The hunt club tradition is especially popular in the Southeast, but does that mean a membership is right for you?
The hunting club lifestyle has a great following in America, but it's especially common in the Southeast. From Texas to South Carolina, Kentucky to Florida, hunt clubs are the norm. But for those who've never been a part of one, and those considering joining, it can seem a mystery. Is it like a lease? A big property with shared permission? We answer these questions and more.
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According to Lindsay Thomas, chief communications officer for the National Deer Alliance (NDA), modern hunt clubs date back to the 1960s and '70s. Timber companies with vast acreages of land held large swathes of ground that weren't very accessible. Then these companies started leasing out the hunting rights, and that was that. Hunt clubs were born.
Since then, the makeup of hunt clubs has continued to evolve into what they are today. Under quality management, these continue to adopt policies that are beneficial for members.
For the most part, modern hunt clubs look different than they did in the early years, but the foundations are the same. Certain types of lands tend to be turned into hunt clubs more than others. Generally, these lands are owned by timber companies, power companies, and farming operations.
Those who've never leased ground or joined a club should understand the differences. Generally, hunt clubs have higher hunter densities than leases do. Clubs tend to have lower prices per hunter, though. These also present less responsibility to most members. On the other hand, leases tend to be more expensive, have more responsibilities per hunter, and offer more ground to hunt on per hunter.
While this isn't a blanket statement for all hunters and hunt clubs, there are numerous benefits for joining one, especially those who hunt public land and subpar private properties. These advantages can come in many forms, including:
- Better Ground: It's common for hunt clubs to have better overall hunting than most public lands.
- Less Pressure: Because it isn't open to the public, if managed properly, hunt clubs tend to receive less hunting pressure than many public and permission grounds.
- Land Cost Savings: It is usually cheaper to join a hunt club than to buy or lease hunting lands outright.
- Gear Cost Savings: Clubs typically require each member to contribute gear to the club. So, for instance, if it is decided that treestands and ground blinds are managed on a communal basis, you can use other hunters' stands, just as they can use yours.
- Help and Camaraderie: Everyone needs help from time to time. This is especially true when hanging treestands, dragging out deer, etc. In a hunt club, you get that help. You might also experience true camaraderie and develop great friends.
Of course, the above things are not guaranteed for every hunt club. These are generalities and might vary depending on the quality of a hunt club's manager, members, deer herd, etc.
These aren't set in stone. Still, the following hunt club downsides are true more times than not.
- Lesser Ground: Sometimes hunt clubs don't offer ground that's as good as an individual lease. In rarer instances, it might not even be as good as some area public land.
- Other Hunters: Joining a hunt club requires working around other hunters and their personalities.
- Securing Spots: Most clubs operate under a first-come, first-served basis. So, if you want to make sure you get to hunt the good spot, it's best to arrive early.
- Taking Turns: Hunt clubs generally require taking turns, especially regarding what's dubbed as “the best spots.” Sharing spots can be difficult, but it's a requirement in a club.
- Busted Hunts: Under bad management, certain areas on a hunt club can get burned out. Furthermore, other hunters might even walk in on you while hunting.
Those who have weighed the pros and cons of typical hunt club experiences are almost ready to decide if it's the right move, or not. However, there are final considerations and questions to ask, such as:
- What is the size of the property? It should be proportionate to the number of hunters and the cost.
- How many hunters are on the club? What are they like? Fewer hunters means less pressure, but also a higher cost.
- How many neighboring hunters are there, and what are they like?
- Is there a stand location check-in system? This is a must-have and generally prevents people from ruining someone's hunt.
- Are treestands and ground blinds communal?
- What are the treestand and ground blind reservation rules? (This needs to be a fair, organized process.)
- How is the deer population? (It should be below the carrying capacity, but not too low, and it needs to have a balanced buck-to-doe ratio.)
- What is the deer density like? (Higher deer densities translate to more action during sits, but it can lead to overpopulation and less resources for each individual deer.)
- What is the average size of bucks harvested? (This is a good estimate of local antler genetics and buck age structure on the property.)
- What are the rules on harvesting does? (Look for a policy that manages the herd properly.)
- What other game animals have huntable populations on the club property? (Turkeys, hogs, coyotes, and other animals are fun to hunt, too.)
- Is ATV use allowed? If so, how? (For those in good health, it's best for these to be limited to field work, deer recovery use, and other laborious tasks.)
- Is dog use allowed? If so, how? (This is still allowed in some states. Check on state and club rules.)
- How well is overall communication on this hunt club? (Join a hunt club where the members communicate well.)
- Is there an insurance policy for this hunt club and its members? (This is necessary for protecting the landowner and club members from liability issues.)
See it in Action
After careful consideration, is it time to join a hunt club or not? If you're still unsure, check out Phillip Culpepper's Hunt Club. Not all his pursuits are on actual hunt clubs, but many are. Check out some of his adventures.
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