Public Lands & Waters photo

Ballard Wildlife Management Area
: west Kentucky
Size: 8,600 acres
ZIP: 42056

“Ballard has the best buck-to-doe ratio of any public hunting area in the state at one buck for every two does,” Yancy says, “and it also has an excellent age-class structure that features a lot of older bucks.” Starting this year, more sportsmen will be able to take advantage of these numbers. Under strict harvest restrictions since 1993 that allowed only 10 percent of hunters to harvest a buck, Ballard this year is one of two Kentucky public lands to newly adopt an outside spread minimum of 15 inches. In addition, archery hunters will for the first time have the run of Ballard from September 1 to October 14; after that, all but 400 acres will close to provide refuge to migrating waterfowl. Bring your knee boots to reach secluded areas: Fertile bottomlands dotted with the oak trees and row-crop agriculture that keep deer in top nutritional shape are broken up by many bald cypress sloughs.

Peabody Wildlife Management Area
: west Kentucky
Size: 60,000 acres
ZIP: 42327

You need look no further than the bulletin board in Uncle Lee’s sporting goods store in Greenville for pictorial proof of Peabody’s potential. Land that once gave up coal to huge strip mine shovels now regularly yields 120- and 130-class bucks. Sprawling across Ohio, Muhlenberg and Hopkins counties, this rolling, brushy upland habitat with many wooded creek bottoms has no antler restrictions, and hunters can take up to four deer. The 10-day firearms season in early November is popular with out-of-state hunters, but bowhunters will find pressure light.