Looking for the hotbed of Missouri deer hunting?
Focus on the Ozarks, with its big timber and huge public hunting areas.
Years ago, the region was the center of the state’s hunting, one of the last bastions where whitetails could be found in the state.
But following a stocking program by the Missouri Department of Conservation, whitetail populations took off in northern Missouri and the Ozarks were largely overlooked.
Today, things have come full circle for deer hunters. Following a decade in which deer populations in northern Missouri have dropped dramatically, whitetail numbers in the deep Ozarks have slightly increased or remained stable. Nothing spectacular, but no big crashes either.
With big chunks of the Mark Twain National Forest available, there is ready access for hunters. With its rugged landscape and endless timber, it’s not easy hunting. But it can be rewarding.
That much becomes obvious when you look at the progress report for this November’s firearms hunt, which opened Saturday and will run through Nov. 24. Through midday Thursday, three of the top five counties in harvest were from the Ozarks.
Texas ranked first with 2,769 deer checked in, Howell was second with 2,460 and Oregon was fifth with 2,015. Two other Ozark counties — Dent (sixth with 1,978 deer) and Laclede (ninth with 1,904) — ranked in the top 10.
Plenty could change before the firearms season ends. But it’s a good bet that the Ozarks counties will set the pace for rifle hunters, as they have in recent years.
A noteworthy shot
It’s impressive enough that Paul Gragg of Defiance, Mo., took a 15-point buck this deer season. But how he did it is the talk of Missouri deer hunters.
Hunting on a friend’s private land in St. Charles County, Gragg shot the deer with an atlatl, a primitive weapon that consists of a wooden shaft that is used to propel a a 4- to 6-foot long spear-like dart.
A veteran hunter, Gragg has taken trophy deer before. But he said this one will remain special.
“When I first started doing it, I thought there was no way this was going to work,” Gragg told the Missouri Department of Conservation. “But once I practiced with it for a little bit, I was getting pretty good at it.
“I heard all the jokes. My friends were all laughing and teasing me about it (hunting with it).”
But guess who got the last laugh.
Fishing season isn’t over yet
Don’t put your rods and reels away just yet.
The Missouri Department of Conservation stocked trout in four Kansas City-area locations this week — the Fountain Bluff Athletic Complex in Liberty, Chaumiere Lake in Kansas City North, and Coot and Plover lakes at the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area near Lee’s Summit.
Fountain Bluff and Chaumiere are open to fishing. Coot and Plover are closed while a managed deer hunting is taking place at the Reed Area. They will open Saturday.
Young bass champs
Brock Bila of Overland Park teamed with Thomas Heinen of Topeka to win the recent Kansas B.A.S.S. Nation Youth State Championship at Milford Lake.
On a tough day of fishing, they weighed in 5.22 pounds of bass. Included in their bag was a 3.25-pound largemouth caught by Bila that won big bass honors.
Bila caught his big one in the first 10 minutes of the tournament.