Deer camps are great fun. That is, at least until all the work starts.

Even then, sweat equity ought to be considered an investment in the value of the property, if not a major component of enhancing the quality of the annual hunting experience.

As hunters know, this time of year means deer hunting season is drawing ever closer: It's deer camp prep time.

Getting deer camps properly prepped for the hunting season is, in large measure, a matter of attitude. The more positive the attitude, then, the better the results and the accompanying pride of accomplishment.

Well-run deer camps recognize that annual property preparation is essential. That translates into thinking about and planning for deer-camp projects that have to be completed well before hunters gather in camp for the ritual of deer hunting.


Deer-camp prep scenario

What I suspect is a fairly common example of a private deer camp in Mississippi is Spring Lake Farms in Holmes County. The property along the banks of the famed Big Black River includes roughly 680 acres of varied white-tailed deer habitats.

Ownership is comprised of six individuals living from Holly Springs to Houston and all points in between. This group has owned, worked and hunted this property for over 20 years.

Four of the owners are active deer hunters. One is the widow of a past hunter, but does not hunt herself. The out-of-state owner rarely hunts the place, and as a result does not actively contribute to the maintenance work. There are a few older, dependent children and special guests who participate in the annual camp work days to earn the privilege to occupy a hunting stand.

About this time of year the "corporation" holds an required annual meeting and planning session. It is the prelude to fleshing out what needs to be done to the place to get it ready for the coming hunting season.

Most of the hunters have not set foot on the place to any great extent since the close of the last deer hunting day back in January.

Preliminary dates for an annual work day, which usually turn into two to three or more before hunting starts, will be discussed.

"A lot can happen to a property over the summer," said one owner, Gary Adams. "Wind storms blow through, downing trees that block roads and trails. Hunting stands turn over, bend and break. Spring floods scatters debris over the camp-yard area, floats off stacked firewood and covers everything in river silt. All the food plots turn to head-high weed patches, and the camp area grass grows over a foot tall.

"There is plenty of pre-season prep work for everybody."

During the annual camp meeting, individuals or owners are paired up to take on the responsibilities of regular yearly maintenance projects. Somebody will handle the annual property mowing, while another person will take charge of the food plots. One more will be assigned to check on and evaluate hunting stands. Yet another might be asked to assess security needs by putting up more posted signs, checking gates, locks and perimeter fences.

On top of those tasks, every owner with a cabin on the property knows all too well that maintenance will be required there, as well. If nothing is broken or out of order, then a good cleaning will certainly be in need.

These jobs are also required in addition to every hunter getting their own personal equipment and gear in ship shape ready for deer hunting season.


Drive-by assessments

"Before the camp meeting, any number of Spring Lake Farm owners will drive through the property checking on the status of the place," Adams said. "Through a series of phone calls and or emails, the active owners get a sense of what condition the property is in."

"I may drive up to Ole Miss and stop to drive around the place just to note anything needing attention. This year we were surprised to discover that Tropical Storm Lee did damage across the property, so we had to factor that in on top of regular work projects."

Several more detailed property inspections will be made ahead of the scheduled work day to get exact reports on camp maintenance, needed repairs, along with lists of supplies, tools and equipment recommendations.

This time, owners will take ATVs out to ride every road, trail, food plot and hunting stand location. Sometimes photos are taken of damages or something that needs major repairs.

It is important to get these firsthand property assessments. All this is reported back to the total ownership to assist with fall planning efforts.


Work project priorities

"We know first off that the property is going to have to be mowed," said another Spring Lake Farms owner. "We hire a local farmer/deer-camp food-plot contractor to do our work. In the long run it works out cheaper than owning big-time equipment like a tractor and the required implements needed to do food plots. Our guy mows around the front gate entry area, and then he cuts every road, trail and food plot. We try to bush hog our plots two to three weeks before discing and planting time.

"This allows the weed plants to die off before food plot dirt work commences."

And then it's time to make sure everyone understands their responsibilities.

"When job assignments are given out, everybody knows who is in charge of doing what work," he said. "Owners that cannot attend the annual work day are still required to accomplish their jobs before hunting starts.

"They may solicit others to help them out, but it is still their work project."

Either as the food plots are drying out in prep for discing and seeding, or about the same time planting is taking place, the camp will hold a weekend work day. It usually starts on a Friday afternoon and continues on Saturday, depending on the intensity of the work needed.

Some years more work days are required than others, especially if chain saw work is needed in removing downed trees from storms or clearing limb-choked ATV trails.

High on the priority list is detail inspections of every hunting stand, including shooting houses, tripods and an assortment of ladder stands, climbers and lock-on stands.

Houses are approached carefully because they are havens for wasp nests and spiders. If present, these pests are sprayed, and then workers move on for a while. Tripod stands are checked for safe conditions. The 360-degree spin seats are oiled, frame nuts and bolts are tightened and ground anchors checked.

"Every tripod stand cage is wrapped in new material, as needed," Dulaney said. "Due to costs, inexpensive camo burlap is used, but unfortunately between weather, rain and wind they only last one season. A worker has to climb into each stand with a bag of pull ties, wrap the material over the cage bars and secure it with the ties. This takes quite a while per stand.

"There are seven tripod stands on this hunting land needing attention each year. Some years maybe one or more of the tripod stands are moved to new hunting areas to reduce deer patterning the hunters."

Then back to the four shooting houses. Each one is inspected, trash removed, swept out, floor carpet shaken out and - if needed - new window material is stapled up. Metal seats are cleaned and oiled. Tin roofs are checked and nailed back down as necessary. Weeds are cleared out from around the entry stairs, and step nails are hammered down again.

Other miscellaneous stands are looked at, too. Ratchet lock-down straps are inspected and lubed. Frayed straps are replaced. If a ladder grip bar has grown into a tree, the stand is moved around the tree or relocated to a new tree. Assembly sections are tightened. Vines and other plant growth are removed from the ladders.

Attention is also given to the shared camp area. This includes the skinning rack with its electric hoists and the covered shooting-range bench. Weeds around both are trimmed down, including the range target and bullet backstop.

Hoist motors are given a run check, as are the overhead flood lights. Skinning tools are oiled up, and the scale is checked. The ATV skidder gut bucket also is readied.

At this point, the remaining jobs are relatively minor but necessary.

The campfire ring is cleaned out. Firewood is re-stacked after floods, and new logs may be cut to add to the pile. Campfire chairs are cleaned and circled to be ready for serious deer-season discussions and debates.

New DMAP sign-in sheets are placed in binders, with jawbone tags and ties, and put in the "community" map box, along with a fresh hunter and guest sign-in book.

All of these projects might take a really full day or several. In between camp work sessions, individual owners work on their cabins, too.

One owner found busted water pipes left over from the previous season. Ladybug infestations are cleaned out. Linens are packed for a trip home to the washing machine. Any old food and canned goods are tossed from the refrigerator, freezer and cabinets. Lists are made of needed supplies for the coming hunting season.

In time, the whole cabin will eventually be cleaned - well sort of. After all this is deer camp.

Every deer hunter has to admit that prepping a deer camp for the coming hunting season is a necessary evil. It is work that simply has to be done.

With proper planning, shared assignments and execution, even this aspect of deer hunting can be as rewarding as bringing to camp the next big buck.

It's all part of the process.