References to the US Army Corps of Engineers Harry S. Truman Project naturally conjure up images of fishing its 55,600-acre reservoir. But be that as it may, the project’s water is dwarfed by nearly 110,000 acres (172 square miles) of land, nearly 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, extending into 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 many miles of 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.
Fortunately, there is another way. A still 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. I’ve made two opening weekend boat-in hunts on the Truman Project. We encountered other hunters, but our carefully chosen positions made their presence an asset. One year, my son 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.”
That incident notwithstanding, sharing the woods with other hunters is far more often a bane than a boon. 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 can apply to boat-in hunters as well, because other hunters may have crossed private land to reach the same spot.
Love also reported 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 most 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.
The surest–and most obvious–way to dodge the times when the project is the most crowded is to skip hunting there on the weekends during the November and antlerless portions of the season. Believe me, I know how hard it is to stay home on opening day, because I’ve done it. However, doing so can be more than worthwhile for hunters like me whose hunts will be “ruined” by the presence of too many other hunters.
Actually, the inescapable truth is that scouting, scouting and scouting are the three most important factors in determining whether your Truman Project hunt will end with a smile regardless of when or which season you hunt. Just remember that scouting for a deer stand location on public land involves not just finding a place the deer are using, but also finding a place toward which other hunters will push deer.
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 season even if you stay out the entire day. You can’t ask for more than that anywhere.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]