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Join the club?

by Bryan Hendricks | July 26, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

With fall approaching, many Arkansans are looking to join a hunting club.

It seems easy at face value, but joining a hunting club is an investment that requires a lot of forethought and research. If you join a club that's a poor fit for you, you haven't wasted only money. You will also have wasted a season, as well as the fond memories and relationships that you would have made at a more appropriate club.

Choose wisely and you will make great memories, but also lasting relationships that will become as close as family. In time, those relationships will become inseparable from the hunting experiences.

Expectations

What kind of hunting do you want to prioritize? If you are primarily a duck hunter, you will want to join a club that prioritizes duck hunting.

Narrow it further. Are you more interested in green timber hunting or hunting over fields? Both clubs are abundant in Arkansas and many constantly seek members due to attrition and turnover.

Due diligence starts at this point. Some clubs advertise openings in newspapers and local circulars. These clubs may have everything you want and you might be perfectly happy.

On the other hand, a club that advertises for members might not vet new members closely. They might need money quick to renew a lease and they'll take anybody that calls. Ask about how much turnover occurs every year. If turnover is high it usually means that the hunting is poor, that the club is poorly run or both.

Naturally, you will want to tour the hunting grounds. If it's a green timber lease, you'll want to know when the woods flood. You will also want to know how hunting pressure is regulated. If it's a small acreage with a lot of members and unregulated access, that will make for a poor hunting experience. You will quickly learn that the most established members have first choice of the best holes and that new members are treated dismissively.

If rice fields comprise the hunting grounds, you will want to know how many fields are involved and how many blinds. You will also want to know how the club regulates access to the blinds. Again, if a few members control the blinds, you might not get to hunt very much.

You will also want to know the club's policy about guests. An overly permissive policy might have the blinds full of guest hunters, which can edge new members out of the action.

The best duck hunting clubs recruit new members by invitation only. These are established clubs whose members are longtime friends. If you are invited to join one of these clubs, consider yourself lucky. The member that invites you knows your character and how you conduct yourself afield. You have already been vetted.

These clubs often have a bunkhouse and other amenities that more casual clubs lack. Those amenities are valuable bonuses, which means they are a lot more expensive than drive-in clubs. Facilities must be repaired and maintained, which might entail an assessment additional to your annual dues. Be clear about all that before you join so you don't get surprised later. It reflects badly on a member that balks at participating in shared responsibilities and a new member being hit with an unexpected expense.

Deer Clubs

Most deer hunting clubs in Arkansas lease land from corporate landowners in the Gulf Coastal Plain, the vast area that lies within Deer Management Zone 12, but deer clubs exist and thrive all over Arkansas.

The same recruitment and interview process applies for deer clubs as for duck hunting clubs. How much land does the club lease and how many members does the club have? A simple division problem will tell you how many acres there are per member.

How many stands is a member allowed to have? How much distance does the club require between stands?

What kind of habitat does the club have? A typical lease in Zone 12 will be on an industrial pine forest. Timber harvests occur in constant rotation, so large

portions of any lease will be cutovers of various ages. Young cutovers are so thick that they are unhuntable, which essentially reduces the working size of the lease. That means more hunters will potentially cluster on the huntable acreage. For this reason, ask your host if the club has a policy about helping a new member find a place to hunt.

Some clubs have designated camp areas. Others have clubhouses. You'll want to know about the camp atmosphere. Is it family-friendly or is it a party camp?

Of course, you will also want to know if the club has special regulations, such as antler length and/or width requirements for bucks.

Legacy Clubs

Some clubs offer excellent hunting for deer, waterfowl and wild turkey. Many are intensively managed for habitat, genetics and hunting pressure. Members often build houses on club grounds. Some have a full-time caretaker that plants and cultivates food plots. The clubs are renowned for the quality of their hunting.

These clubs are often cooperatives into which a member buys membership. The cost per membership is often six figures, which does not include substantial assessments and other fees. Membership in these clubs is an investment that almost always appreciates in value. Memberships are often passed down among heirs. When a membership becomes available, it usually sells quickly.

Regardless of hunting preferences or economic status, hunters in Arkansas can find a club that fits their social needs, hunting needs and budget.

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