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Hunting club investments stimulate state economy

Readers of the Mississippi Business Journal will recognize the name Joe Jones as the humble publisher of this newspaper.
What most readers probably don’t know about Joe is that he is an avid outdoorsman. Actually, that is a gross understatement.

Apart from flying his desk at the MBJ, Joe likes to get his hands dirty. In fact, he likes to get really dirty taking over many of the back-breaking tasks of building a new hunting club in Simpson County.

That thought alone makes one break out in cold chills. I know because I’m in a 12-year, never-ending loop partnering in the same type of venture in Holmes County. To create a new hunting club has to be a labor of love because little else can justify it.

The bottom line for those that tackle the adventure will always be the haunting question: “What value can be placed on a private recreational sanctuary?”
I doubt there is any.

Joe has graciously allowed us to pry into his personal business in creating a hunting club out of watermelon field dust to illustrate an important aspect of personal recreational development in Mississippi. Joe would quickly admit to the two most prominent factors to success in these endeavors: hard work and money.

Be careful in the asking

One of the very first Mississippi colloquialisms that I can remember hearing is the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.” Probably nearly every hunter that gets a burr under his saddle to start a private hunting club has come to admit this before the venture even gets off the ground. Creating a new hunting club from scratch based on memberships is problematic at best, and sheer hell at worst. Eventually both phases will be experienced.

The Big Woods Hunting Club land is owned by the Steen family of Pinola. It takes in more than 5,100 acres. Joe’s friend, Buddy Steen was not satisfied with the existing lease membership of Louisiana hunters and wanted a change. “Buddy called me the last of May, 2003, and wanted me to take over the club. I told him no, but he was persuasive and I eventually agreed,” says Joe.

I distinctly remember a call to my house one evening with Joe posing all sorts of questions about the potential success of taking on such a mission. After questioning Joe’s mental state, I knew he was already too far down the road to turn back. It’s like trying to admit you don’t really need a new truck just after test driving one. It eats at you until you cave in.

Finance strategy

Joe agreed to lease the land and set about working to build a new hunting club. That much acreage is a lot to manage for wildlife, because obviously paying members usually don’t come to watch the flowers grow.

The property itself only had a marginal history of producing deer, but the turkey population seemed stable and attractive. Joe joined in the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) coordinated by the MDWF&P. This gained access to a wildlife biologist for firsthand knowledge and guidance.

Joe was also fortunate big time to have family nearby in the farming business. “They do all the food plot farming, the heavy lifting and keep an eye on the place year-round,” Joe said.

Unless you have ever tried to make arrangements to get wildlife plots planted, one cannot imagine the value of having family close by willing to tackle this job.

Joe continued, “After all the number crunching, I knew we would have to generate around $60,000 a year to cover all the costs. The leased land goes for $6 an acre, plus we needed money to pay for a portion of the new clubhouse being built by the owner for our use.” Big Woods Hunting Club had to attract a well-heeled membership clientele. Joe figured on $45,000 from deer hunters and $15,000 from turkey hunters to finance the gig.

Recruitment marketing

Joe’s plan called for “few members and high dues.” The initial membership offering called for finding 20 deer hunting members willing to pay $2,200 each or $44,000 dollars. Then the balance would be collected from a minimum number of turkey hunters.

That fee structure is fair for an annual hunting club membership with a track record for producing some good bucks and long-bearded gobblers. However, Big Woods out of the chute was somewhat of an unknown quantity for most hunters willing to cough up club dues that expensive.

After some marketing attempts to promote memberships, Big Woods has already had to re-evaluate the situation. “I now think we will be forced to expand the deer hunters to 30 at $1,500 each,” Joe said. That was last year. This year the membership for deer hunting is down to $1,000. Ironically enough with Mississippi being such a huge state for deer hunting, the turkey memberships sold out fast and remain sold. Big Woods needs deer hunters.

“We had a pretty good deer season last year. We harvested 18 deer including four bucks. One of the bucks was mounting class animal aged at 6 1/2 years old according to the DMAP biologist,” Joe reported.

This definitely shows potential, and as I have found on my own place on the Big Black River, adhering to the rigors of the DMAP program will definitely enhance the resident deer herd over time. In five to seven years, Big Woods will be seeing some big bucks.

That will certainly make retaining memberships easier as time goes on.

Planning for purpose

Joe has personally sunk thousands of start-up dollars in this hunting club venture, but I suspect he will recover his investment over time and reap all the enjoyment benefits along the way.

“Why do I do it? I enjoy the outdoors a lot. I could never afford to buy a large tract of land like Big Woods, but I have access to it year-around at a modest cost. I enjoy every aspect of being in the outdoors, the hunting, planting, putting up stands and just hanging out. My wife enjoys going with me and that makes things work out very well,” says Joe wearing a big grin.

Now, there you have it. Try to put a cash value on that!
I do not know how many hunting clubs there are in Mississippi spending like dollars in the economy for recreational purposes. I do know, for example, that there are 696 cooperators in the state DMAP program covering some 1.8 million acres, and all are deer hunting clubs. If they only averaged spending $50,000 a year on expenses and services to maintain the clubs, that would be nearly $35 million just for DMAP clubs. Not a bad influx of revenue for the state based just on deer hunting clubs like Big Woods.

If membership in Big Woods sounds of interest, give Joe a call at (601) 364-1010 for his sales pitch. Have your checkbook ready, he is very persuasive, and this place is worth the ground floor offering.

John J. Woods of Clinton is an award-winning outdoor freelance journalist. His column appears monthly in the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at johnjwoods@hotmail.com.

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