Most sportsmen over 35 years old remember when it was easy to find a prime deer hunting area away from the crowds. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case in many locales. Today, more public deer hunting lands are available than ever before, but there also are record numbers of hunters crowding public lands, making it increasingly difficult to find a "get-away-from-it-all" hunting location. For this reason, many hunters are organizing groups of similar-minded hunters to form clubs.
As hunting pressure continues growing on public areas, more and more sportsmen are looking toward clubs for hunting.
Being a member of a deer club has many benefits. By controlling hunting rights on a piece of property, the club members know their traditional camp will be available every season, and they can control unwanted hunters legally and effectively. Hunting a club also gives the sportsman a focal point. He doesn't have to scout a large piece of real estate, only a small area. That makes clubs especially alluring to the average working man. His time is limited, and he's often unable to do extensive pre-season scouting on his hunting grounds. He may have only two or three days, a week at best, to hunt, and he wants to spend his time hunting deer, not scouting.
As a club member, this hunter knows before he ever gets to camp where the deer are likely to be feeding, the trails they are using, their bedding areas and so forth. He has the upper hand from the start.
Having a club also can assist management goals. For example, in some areas, the buck-to-doe ratio is out of kilter. Hunters see too many does and few older bucks with good racks. Good deer management -- reducing doe numbers, and allowing bucks to age more before being harvested -- can remedy this problem. But for management to be effective, you need a parcel of land larger than most of us can afford to buy or lease on our own. Having a club is one way around that.
Start by talking with potential members. Make sure you all have similar ideas about management of the property. Do hunters want to pass up yearling bucks, which almost everyone can pick out, or would they prefer letting bucks get into the three-year-and-up class where they have much bigger racks? What will be the rules? Will there be a point restriction, such as a minimum of four points on one side for a buck to be legal, or a maybe a minimum spread between the antlers?
Written rules are necessary to properly govern a club. Each member should sign and receive a copy, and the rules should be posted at the clubhouse. Everything should be firmed up so there's no arguing or second guessing about how the organization runs.
Agree on the rules up front. Things to consider include whether you can bring guests to hunt, how many and what they can harvest. Decide whether there will be a penalty if bucks not meeting requirements are accidentally shot, and what the penalty will be. Most clubs limit the number of bucks a person can take, and a few make hunters harvest a certain number of does to keep the population well-balanced. All rules need to be spelled out, then enforced by fines or other means.
Finding the right property is the next important step in the process, and that means first finding a landowner who is willing to sell or lease the right land. But you'll need to decide first which option best suits your club: leasing or purchasing.
Most clubs limit the number of bucks a person can take, and a few make hunters harvest a certain number of does to keep the population well-balanced.
If you decide to lease, you might want to start your search for property by contacting a local wild
life officer or wildlife biologist. These people often know people with good deer-hunting properties they want to lease in order to control deer problems or trespassing problems, and a phone call introducing yourself and explaining your reason for calling might produce good leads.
County agricultural extension agents also are good sources of information. These people are in constant contact with local farmers and often know of landowners willing to lease hunting rights on their property, or eager to sell outright.
Many large corporate timber companies also lease certain parcels of their lands for hunting, and this is one of the best avenues for locating leasable hunting lands in prime deer territory. Chambers of commerce in the area you're studying may be able to provide additional contacts with local timber companies or other businesses interested in leasing hunting rights on their lands.
Though usually more expensive, dealing with a real estate company may provide leads when nothing else works. These businesses get a cut of the lease payment or sale price, so most will go the extra mile to help you find hunting land.
You also should watch for published advertisements. The classified ads of local newspapers often list hunting lands available for sale or lease, and outdoor tabloids and magazines that publish hunting stories sometimes carry such listings as well. It might be a good investment to run your own advertisement, noting your desire to lease deer hunting land along with a phone number where you can be contacted.
Finally, don't overlook the oldest method of all for getting information you need: word of mouth. When traveling in areas where you hope to buy lease, stop to visit with folks at the local cafe and pool hall, the farm co-op, hunting supply stores and other popular gathering places. Tell them what you're looking for, then leave a business card so interested parties can get back in touch with you.
When you do find a likely parcel, it's critical to do lots of research for closing a deal. Is it a good price for the acreage, location and resources on it? Is it near enough to members' homes that it's practical to hunt it as often as you want? Also investigate how other nearby landowners and clubs manage their property. Deer won't likely stay on your land, so if they're hunted hard, with yearling bucks shot on all surrounding lands, you may not get the results you want unless it's a very large parcel.
Other considerations should include:
Access: You need a decent road in and trails, dirt roads or ATV paths that allow you to retrieve bucks or put up stands.
Building codes: If your club wants to put up a small camp building, know in advance if the type of structure you have in mind is permitted.
Game regulations: In special-managed situations, a club may be able to obtain extra doe tags to help get the herd in balance. You may have to keep records of deer weights, ages, sex, condition, etc., but you'll probably want to do that anyway.
With leases, you'll want to answers to additional questions. For example, you should ask the landowner if there are conflicting land uses anticipated for the tract. It's hard to hunt deer when a huge clearcut or strip mine suddenly appears on your lease.
Spend some time with the landowner and learn as much as possible. Will the landowner permit your group to carry out recommended game management practices like prescribed burning, planting food plots and so forth? Are you being granted total hunting rights? Who will be responsible for maintenance of roads and gates? Will the landowner allow as many hunters as you wish? Are the boundaries of the land well marked? If not, who will mark them? What will be the cost and length of the lease?
When you reach a full agreement on the terms, get the lease and all the particulars in writing. Make your lease a legal document, consulting an attorney if necessary. This will solve many potential problems before they become real problems.
With large tracts of public land available, becoming a club member certainly isn't necessary for today's hunters. And for some people, it simply isn't the right avenue to follow. But as hunting pressure continues growing on public areas, more and more sportsmen are looking toward clubs as the most economical means of cornering their own private slice of blue-ribbon hunting territory. It takes a lot of legwork to locate prime deer hunting areas available for sale or lease, and you'll want to spend time selecting the right group of people to form your club. If you're willing to make the extra effort, however, forming a club is one of the best ways to be assured of a quality hunting experience away from the crowds.