Telltale Signs of Bad Deer Camps

Telltale Signs of Bad Deer Camps

Deer camps embody some of the best things about hunting, especially community. Some of my favorite hunting memories include my grandfather’s hunting camp, where I rabbit hunted, learned how to deer hunt, and heard my first turkey gobble. Aside from hunting and work days, members of the camp often gathered for fish fries, cookouts, and community events. Hunters killed big bucks every year, and every now and then, someone would kill a really big deer.

While no deer camp is perfect, the folks in this one unselfishly made it an enjoyable experience, and everyone benefitted. Unfortunately, some deer camps, clubs, leases, (or whatever you prefer) don’t understand this. Luckily, these camps typically have practices that should deter you from joining their ranks, if you know what to look for.

If you’ve never been a club member, these warning signs might not seem so apparent. Since you’ll be spending a significant amount on yearly dues, it’s important to understand what you’re signing up for. Whether you’re shopping around for your first club or someone has invited you to a deer lease, here are a few red flags that should inform your decision.

Quick Turnover

Invitations aren’t always a bad thing. If someone asks you to join their camp or lease, it’s probably an indication that your friend, coworker, in-law, etc., thinks you’re a good fit and hunter for their camp. Kudos to you. However, some invitations come from desperation. For example, the camp or lease is like a revolving door, and no one stays for more than a year. Sure, private hunting land isn’t cheap, and it isn’t getting any cheaper. But good hunting camps—regardless of price—don’t have issues finding members. If there’s good hunting, someone will pay.

The turnover in a hunting camp isn’t necessarily an indictment of the members, either. It could be the lease situation and location. If the camp borders other camps or hunting ground, there’s probably a ton of pressure. Also, most leased camps are owned by timber companies whose main interest is growing and selling timber—not hunting. While these timber practices can benefit the deer or turkey populations, they certainly aren’t motivated by habitat management. Some companies are more strict than others on what they allow too. For instance, some leases allow you to make some habitat alterations and plant food plots. Others do not.

No Does

This practice is probably a vestigial fear from the days of low deer numbers, but it’s still something I see from time to time. The misconception that more does equal more bucks still pervades some deer camps.

Unless you live in a deer desert, shooting does is a must if you want bigger bucks and to not exceed an area’s carrying capacity. This doesn’t mean you have to shoot your state’s bag limit, but not shooting any does is bad news. Not to mention, filling the freezer becomes exponentially harder when you take does out of the equation. Also, if you have kids that hunt, do you really want to tell them they’re only allowed to shoot legal bucks? What if you’re in a one-buck state? It’s not exactly the best bang for your buck.

While this red flag isn’t a norm, it’s still alive and well. If you’re considering a camp that has a no-doe policy, it’s probably a sign that they have other misinformed practices as well.

Locked or Reserved Stands

In high school, I dated a girl who came from a family of hunters. Her dad and brother were members of a camp near their house. While I never got an official invite, they gauged my interest on the prospect of joining this camp. It was a modest-sized camp, but the proximity and price made it intriguing. However, the only kicker was that every member was only allowed two stands that had to be placed before the season. Established members were granted the “best” spots, while new members were dealt the leftovers. Suddenly, the cheap yearly dues made sense.

I’ve seen it spun in other ways, too. I once got an invite to a buddy’s camp where some of the shooting houses had literal locks on them. This is a prime example of greed and selfishness. He had no idea until after he joined the camp that members were allowed to put locks on shooting houses that they placed. I’m not talking about a ladder or hang-on treestands that someone hung in a spot that they scouted. These were camp shooting houses overlooking food plots. You could spot these from a distance because you’d notice a swanky shooting house with a ground blind or ladder stand right next to it. The epitome of petty.

It’s no coincidence that these locked stands appeared in places where mature bucks were killed or showed up on camera. This hardly means such folks locked up the best spots. After all, they’re either chasing dead bucks or ones that showed up during the witching hour. Still, it’s more of an indication that certain members see these spots as exclusive. And those can be tricky waters to navigate.

Pinned Spots Only

While not all clubs are like this, some are very particular about where you can actually hunt. For instance, some places only allow you to hunt designated stand locations. To be fair, sometimes this comes down to a safety issue and preventing others from walking through your spot (though this will still happen). However, if you’re in a 3,000-acre deer camp and you can only hunt spots with actual stands or food plots, you’re just overpaying for limited access.

After a week of the general gun season, deer activity will drop drastically, especially on food plots or historical stand locations. If you’re not allowed to get mobile and adjust your setup, even a hundred yards, you’re basically hoping to get lucky. For this reason, it’s a good idea to ask if mobile hunting is allowed. If there’s even a hesitation, or it’s allowed but frowned upon, you might want to consider another club.

Final Thoughts

Never assume anything, especially when it comes to hunting. It’s always best to ask as many questions as possible so you’ll know what to expect. These are just a few red flags (there are plenty more) that should sway you from having a bad experience. Hopefully, you’ll find a club or camp that’s worth the dues for years to come.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article