Consider these questions before applying for membership to a club or lease.
By Tom Fegely
The approval of your application for the Hit ‘n’ Miss Buck Club arrived today, and you can’t wait to write a check for the deposit on a year’s membership.
Hold on a minute. Pour a cup of coffee and ask yourself a few questions.
First off, what do you know about this club?
Are most members satisfied with the operation?
Is a responsible management program in effect?
What sort of friendliness and social atmosphere do you detect when you’re around club members?
What are the rules for bringing guests or your own kids or spouse to hunt with you?
Will the property also be used for other types of hunting such as squirrels, woodchucks, cottontails or turkeys?
Are club regulations on items such as treestand use and antler minimums enforced or merely “solved” with the wink of an eye?
Are meetings largely constructive or do they soon turn argumentative?
Hunt clubs, for many hunters, are the sole source of private property on which to enjoy their quests. But not all hunt clubs are of the same caliber.
“The hardest part is getting everybody on the same track, says Texas outfitter and wildlife biologist Greg Simons, who has 20 years experience in organizing and coordinating hunt club leases and management programs.
Interviews with several other hunt club managers show that Simons isn’t alone in his sentiment. Balancing the joys of leasing private hunting grounds with the predictable social conflicts caused by members who don’t honor club rules is a widespread problem.
“A good club must have a strict set of bylaws from the very beginning and a board or someone strong enough to enforce them,” advises Dennis Smith, host and producer of the Outdoors South TV series, and a veteran of hunt club operations in Alabama and Florida.
“Today, we operate with a good set of written rules, and everyone reads and signs it before getting into the deal.”
What happens to offenders?
“You’ve got to establish a strict set of fines for anyone breaking the rules,” is the strong opinion of Steve Scott, director of the Whitetail Institute of North America in Pintlala, Ala., and veteran “clubber.” “Like it or not, money is the only deterrent that gets people’s attention.”
Edward Forte is the former manager of Roblyn’s Neck Trophy Club, once a private whitetail, hog and turkey lease and today a commercial venture in northern South Carolina. He agrees that balancing strict adherence to rules while keeping members from enduring needless hassles is the number one challenge of hunt club management.
“One person’s refusal to abide by the rules can spread discontent throughout the club,” says Forte.
He adds, “We always had a 16inch (spread) or greater rule to allow the bucks to get some age. We weren’t strong on fines, but if someone shot a buck substantially less than 16 inches or committed some other serious (infraction), he wasn’t invited to join the following year. That’s how strongly we felt about it.”
Consider these insights for anyone seeking to start a hunting club.
Simons: “Big group leases are the hardest to control because you have so many different personalities. The fewer participants, the stronger the tendency for a high-quality experience. But whether a club is large or small, the rules must be clearly defined and the consequences spelled out for noncompliance.”
Smith: “There are more than just infractions to spoil a hunt club. Everyone must pull his own weight. Planting and caring for food plots, placing and repairing stands, keeping the clubhouse clean and other jobs must be shared by everyone. If members don’t share the load, the operation falls apart.”
Scott: “Every member must be responsible for honoring the minimum size on bucks and taking a sufficient number of does, if necessary. In one club I was part of, we gave fines a positive spin. All fine money was put in an earmarked fund for upgrading hunting property. Peer pressure goes a long way in keeping everyone honest.
Forte: “Not culling enough does and taking small bucks is always a problem. We had a deal where the member who took the most does got a free membership the next year. I know of one club that assesses $100 an inch for any buck less than 16 inches. In some clubs, members are required to harvest a doe or two before even starting to hunt bucks.
It’s suggested that two or three meetings be held each year for members to get to know one another and to reinforce the rules by which the hunting lease will operate.
Although all hunt clubs presumably have minor problems now and then, they should be resolved amicably and expediently. That alone should not take away from the many joys of belonging to a hunt club.
Knowing that not every hunt club has the chemistry or leadership necessary for making it a quality act should urge applicants to seek answers to the previously posed questions before scribbling out a check.
This article was published in the December 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.