Creating a Hunting Club: The Rules, Pressure and Ghost Bucks


Editor’s note: This is the seventh installment to a 12-part, comprehensive series about building a hunting club with buddies from nearly the ground up. Author Thomas Allen will share what he learns as he learns it. His hope is that anyone who reads this series can learn from his successes and failures, and apply them to a one-day fruitful hunting club. Click here for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth installments.


When my friend James Hall and I started this club, our intentions were great and expectations minimal. But as the Alabama season has continued, we’ve learned a great deal about club dynamics — managing the hunting as well as the deer.

From the get-go, we wanted minimal rules that restrict hunting and access. When you combine different personalities, from different walks in life and different levels of hunting experience, you may end up with very different perspectives about how the club should be run.

We also wanted to keep things laid-back, and initially didn’t appoint formal leadership. But now as a full season is nearly behind us, we’ve realized that specifically identified leadership is a must, especially if a member has a concern that needs to be discussed.

Having a club president is critical to overcoming issues that are likely to arise. We started off keeping things informal, but as the season went on, we encountered numerous situations where club leadership was necessary. James (above left) is the original founder of our club, and he has the best personality to deal with issues as they arise.

Very simply, a club president needs to be available to deal with issues as they arise. Take it from us: If you’re undergoing a similar club-establishment process, then appoint a president and club manager. You’ll be better off in the long run with leadership in place. Learn from our mistakes!

Between James any myself, this club was initially his idea, and he located the lease. Plus, the lease officially sits with his signature on it. Due to his naturally friendly, humble nature, he wasn’t interested in the title of president. However, after discovering the critical need for one person at the helm, and some encouragement from myself and a few other members, he cautiously accepted the position of club prez.

He’ll do a fantastic job, there’s no doubt in my mind. (He already has.)

The Rules

Another hard lesson we’ve learned is about the kind of rules we should have had in place from the very beginning. To be honest, what I’m about to explain to you are issues that occurred as the season progressed. Unfortunately, I assumed from the beginning these weren’t going to be issues we’d have to address. But you know what they say about assuming.

My Wildgame Innovations trail cams not only help me keep tabs on the local deer populations, but the can also alert me to situations that need discussing. Here, one of our members drove his ATV passed this camera numerous times — a practice I encourage all new clubs to limit. Human presence is human presence, and this sort of thing could have lasting impacts on everyone’s hunting.

Again, learn from our mistakes, and if you want the deer on your property to move as naturally as possible, with as little unnecessary pressure as possible, add these few items to your club bylaws.

  • Make sure your membership is always signing in and out. I even overlooked this a time or two.
  • Make sure your membership keeps up with the hunter logbook, which records what spots have been hunted, how often, when and what kinds of sightings were experienced.
  • Create designated parking areas and limit ATV usage to deer retrieval only. If a member wants to use his ATV as other members normally use a pickup, that’s fine. But we had to speak to a member about running an ATV through the woods to access hunting spots that were situated inside the timber.
  • No stalk hunting. This kind of activity acutely educates the deer, and will make hunting more difficult for the entire membership. You just can’t employ this tactic on a small piece of land shared by a group of hunters. It doesn’t work.

Don’t avoid having these conversations with your membership, and do so as respectfully as you can. If you’re rude about it, you’ll likely lose the member, and potentially a friend. Oftentimes there is no way to avoid these situations, but it is best for the club to address each issue directly.

Share Information

We talked about hunting pressure in the last installment, but since then I’ve learned how serious an issue hunting pressure is on our property. Hunting pressure is a fact of life when it comes to hunting clubs, but you can do a few things to help minimize it.

As I mentioned above, establish formal parking areas so the membership isn’t driving too far into the property’s interior.

Here’s a big one: As you have breakthroughs and discover favorable wind directions based on the deer’s habitual access points, share that info with other members. If they are hunting spots with the wrong wind, they’re doing nothing but educating the deer. And that results in poor hunting down the road.

As an example, I’d been hunting a particular field with a northerly wind, and literally didn’t see anything for three sits. I had all but written off the spot, but the Wildgame Innovations cameras were telling a different story. There were deer, and some good bucks, visiting the field on a regular basis.

I found a major travel corridor along the road, and hung another camera up over a scrape. I started getting pics of the same bucks that would eventually end up in that field I was hunting. I looked at the aerial map and basically drew a straight line from that spot along the road, to the field.

This photo visually indicates how I learned which wind to hunt Field No. 3. The yellow circle by the road is where I have a camera situated over a scrape (see the next photo); they were crossing the road in the evenings and heading to the north from that spot to feed on the Winter Grass Plus that was growing on Field 3. The green line indicates the travel direction and route they would take to access the field. A north wind was cutting them off before they even got there. We started hunting it with a southerly wind and deer sightings went up substantially.

The light bulb went off. A northerly wind was blowing my scent right in their face as they approached that field. So, I switched it up and started to hunt that field with a southern wind, and began seeing deer, one of which my son shot. See the hunt at the bottom of this article.

Share that critical info with the membership so they too can make informed decisions about hunting particular spots with minimal impact.

This trail cam pic shows the time (still on daylight savings time, so it’s an hour later than reality) and direction of travel of the bucks as they were headed to Field 3. This was critical information in learning when and when to hunt based on the conditions.
Here is the final picture of Pretty Boy as he was feasting on Winter Grass Plus just moments before my son put a 243 Win. round through his heart at 124 yards. This buck was a product of thorough scouting efforts and hunting certain spots only when conditions were perfect. See the video below.

To help minimize pressure, I’ve accepted a few invites to hunt with friends on their properties. I still get to hunt, but not at the expense of added pressure on our club. Here’s a video I shot near Christmas while hunting with a buddy an hour up the road.

By accepting those invites, you’re keeping the club property as fresh as possible, and still scratching your itch to hunt.

Ghost Bucks

At the time of this writing, deer season is almost over, and we’ve compiled approximately 120 sits across the entire season and membership. Yet, we’ve not encountered one mature buck — mature meaning 4 years or older. In fact, trail cam pics have really dried up when it comes to big, mature animals.

This buck was deemed a shooter earlier in the season when we got our first picture of him. I’d guess he’s likely a 3-year-old, but could be 4. Regardless, we don’t need a buck like this breeding a bunch of does. We never got a daylight picture of him, and this is the last photo we have of him. His vanishing act says 4-year-old to me. Hope we get a shot at him early next year. He’s cool for sure.

I know that successfully hunting a mature whitetail is one of the ultimate hunting accomplishments out there, but this game in Alabama has been especially tough. And this frustrates me.

I have one quick video of “Frank the Tank” as he walked through the trail camera frame, as if to only torture me. This was my No. 1 hit list buck, but I didn’t see him once while hunting. At least I know he’s still alive . . .

One of our primary shooters we named Sledge has all but disappeared. I’m not sure if he relocated because of the pressure, or maybe he got shot on a neighboring property. But one thing is for sure: He’s basically vanished.

This buck was one of my favorites on the property. Sledge made his rounds appearing in front of virtually every camera on the place. He was a roamer, and a buck that carried a lot of character. This picture is the last evidence of his existence I received. Did he cross the property boundary and get shot by the neighbor? Did he relocate? Find better food elsewhere? All are possibilities, but with an abrupt departure like that, I’m guessing he took a bullet on the neighboring property. Once the season ends, I’ll set up some mineral sites and hopefully build a post-season inventory, and I’d love it if Sledge shows himself.

I felt like Sledge was mature, and in my experience 4-year-olds tend to turn into ghosts and eventually make a grand reappearance after the season has ended, (of course.) At this point, I’m betting he got shot. And we may never know. Ghost bucks are a part of the game.

Don’t get too emotionally attached to a particular buck, or you’ll lose sleep just like I have.

More Success

I just mentioned a field that I had been hunting wrong, and then discovered the right wind. Well, my son, Tommy, and I were able to make good on a hunt, and he killed his buck for the season on that very field.

Tommy hunted extremely hard this year, putting in more than 20 days on stand with me. A couple great friends of mine also invited him to hunt their properties, and we eagerly accepted the invites. We just couldn’t make it happen, but Tommy stayed tough.

I know killing a deer on the property you’ve worked hard to build and maintain is the ultimate goal. But if the opportunity arises, don’t be above hunting somewhere else occasionally. Sometimes getting out somewhere else will reduce pressure at your home property, and that might make the hunting better later in the season.

Finally, optimal conditions were in the forecast, and after a morning of rain and warmer temps, the wind was supposed to stay southeast, which was absolutely perfect for a spot at our club. The skies cleared, and I knew the stars were aligned to have the deer pound a BioLogic Winter Grass Plus field just before shooting light ended.

I called Tommy’s school, and managed to get him out an hour early so we could make it to the woods on time. (Just give me the trophy right now for Father of the Year.)

I’ve had a blessed season no matter how you look at it. Tommy shooting a severely broken-up Pretty Boy capped off an awesome season for our family. He worked very hard, and earned an opportunity at this buck. We were both pretty excited as the hunt unfolded. Be sure to watch the video to experience it with us.

We had an amazing hunt that I promise neither of us will ever forget. Watch the entire video below, I think you’ll love it, too!

Even in the midst of our mature-buck struggles, we managed to get on a very nice buck. Very proud of that kid!

After a long tough season, the author’s son put a perfect shot on a fine Alabama buck. On video, to boot! The hunting pressure at the club has stacked up and reduced deer sightings, but by faithfully playing the wind and standing on the most recent information provided by the Wildgame Innovations trail cameras, the duo finally won the whitetail chess match.
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