Encompassing Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Madison and Washington counties, White Rock WMA (part of the Ozark National Forest) comes in as our top pick for the best public hunting spot in Northwest Arkansas.
Because of the abundance of great deer hunting spots in this region of the state, choosing White Rock was no easy task. But when it came down to it, we felt it gives hunters the best chance to take a good buck, but more importantly, have an enjoyable hunt on public land. Listed below is the rating scale (1-10 with 10 being the best) of how White Rock ranks in our six major categories:
Deer Population (rank: 7) - One look at White Rock WMA from the road and you can tell it is full of deer. However, if you look at the harvest reports, White Rock's deer per square mile numbers are not impressive. You must take into account the fact that nearly all of White Rock is tough, rugged Boston Mountain terrain, and many hunters don't venture off the beaten path to scout for deer. Also, these numbers are based on tagged deer, i.e. bucks. If yo're meat hunting with a doe tag, you can find plenty of them here. (White Rock did produce 150 bucks in the last report, and here is one hunter that's willing to bet this place is loaded with bucks across it's more than 280,000 acres. Most hunters report seeing a healthy population of deer overall.)
Quality Bucks (rank: 5) - While the overall deer herd in White Rock is healthy, you probably can find better WMA's around the region for big bucks. That doesn't mean big bucks aren't produced here; they just aren't produced as often. White Rock's rugged terrain does have the potential to produce some huge bucks though. Because hunters don't often feel like humping it deep down into White Rock's deep draws, many deer are left to grow. While it might not have the monsters of some other areas around the state, taking a decent buck should not be a problem with a little bit of scouting and willingness to hike this beautiful landscape.
Overcrowding (rank: 9) - At 280,000 acres, White Rock is large enough to accommodate a large number of hunters, meaning there is a pretty low chance you'll bump heads with anybody else. And because of the relatively rough terrain, many hunters won't go far from the road. If you're willing to, however, you probably won't see another soul the entire season. The bottom line: there may be a lot of hunters here, but you're chances of feeling "overcrowded" are slim.
Food & Water Sources (rank: 7) - The extensive, thick forests you'll find in White Rock provide lots of acorns on a good year. There are many managed food plots here too. Multiple water sources make great spots to hang a stand. The Mulberry River, a popular canoeing, kayaking and fishing stream runs through the southern part of the area, and you'll also find four major lakes: Shores Lake, Horsehead Lake, Lake Ft. Smith and Lake Shepherd Springs.
Access Points (rank: 9) - Numerous Federal and State Highways and County Roads can access the area. US HWY 71 constitutes the western boundary of the area with large highway directional signs marking access roads at the towns of Winslow and Mountainburg. Access from the north can be obtained off State Hwy. 16 by way of several county and Forest Service Roads located at Dutton, Delaney, Combs, St. Paul and Pettigrew. The area can be easily accessed from the south off Interstate 40 from State Hwy 103 at Clarksville, State Highway 23 (often called the "Pig Trail") at Ozark and Highway 71 at Alma.
Terrain (rank: 6) - Because it is located in the heart of the Boston Mountains, White Rock's terrain is very rugged. Deep hollows and steep ridges best describe it. Extensively forested with upland hardwoods occurring primarily on northern and eastern aspects and shortleaf pine and pine/hardwood mixtures on the southern and western exposures.
You might think the rough terrain to be a huge drawback on White Rock. But in my opinion, it can actually be quite the advantage. It keeps all your "one-weekend a year" hunters out, leaving lots of open grounds for the hardcore public land hunters. Also, the tons of access points make up for the tough landscape. With several entry ways available, you'll find it fairly easy to set up on a good spot with a handicapped, elderly or younger hunter, while still staying pretty close to the main road.
We feel like a strong case also could have been made for:
Wedington WMA: Good bucks, but hunted, very, very hard. Overcrowding is a big issue.