HUNTING MARK TWAIN NATIONAL FOREST
General Information on Mark Twain
Mark Twain National Forest is divided into nine main areas spread across southern Missouri. These areas make up a total of approximately 1.5 million acres. Approximately 100,000 of these acres are roadless and/or Wilderness/National Scenic Riverways acreage. Hunting is regulated on these lands by the Missouri Department of Conservation, although wildlife habitat is mostly managed by the USFS. Because regulations change, and areas can be redesignated, it is vital to make certain that you know the regulations in the areas you will hunt. For example, some areas allow horseback and/or ATV travel and a few do not.
Scouting and Selecting an Area:
Scouting these areas can be a daunting task without doing some advance work. Tools to help you include maps available through the USFS and USGS. Another great way to get started is using Google Earth. A helpful first step is to look at harvest data for the area you are considering and then working from there. Many areas of southern Missouri have relatively low deer densities (when compared to northern Missouri) and deer can be significantly smaller. Studying deer harvests can help you, but the fact that harvest numbers are affected not only by deer numbers, but by hunter numbers is a fact to consider. The MDC has a harvest report in real time HERE. This is reported by county. It at least gives you a general idea.
Hunting pressure on these lands varies greatly. The one key thing to remember is that your willingness to get some distance from where people cannot access via motorized vehicle will put you in a spot where you likely will have an area to yourself. Believe it or not, the vast majority of hunters stay within 1/4 mile of a road or trail. To begin with, I take a map and mark off the sections of a map that are within 1/4 mile of the nearest road or trail. This is where my scouting begins. Next, I use a topo map and Google Earth to start honing in on aspects of the terrain that yield clues as to natural deer habitat. From there, it is time to get on site and evaluate things first hand. There really is no substitute for scouting first hand. I have had many experiences where what looks one way on Google Earth, or on a map, turns out to be quite different in reality. One great example of this is deciphering the difference between a clear cut and an open field. They often look remarkably similar.
This area is approximately 15,000 acres and is the northernmost section of Mark Twain. It is also situated relatively closely to a sizable population center in Columbia and Jefferson City. Having said this, there are some good opportunities here. There are plenty of areas where a hunter can go here where they will not be overrun by others, but it does require some advanced scouting.
There are three accesses with facilities managed by the Forest Service in this section, but there are some other adjoining land public accesses with hunting opportunities. The three USFS accesses are Carrington Pits, Dry Fork, and Pine Ridge. Also in the area is a conservation area including and surrounding Little Dixie Lake and Earthquake Hollow Conservation Area. Access to Carrington Pits is via the map to the left:
The Carrington Pits area is open year round. For more information and maps, call 573-592-1400 (Fulton Office).
Another resource for great hunting opportunities in the area is the Cedar Creek Trail, a trail of total of 36 miles in length. Directions from Fulton, Missouri are: take Hwy. 54 south to Route H; west to Rt. J, south to Rt. Y, west to Pine Ridge Recreation Area. Horse users, travel to Dry Fork Campground, located 4 miles northeast on County Road 361. Or from Columbia MO, take Hwy 63 south to County Road AB (Barnes Chapel Road), left to Ginn Lane, right to Ginn Road Trail Head. A TRAIL MAP is available from the USFS.
Campgrounds include Pine Ridge Recreation Area (includes Cedar Creek Trailhead) and Dry Fork Recreation Area (alternative Cedar Creek Trailhead).
This section is comprised of approximately 190,000 acres. There are also multiple opportunities here. This is really getting into Ozark Country and is made up of hardwood forests spread across rolling hills. There are lots of deer, but they are spread out and scouting, as always, is critical. This area has some pressure, but there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path areas. A hunter willing to work a bit can really have a wilderness hunting experience here.
Included in this area is the Paddy Creek Wilderness Area (approx. 7019 acres) and the Big Piney Trail. Big Piney Trail is in Paddy Creek Wilderness. The total of the two sections of this trail are seventeen miles and provide many launching off points for a truly secluded hunting experience. There is a campground at Paddy Creek Recreation Area with 23 total sites. The Recreation area closes December 1. Also, keep in mind that the wilderness area is a Leave No Trace area. Please follow the tenets of this directive to keep others positive about the hunting community. Maps in various formats and in a variety of downloadable files can be found by following the link Paddy Creek Wilderness Maps. This is through Wilderness.net. Directions to the area are from Rolla, take Hwy 63 south about 35 miles to Hwy 32 and turn west. Drive 3.7 miles to Hwy N, which branches to the right. Drive 2.1 miles to Hwy AF, turn left. Hwy AF turns into Slabtown Road and passes close to a farmhouse, almost making the road look like a driveway. Continue driving for 7.5 miles until you see the sign for Big Piney Trail Camp, turn left. The trail is often used by horses/trailriders, so be cautious.
The main office for this district can be reached at 417-967-4194.
Potosi, Salem and Fredricktown Sections
These are actually managed as two sections of Mark Twain National Forest. They are in roughly the same area and I will look at opportunities in both areas. In the Potosi/Fredricktown section there are two designated wilderness areas. One is the Bell Mountain Wilderness and the other is the Rockpile Mountain Wilderness. The Bell Mountain Wilderness is approximately 9000 acres in size and is in the St. Francois Mountains, and contains some of the higher elevations in Missouri. We have a summary of Bell Mountain Wilderness area available HERE (also has summary of other Missouri Wilderness areas). Camping is allowed in the area following the designated rules and the Leave No Trace ethic. There are two trailheads accessing the wilderness. Directions to each are from Potosi. To the FT 12 Trailhead, take Hwy 21 South 18 miles to Hwy 32. Take Hwy 32 West 8 miles to Hwy A. Take Hwy A South approx 1/4 mile to first Forest Road SE Go approx 1/4 mile SE to site. To the Hwy A Trailhead, take Hwy 8 one mile East to Hwy 21. Go South on Hwy 21 for 11 miles. Or take Hwy 21 South for 17 miles to Hwy 32. Take Hwy 32 West for 8 miles to Hwy A. Take Hwy A approx 5 miles South to site.
Also in the Potosi/Fredricktown section is the Rockpile Mountain Wilderness. This area is a bit smaller, but still has plenty of room at approximately 4,000 acres. Trails are more limited (only about 2 miles of maintained trail), perhaps of benefit to the hunter attempting to escape the crowds. A summary of the area is available HERE. The directions to the area are, from Fredericktown via Highway 67, south to County Road C, then about 10 miles on C to County road 406. Follow 406 to Forest Road 2124.
The Salem area just south of the Potosi section, is a vast area of multiple hunting opportunities. There are numerous developed campgrounds as well as areas where the hunter can find solitiude. As in most areas of the Ozark Region, the hunter will benefit from a thorough effort at scouting with particular interest paid to water sources.
Poplar Bluff Section
This section is approximately 150,000 acres in size. Lake Wappappello is on the eastern border of the section of forest and the Black River runs through the area between generally the northwest corner and the southeast corner. As with the other areas of Mark Twain National Forest, there are many private land inholdings within the broad boundaries of the forest. Maps and knowledge/scouting of the area are essential.
There are several forest service camping areas as well as a conservation area or two managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. One such conservation area is Bradley A. Hammer Memorial Conservation Area (PDF Format).As of the most recent regulations, it should be noted that regular firearms deer hunting was not permitted. As always, familiarize yourself thoroughly with the state and area regulations for each area you will hunt as they do vary. To access this area, from Williamsville take County Road 417 to County Road 419. Turn right and go .5 mile to County Road 424. Turn right again and go .25 mile to the entrance. It is relatively small in area, but allows primitive camping in designated areas and could be a good base camp area.
Eleven Point Section
The Eleven Point Ranger District of Mark Twain National Forest is around 180,000 acres and includes some of the most neautiful and rugged terrain in Missouri. Embedded in this section of forest is the Eleven Point Wild and Scenic River area and the Irish Wilderness. There are numerous methods by which the hunter can approach deer hunting in this area, including via canoe on the Eleven Point River. Should you choose this method, we strongly suggest getting familiar with the sections of the river that are at least mildly challenging. Canoe rentals are widely available in the area.
There are numerous trails and campgrounds in this section of forest. If you will be floating the river, there are several choices. One of our favorites is Greer Crossing. This campground is open year round. The map below is of the area where this facility is located.
Below is a map of the Irish Wilderness including some of its trails.