National wildlife refuges offer us all a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings.
Big Oaks National Wildlife Region has some of the finest deer and turkey hunting opportunities in Indiana. Please contact the refuge in advance for specific information about drawings and special regulations. Fishing is excellent in Old Timbers Lake. The diverse habitat at the refuge provides great birding, wildlife viewing and opportunities for wildlife photography.
For your first visit to the refuge, please allow at least an hour to stop at the office, take the safety briefing and obtain a daily pass. Refuge staff can give you current information about wildlife sightings. Be sure to pick up a refuge map before you leave the Office. Take the half hour drive north to the public use area around Old Timbers Lake. At the public use area, you can go fishing, walk a hiking trail, view an eagle nest, birdwatch or just relax in nature. On the return drive to the office, you are welcome to stop and check out the one of the historic stone bridges found on the refuge.
The entrance to the refuge is on U.S. Highway 421, at the former Jefferson Proving Ground, five miles north of Madison, Indiana. Enter at the main entrance of the former Jefferson Proving Ground and follow the brown directional signs to the refuge office, located at 1661 West Niblo Road. Do not trust your GPS device to take you to the office building and ignore the "end of park" signs you encounter on your way in (the refuge is not the park). The office is located in a brick building that is adjacent to many others in the former base cantonment area that is now private property.
Permits are required for all visitor activities at Big Oaks. A $3 daily or $15 public access permit is required (the refuge only accepts cash or checks) for everyone except for those who are in one of the following categories:
- Youth - 15 years old or younger
- Holders of an Interagency Senior pass for those 62 years old or older
- Holders of an Interagency Access pass for those permanently disabled
- Holders of an annual Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp
- Active-duty military personel or holders of an Interagency Military pass
A separate amenity fee is required for hunting at Big Oaks. The fee ($20 or $10 for holders of a Senior pass or Access pass) is waived for those age 15 years old and younger.
Porta-pot restrooms are available at the refuge office and at Old Timbers Lake.
Points of Interest
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge is a large refuge full of interesting wildlife, plants and historic sites, but many areas are open only for special tours or activities because of safety concerns. Please check in with the refuge staff for a tour schedule and refuge map. There is an active eagles nest on the 165-acre Old Timbers Lake that is visible from an observation blind on the lake. The East Perimeter Road that leads to Old Timbers Lake travels over a historic stone bridge and Old Timbers Lodge, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, is available to view during special tours and events.
What To Do
There are excellent hunting opportunities for deer and turkey at Big Oaks and special youth hunts are held annually. Please contact the refuge office in advance for information on drawings and special regulations. Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge offers deer hunting in October for archery and November for gun. Turkey hunting is offered in the spring and fall. Indiana Department of Natural Resources conducts random drawings for deer and turkey season, through their website. Squirrel season begins August 15 and continues through November.
Big Oaks has exceptional fishing opportunities in the 165-acre Old Timbers Lake and boats - trolling motors or paddled - are allowed with a 30-boat limit per day to prevent overcrowding. The fishing days are Mondays, Fridays and the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, mid-April through November. Please note that the refuge is closed on federal holidays and times and days vary during hunt seasons. Anglers must check-in at the refuge office at 7:00 a.m. and check-out at the office by 4:30 p.m. Times vary during spring turkey hunt season. Fishing from the bank is open to everyone.
There are excellent opportunities for birding, wildlife observation and photography at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge offers many scenic vistas of hardwood forest, wetland and grassland habitats. You can see Henslow’s sparrows, cerulean warblers, worm-eating warblers and other migratory birds. You might catch a glimpse of river otters, bobcat and other mammals when you visit. An observation deck overlooking Old Timbers Lake is located on the Beech Tree Trail and a photo blind is located on the Wolf Tree Trail. Other areas of the refuge are available to photograph on a guided basis or with a special use permit.
The refuge offers guided interpretive tours by van throughout the public use season. Special guided tours can be requested for birding, wildflower hikes and historical tours of the property. You can also schedule tours of the historic Old Timbers Lodge. Call the refuge office for more information. Two self-guided nature trails - the Beech Tree and Wolf Tree Trails - are located near Old Timbers Lake. You will find helpful interpretive signs along these trails that will help guide your exploration of the property.
Know Before You Go
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge is located on a former munitions testing area and only certain areas are open to visitors because of safety concerns. The refuge is not open every day and is entirely closed part of the winter. Refuge staff are committed to providing you with as many high-quality recreational opportunities as possible. Contact us and we will be glad to help you plan your next trip. A refuge map can be found here.
We recommend that you bring water when you visit and be aware that restrooms are limited. Hunters and those hiking off-trail should carry a compass and/or GPS unit. Hiking off-trail is permitted in the public use area.
Summers are hot and humid on the refuge and insects may be bothersome. Hats and insect repellent are useful. State hunting and fishing regulations apply on the refuge, along with other refuge regulations.
There are lots of things to see and do at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a beautiful and relaxing place to get outside and connect with nature. Environmental education and interpretive activities are offered by staff throughout the year by special arrangement. When you’re ready to plan your next trip, give us a call. We’re glad to assist!
The Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge Public Use Map
Other Facilities in the Complex
Big Oaks and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge are complexed to share staff and equipment to efficiently manage both refuges.
Rules and Policies
Safety is the top priority at the refuge and all visitors are required to attend a safety briefing, sign an acknowledgment of danger agreement and obtain a public access permit before entering the refuge. While some gathering of wild, edible plants and deer antlers for personal use is allowed at the refuge, a refuge permit is required, and certain rules apply. While you are welcome to visit certain public use areas during a limited time of the year, there is no entry allowed in the closed area of Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. Searching for, picking up or removing / possessing any object of historical significance or unexploded ordnance is prohibited.
The entrance to the refuge is on U.S. Highway 421, on the former Jefferson Proving Ground, five miles north of Madison, Indiana. Enter at the main entrance of the former Jefferson Proving Ground and follow the brown directional signs to Big Oaks office.