By Richard Hines
Every summer, I check several new WMAs or Wildlife Management Areas that may be possible locations for future hunting or fishing trips. Many WMAs around the country are overlooked treasures providing not just hunters and anglers opportunities to recreate, but campers, hikers, and birders endless locations for enjoying natural resources.
Unlike National Forests, National Parks and Refuges, state wildlife management area operations and management are funded through the sale of hunting licenses and taxes on firearms and ammunition through the Pittman-Robertson Act.
There are many reasons to visit a WMA during the summer. My number one criterion is the availability of summer fishing opportunities but also photography, just general hiking and seeing some new territory that may have some opportunities for the fall hunting season.
A couple of weeks back my wife, Pam, and I visited one of the larger WMAs in West Tennessee, Natchez Trace Wildlife Management Area. With 48,000 acres of land, this WMA is obviously a go-to location for fall hunting season, but during the “off season” when hunting is closed, Natchez Trace is an interesting stop between Nashville and Jackson while driving along I-40.
Natchez Trace is rather unusual as it is a co-managed tract of land with three state agencies, the Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee State Parks, along with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which all have lands that lay adjacent to each other.
During hunting season, there are obviously closed areas around the park facilities but most of the 48,000 acres is open in some capacity. This organization of management operations allows each of the agencies to provide some amenity. All agencies managing the land are complimenting each other’s efforts providing visitors with a wide range of outdoor activities, not to mention a good buffet at the lodge.
Visiting WMAs during the summer months allows you to learn trails, roads, potential campsites and where various hunt area boundaries are located. Summer is also perfect for discovering facts about the WMA or the surrounding area.
At Natchez, my wife said, “look how deep those valleys are!” As it turns out, these deep valleys were originally the deepest erosion gullies of any place found in the United States. By the 1930s, this area had been farmed without regard to the capability of the land. However, thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC as it was called, efforts were enacted that began the slow process of restoring the worn-out land.
During this period the Rural Resettlement Administration purchased the worn-out land from farmers with the CCC converting the land into the combination WMA, Park and State Forest. As I peered into these massive gullies, I remembered having to fill some on my grandfather’s farm in the 1960s. These were only one to two feet deep. I could not imagine having to tackle gullies that were 75 feet deep!
Looking at the Natchez Trace Forest gives one an appreciation of how the CCC saved this tract of land as well as many parts of the United States by putting young men to work replanting the hillsides.
Today, hunters and visitors to this WMA are reaping the benefits from these efforts over 80 years ago.
There is a lot of overlap where hunters can hunt on the state forest, as well as the WMA, plus participate in other outdoor adventures such as horseback riding and ATV riding.
Visiting Natchez Trace outside of hunting season is also a chance to take the family along to let them spend time at the pool located at Pin Oak Lodge or on the public beach located on Pin Oak Lake, which will give you time to scout some trails or find areas to look for a good buck this fall on the adjacent WMA land.
Visitors will find a shooting range plus three lakes for some summer fishing. Lakes have a range of use restrictions, but anglers can use everything from kayaks to unrestricted horsepower on the larger lakes such as Pin Oak Lake.
As of this writing, Natchez Trace has small game and big game hunting running concurrent with statewide seasons in Region 1. That being said, always check up to date regulations as the situation does change each year.
Natchez Trace is easy to access just off I-40 between Nashville and Jackson, Tennessee. The Park visitor center is only a mile or so from the exit off I-40 and you will be able to pick up additional information.
Unless there are good fishing opportunities, most hunters will not see or visit their favorite WMA until a week or two before hunting season in the fall. This summer, take some time to learn your favorite WMA and better yet, explore and learn about a new WMA. You will find new places to hunt, hike, and camp.
During the summer I will continue exploring some new WMAs, but Natchez Trace had lots to offer, from those restored gullies and old fire tower from the 1930s CCC days, to pristine lakes. This WMA/Park/Forest demonstrates how agencies should work together. When you get a chance and you are heading down I-40 check out the hunting, fishing, and history this stop has to offer.