Public Lands & Waters photo

Loess Hills State Forest
: west Iowa
Size: 11,266 acres
ZIP: 51040

Steep river bluffs that rise 150 to 200 feet above the Missouri River make the Loess Hills a stunning landscape-and a vital sanctuary for mature bucks. “The steepness of this area makes it a real good spot for deer to grow up and grow old,” says Suchy, “and that’s what you need to have.” Look for stands of burr oak on the tops and north sides of the steeply stacked hills. The south and west sides hold native prairie dotted with encroaching red cedars, while farm fields and food plots are largely confined to the bottoms. The forest is located partly in Monona County, historically one of the most productive in the state for trophy bucks: Monona produced the state record buck in the 1970s, and it’s the only county in the western third of the state to rank in the top 10 in the Iowa Big Game Records.

Rathbun Wildlife Area
: south-central Iowa
Size: 15,792 acres
ZIP: 52544

Grasslands and fragmented timber stands surround the 14,000-acre Rathbun Reservoir on the Chariton River. The reservoir’s irregular shape creates small pockets of land that are harder to get to than others-good spots to look for good deer. Prairie and food plots dominate the open areas, while oak-hickory hardwoods can be found in broken woodland blocks. Check out the 4,400-acre Sedan Bottoms area below the Rathbun dam, where a Wetlands Reserve Program project is restoring native pecan, hickory, walnut and oak trees to an area formerly cleared for farming. “There’s always a good buck or two that comes off Rathbun every year,” says Suchy.