References to the US Army Corps of Engineers Harry S. Truman Project naturally conjure up images of fishing its 55,600-acre reservoir. Be that as it may, the project’s water is dwarfed by nearly 110,000 acres (172 square miles) of land, all of which is being managed for the benefit of wildlife and most of which is open to public hunting.
This land rings the lake’s 950-plus miles of shoreline in Benton, Henry, Hickory and St. Clair counties. In places, the “ring” extends only a few hundred yards back from the waterline, and in others it reaches a mile or more inland. Both the MDC (which manages 55,000 acres of project land on a license from the Corps) and the Corps itself have done a yeoman job of posting the boundaries between public and private land. Even so, as when hunting elsewhere, it’s the individual hunter’s responsibility to know where he or she is at all times.
If you can’t find deer habitat to your liking on the Truman Project, you won’t be able to find it anywhere else either. Albeit in different proportions, both The MDC and the Corps’ portions of the project include prairie, grassland, cropland, wetland, old fields, savanna, glades and forest.
Land-based access to the Henry and St. Clair county portions of the project ranges from fair to excellent via numerous pre-impoundment roads. Conversely, land-based access to the Hickory and Benton county portions varies from fair to impossible. Use of motorized vehicles is confined to established roads throughout the project. Horses are completely prohibited. A small, but steadily growing minority of the project’s deer hunters use boats to gain easy access to any point along the shoreline they choose.
The deer hunting potential of the Truman Project is anything but a secret. Managers from the Corps and the MDC agree that hunting pressure throughout the project is “heavy” on both weekends of the November portion of the firearms deer season, falling to “moderate” during the week.
What do terms like “heavy” and “moderate” mean? To quote MDC conservation agent Dan Love, “Don’t expect to be alone, because you probably won’t be.” That fact of life applies to boat-in hunters as well, because other hunters may have crossed private land to reach the same spot.” I’ve made two opening weekend boat-in hunts on the Truman Project. One year, my son, who was in a carefully chosen stand, shot a dandy 8-point buck that was following along about 100 yards behind a group of hunters who thought they were making a deer “drive.”
However, if you’re one of those hunters whose hunts are “ruined” by the presence of too many other hunters–I usually am too–the surest way to dodge the crowds is to stay away on opening weekend of the regular firearms season. If you must hunt on opening weekend, the three most important factors in determining whether or not your Truman Project hunt will end with venison are scouting, scouting and scouting.
Love definitely agrees with that idea. He noted that hunting pressure is heaviest near parking lots and in the flatter portions of the project. He believes this is at least partially due to the fact that many of the project’s deer hunters do little or no pre-season scouting and have no idea where to go if they get out of sight of their vehicles.
I know it’s possible to find the only other hunter for miles around set up in “your” spot, because it’s happened to me. Even so, I don’t let what the area’s managers call “moderate” hunting pressure worry me. Based on personal experience, it’s not only possible but likely that you won’t see another hunter during either the muzzleloader or archery seasons even if you stay out the entire day.
I’m convinced hunting pressure on the project during the “other” portions of the deer season will be dramatically lower this year and that, other than on opening weekend, pressure will be noticeably lower during the regular firearms season as well. My theory is that it’s the project’s consistently high number of antlerless deer that has fueled the high harvests in the four counties that surround it–Benton county is almost always among top firearms deer counties in the state. Between the antler point restriction and a one-permit limit on firearms antlerless permits, I think fewer hunters will be willing to tolerate perceived overcrowding, and more of those who do will fill their permits and leave early.
That’s OK with me. Actually it’s more than OK, because there are not only plenty of antlerless deer on the project but also a surprising number of big bucks.