Teenage deer hunter with harvested deer at Big Oaks NWR

Big Oaks has healthy deer and turkey populations, and holds well-managed hunts, issued by state or refuge lottery. Deer hunters can choose archery or shotgun seasons. For both deer and turkey hunts, hunters are assigned a specific area and must enter the refuge with a partner. A compass/GPS device is required of all hunters and be sure to pick up a refuge map at the refuge Office.  To find your exact location on Big Oaks with a smartphone you may access an Avenza map at this link on the Big Oaks Conservation Society web page (site may not be ADA Section 508 compliant). The hunts include numerous regulations to ensure safety so be sure you understand refuge rules.  A mandatory safety briefing covering refuge regulations is held before each hunt. Because the refuge was formerly an ordnance testing facility, a safety video is also shown. The video is required viewing for all visitors, who must sign an acknowledgement of danger form. For hunters who don't draw a tag, no-show drawings are held on each hunt day.  Squirrel hunting opportunities are also available and are a good way to experience the 50,000-acre refuge.

Big Oaks deer hunting is in October (archery) and November (gun).  Turkey hunting is offered in the spring and fall.The Indiana Department of Natural Resources conducts random drawings for refuge hunts for deer and turkey season through their website.

Deer Hunting Information

The best way to hunt deer on Big Oaks is to apply for a state-drawn hunt, and the applications are available online through the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife website.  Registration is usually open from early July to early August.  The refuge has no-show drawings for their October and November hunts that take place shortly after 6 am (EST) or 7:00 am (EDT) at the Big Oaks Office. Hunters must have a Big Oaks hunting permit in order to sign up for the no show drawing. The drawn no-show hunter will be treated just like a drawn hunter and can hunt both days of the hunt with their hunt partner. Once a hunter is drawn, a date is set when the hunter may call to select an area in which to hunt. The refuge public use map shows the hunting areas. The number of hunters allowed per area is based on the size of the area and can be found here. The refuge keeps track of hunter success rates and harvest per unit. 

The daily bag limit on Big Oaks is 2 deer. We will allow hunters who harvest and check-in antlerless deer to harvest an additional buck with an appropriate license. There is a limit of 2 bucks/hunter for each type of hunt with the harvest and check-in of an antlerless deer (2 for archery and 2 for gun). Without the check-in of an antlerless deer, the limit is 1 buck/hunter with all archery licenses and 1 buck/hunter with all firearms licenses. The number of antlerless deer is only limited by the daily bag limit and the hunter's availability of licenses. If you were selected for an archery hunt you have the option of purchasing 2 military/refuge licenses.  Archers can take deer of either sex using 1 or 2 of the following licenses:  regular archery, extra archery, crossbow, and/or military/refuge licenses.  Bonus Antlerless licenses can also be used to harvest antlerless deer on Big Oaks. See above for buck bag limits.  If you were selected for a firearm (primitive or regular) hunt you have the option of purchasing 2 military/refuge licenses. You may use the State Firearm License only during the State Firearms Season to harvest a buck. The buck tag included in a Bundled license can only be used during the State Archery season or Firearms season (using the appropriate equipment) as well.  See above for buck bag limits.

Because of limited space in the refuge office it is important to view the safety video before the day of your hunt. The safety video and hunt briefing will be shown at the refuge office on public use days (Mondays and Fridays) and on hunt days (unless the day is a Federal holiday). Check with the refuge office when safety briefings will be held during your visit. The office is open 7 am- 4:30 pm on public use days and 5:30- 8 pm (EDT) or 4:30 am- 7:00 pm (EST) on deer hunt days.  Refuge Hunt Permits will be sold after each briefing. It is strongly encouraged you attend one of the early safety briefings to prevent long delays on getting to your hunting area on the initial day of your hunt. 

The buddy system is required at Big Oaks so do not show up by yourself. You are responsible for knowing and abiding by all refuge and state regulations.  Portable deer stands are allowed for hunting per state regulations. No alcohol, fires, or ATV's are permitted on the refuge during the hunt. You must check out of the refuge by 8 pm during the archery hunts and by 7 pm during the firearm hunts. Deer must be checked in at the refuge office. Hunters must possess and carry a compass or GPS while hunting at Big Oaks. It is strongly recommended that hunters carry an analog compass.

During season hunters must check in at the office by 7 am (EDT) and by 6 am (EST) or they will lose their reserved slot. No-show drawings will take place at the office shortly after 7 am (EDT) and 6 am (EST). Hunters must have a Big Oaks Hunting Permit in order to sign up for the no-show drawing. The drawn no-show hunters will be treated just like a drawn hunter and can hunt the day(s) of the drawn hunt with their hunt partner. Hunters can change their hunt areas at the East Gate at the end of the day for the 2-day hunts and during the hunt day but the hunt areas must be empty before hunters can change into those areas after hunters are checked into their original areas.

When hunting with a firearm at Big Oaks we encourage you to use lead-free ammunition. Ammunition containing lead can break apart leaving dangerous pieces of lead in the gut piles and carcasses of deer. Eagles and other wildlife eat these remains and can become very sick or even die. It only takes a small amount of lead to sicken a bald eagle, and you can do your part to protect our national symbol by making the switch to lead-free ammunition. To learn more look up huntingwithnolead.org

A special 1-day Youth hunt will be held the last weekend in October or early November. To apply send a postcard postmarked by October 1 with the youth's name and address to the refuge office.  A total of 150 youth (age 17 and under) will be selected by lottery to hunt.  Each youth must be accompanied by an adult hunter as a guide, but only the youth may hunt. Both the youth and adult guide must attend a refuge safety briefing. There are no refuge fees for youth hunters that are 15 or younger. All hunters must have a hunting license and licenses must be purchased off-refuge.

Turkey Hunting Information

There are three ways to hunt turkey at Big Oaks:

FIRST...Enter the state-draw hunts that are done by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. To apply for the regular turkey season hunt go to the Division of Fish and Wildlife website (applications will be accepted until mid-March).

SECOND...The second method is to enter the local lottery refuge hunt held on May 4-5 and May 11-12. Reservations and drawings for the local lottery hunts are held at 4:30 pm the Friday before the hunt at the refuge Office.

THIRD...The third method is to attend a no-show drawing held every hunt day at 6:30 am to fill the available slots. The refuge can accommodate 210 turkey hunters per day so there are usually open slots for hunters. You may download the refuge map or find topographic maps of the area on-line.  

If you have been drawn for an April 24-25 hunt on Big Oaks you can reserve a hunt area by calling the refuge Office starting at 8 am on April 9. The turkey harvest per area for past years is shown here. The number of hunters allowed in each hunting area and the size of the area can be found here.  If you have been drawn for April 27-29 turkey hunt you can reserve a hunt area by calling on April 10 starting at 8 am. Only phone-in reservations are accepted. You can participate in multiple hunts if chosen as a partner for a drawn hunter in addition to being selected in any drawing. The state bag limit is 1 turkey per year and you may not exceed the bag limit. You must have a partner while hunting Big Oaks and non-toxic shot is required. All hunters must check-out at the refuge Office by 2 pm.  Big Oaks does not sell turkey licenses.

Turkey hunters should arrive at the refuge Office on or before 5:30 am on their hunt date. If not previously attended during the year a mandatory safety briefing is required and will be provided. A $20 Refuge Hunt Permit ($10 for holders of Senior or Access Passports) is required for hunting. Fees are waived for those 15 years of age and under.  A Refuge Hunt Permit can also be used for deer and squirrel hunting. It is important to attend the safety briefing before your hunt date. If you don't attend an early you might have a long wait for the briefing and encounter a long delay in getting to your hunting area the first day of your hunt. The safety video is shown at the refuge Office on public use days (April 15, April 19, and April 22 before the turkey hunt begins) and once on the day before the first hunt. Hunter safety briefings are shown on public use days at 7:00AM , 8:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 3:00 PM. On hunt days safety briefings are shown at 5:30 AM, 6:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 1:00 PM. On April 23 (the day before the first Hunt) we will show the safety briefing at 3:00 PM. The Office is open 7 am-4:30 pm on public use days and from 5:30 am-2 pm on turkey hunt days. Refuge Hunt Permits will be sold after each briefing. It is strongly encouraged you attend one of the early safety briefings to prevent long delays in getting to your hunting area.  All visitors must sign an acknowledgment of danger form and attend a safety briefing once per year.

The refuge keeps track of turkey harvest data

Youth Turkey Hunt is scheduled for April 21. To apply for the hunt a youth needs to send a post card to the refuge Office by  April 1 with their name and address.  An adult hunter must accompany the youth while hunting the refuge but only the youth may hunt. The Youth hunt workshop/safety briefing will be held April 20 at noon at the refuge Office. There are no refuge fees for youth age 15 and under.  All youth require a hunting license and youth licenses may be purchased for $7.00 off-refuge.