It was mid afternoon on a clear, crisp December day. We topped the levee and looked east. A half mile away, four deer grazed in an open field leading to a tall wall of forest. We were entering batture lands, which are defined as the alluvial land between a river (especially the lower Mississippi) at low-water stage and a levee.
The lower Mississippi River technically begins at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. However, the term batture is commonly applied to this type of land near other rivers.
In southeast Missouri, there are 190 miles of batture lands between Cape Girardeau and the Arkansas state line. These floodplain lands, found between the low water level of the Mississippi and the levees, contain about 127,000 acres.
One hundred twenty-six of these miles are below the confluence with the Ohio and contain about 106,000 acres.
Few people live in this large expanse of land. If you visit batture lands you’ll find a wild mix of sand and gravel bars, old oxbows, blowout holes, older forests, young forests and cropland. Along with these features exists a wide variety of wildlife, including many migrating species of birds.
Batture lands are subject to the whims of the river. Water-level fluctuations—including floods—in these lands have become more pronounced the last several decades as new levee systems have been added and old levees have been raised. As levees constrict the rivers, flood waters are trapped in smaller and smaller areas.
About 35 percent of batture land is farmland, and 62 percent is bottomland forest. The remaining 3 percent includes roads, sand bars and miscellaneous structures or natural sand-and-gravel deposits away from the river.
The width of batture lands varies considerably. In some locations, the levee is adjacent to the river, but there are places along the Missouri side of the river where the levees are four miles from the river. Visiting these wide stretches of batture land brings a sense of true wilderness.
After watching the deer for a while, we drove down the levee toward a small pool of water in the corner of a large field. It was at the end of a 75-foot-wide line of trees that runs parallel to the levee.
Ducks regularly use this small pool. We threw out a few decoys, lay on the ground and covered ourselves with camouflage.
The afternoon passed without any duck visitors, but various other birds flew across our wide field of vision. Finally, a flock of ducks shot by like a fast flying squadron. They surveyed the pool but were out of range. We couldn’t call them closer.
Still, it was a fine day to be outside, enjoying a pristine afternoon and the company of my son and my friend. We picked up decoys and headed out of Missouri’s batture lands, grateful for the opportunity to visit an untamed landscape. triangle
Fall and winter are great times to visit batture lands because mosquitoes are gone and migrating waterfowl are plentiful. A good way to visit the lands is by boat. The Conservation Department has several accesses to the Mississippi River, as well as conservation areas that contain batture land habitat. The facilities are in Mississippi, New Madrid and Pemiscot counties. Many of these areas are open to fishing, camping, hunting and trapping.
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