can get hot when deer — including big bucks — retreat to them to escape gun-hunting pressure. Below, you’ll find a number of bow-only public lands in nine states that are often ignored for their trophy potential.
With more than 47,000 acres of bow-only whitetail hunting on 37 WMAs, Arkansas deserves your attention. You might want to avoid some of these areas for two days in early November, when a limited youth firearm deer hunt happens. These brief hunts are the only times the deer are exposed to firearms.
Most of these public grounds allow gun hunting for small game, game birds and turkey. Visit the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission‘s website to view a comprehensive list of such hotspots.
An especially noteworthy Arkansas WMA is the 4,884-acre Rick Evans Grandview Prairie multi-use area You should find it of interest that Grandview Prairie represents the largest contiguous tract of blackland prairie in public ownership in the nation.
Given that fact that huge bucks have been taken here, including a non-typical that scored 199 7/8, the blackland prairie habitat agrees with whitetails.
The downside is that you must enter a drawing to get one of the 40 tags available for this area every year.
You have two options when hunting here. One is to concentrate on the prairie habitat where whitetails course through paths in grass that grows 3 to 6 feet high. This would be an ideal place for a mobile ground blind or a natural blind made from the grass. Or, you can take to tree perches in the wooded ravines and stands of mature timber.
Georgia offers 22 bow-only WMAs that total 30,000 acres. The largest of these lies in northwest Georgia, the 3,000-acre Cartecay section of Rich Mountain.
This area is off limits to ATVs and gives up quality bucks to hunters willing to hike back in. Another way to access remote Rich Mountain bucks is by floating the Cartecay River in a canoe. Don’t forget a fishing rod, as this river supports a good population of trout.
The whitetails that roam these southern Appalachian hills benefit from clover and rye that have been planted in forest openings. Be sure to take advantage of the bowhunters archery course. The 4,500-acre Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge (843-784-2468) has been hosting a unique bow-only deer hunt since 1947. Two 3-day hunts usually happen here in October and December. Sandy beaches separate palmettos and oaks from the Atlantic. The island is accessible only by boat, which you must provide.
Other archery-only areas in Georgia noted for good deer hunting include Fort Gordon (706-791-5033), Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield (912-767-4354).
The Bluegrass State gives preferential treatment to bowhunters on 11 WMAs that comprise more than 143,000 acres. Since these hunting areas are spread throughout the state, they offer diversity in terrain and habitat. In much of the state, you’ll be hunting wooded hills. Some of these public lands allow no firearms for deer hunting, while others have two-day quota or youth gun hunts.
One area that has two youth hunts is the 7,998 acres around Grayson Lake.
The success rates for these either-sex hunts runs about 40 percent. Other than these limited seasons, only bowhunting is permitted for whitetails.
You can hike into the more remote areas, but smart bowhunters save time and effort by bringing a boat. A short boat ride can put you in places that would require a hike of more than 5 miles. Bring a GPS or, at the very least, a compass so you can navigate the lake in the dark.
Three military properties allow bowhunting only on a draw basis. They are not regulated by the state, so you must contact them to learn their current regulations. They include the 14,596-acre Bluegrass Army Depot (859-779-6328), the 85,000-acre Fort Campbell Military Reservation and the 109,068-acre Fort Knox Military Reservation (502-624-7311).
You can roam over nearly 18,000 acres of bow-only deer land at 11 Maryland WMAs.
The largest of these are the 9,200-acre Liberty Watershed and the 7,380-acre Prettyboy Watershed. These wooded tracts surround Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs. You need a free permit to hunt them.
Prettyboy, in northern Maryland, is steep and rugged. Liberty, farther south and west of Baltimore, has more gently sloping terrain. You won’t be alone because these WMAs draw hunters from Baltimore and Pennsylvania. However, older bucks are found here, thanks to the bow-only regulation.
Other bow-only opportunities exists in Gunpowder Falls State Park, Loch Raven Watershed, Bridgetown Ponds NRMA, Patapsco Valley State Park, Rocks State Park, Susquehanna State Park and Rocky Gap State Park.
Missouri’s bow-only areas total well over 100,000 acres of whitetail hunting opportunity on more than 140 tracts. The larger tracks include the 12,960-acre Four Rivers Conservation Area, the 7,531-acre Schell-Osage Conservation Area and the 7,188-acre Drury-Mincy Conservation Area.
The 6,300-acre Reform Conservation Area also produces trophy whitetails because it has been open to bowhunters only for three decades. Despite its trophy buck potential, and that fact that it regularly draws out of state hunters, the Reform area has moderate hunting pressure.
You best tactic here is to hang tree stands along the routes whitetails travel when they venture from the Reform area’s wooded hills and hollows to nearby private croplands.
The crops are on the north end this property where the land slopes into the rich earth of the Missouri River breaks. You’ll need to be on your game, because the whitetails here get plenty of pressure from hunters on adjacent private land.
Three of four zones in the 37,000-acre Oak Ridge WMA allow bowhunting only. This extensively managed property gives you room to roam, and it yields whitetails with big racks.
Tennessee’s most intriguing bowhunting opportunity is the annual quota hunt on 6,000-acre President’s Island in the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis. About half of these acres are planted in soybeans.
Resident and nonresident bowhunters may apply for one of 80 coveted annual permits for the three-day hunt. Since many more apply, it might take 6 to 8 years to draw a permit.
The lucky hunters may not shoot any buck that has less than 9 points.
Other Tennessee bow-only areas include 1,107-acre Fourth Fractional Township and 5,400-acre North Chickamauga Creek.
Thirteen public hunting units in Texas contain more than 92,000 acres of bowhunting-only lands, including 25,000-acre Newton County Public Hunting in Unit 122 in east Texas. The state leases this land from a private timber company.
The timber company voluntarily leaves a 50-yard buffer of hardwoods along streams as part of a streamside management program. These buffers prevent erosion and serve as travel corridors for whitetails. A low deer density, combined with light pressure and good forage, allows bucks on Unit 122 to live long.
The 25,000-acre White Oak area in northeast Texas is another good one. The Sulfer River runs through it, so there is plenty of bottomland, plus oak hardwoods. There is a 3-day gun hunt here that allows a limited number of hunters through a drawing.
A block of four counties along West Virginia’s southwest border has been off limits to firearms hunting for more than 30 years. They include Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties. These counties produce as many trophy whitetails as the rest of West Virginia combined.
West Virginia’s 2008 deer season was typical. These four bow-only counties yielded 36 of the 78 bucks that qualified for one of the state’s trophy buck certificates. The certificate requires a typical whitetail that scores 125 or higher and a non-typical that scores at least 155.
These four counties were historically called the southern West Virginia coal fields, according to Paul Johansen, assistant chief in charge of game management for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
“Before the archery-only regulation, that region of the state had virtually no deer, bears or turkeys,” Johansen says. “That was the original reason to eliminate gun hunting there.”
Now these counties have healthy deer, bear and turkey populations, Johansen asserts.You’ll find ample elbowroom on these public hunting areas: 17,000-acre R.D. Baily WMA; 10,600-acre Panther State Forest; 18,000-acre Tug Fork WMA; 13,000-acre Laurel Lake WMA; and the new 6,004-acre Elk Creek WMA.
You’ll work for your shots here. The topography is challenging, with steep hills and narrow valleys. It’s the kind of terrain where you can hang a tree stand 15 feet high and be 40 feet above a deer that crosses within bow range downhill from you. Old logging roads weave through the rugged terrain, which is 85 to 90 percent forest.
The only bow-only public area in Wisconsin is Buckhorn State Park near Necedah. It is located on a peninsula in the Castle Rock Flowage of the Wisconsin River, and it includes land along the Yellow River. Bowhunters have access to 2,120 acres of the park’s 4,500 acres.
Eight other Wisconsin state parks allow bowhunting and have a late muzzleloading season. However, they do not allow hunting with other firearms.