Having written the Mississippi Hunting Camps column in this magazine and its predecessor for many years and having authored a book on Mississippi hunting camps, I regularly get calls and questions about those camps.

Undoubtedly, the question I'm most often asked is, "What camp do you recommend for me to belong?" That's nearly as serious as asking someone, "Who's the mate you think I should marry?" Some hardcore hunters might even say it's more important!

Since this question has come up so many times, rather than feature a specific camp this month, I want to give you some things to consider as well as some questions for you to ask yourself, which I hope will lead you to a self-discovery of which camp is right for you.

Just as it is in choosing your mate, choices come in all makes and models, so you need to narrow the field down somewhat in the beginning by eliminating those choices that just aren't reasonable options for you.

For instance, if you make about $20,000 a year, you probably need to eliminate camps whose dues are more than you make in a year. Also, if you live in Gulfport and have very limited time off working Monday through Friday, you probably can immediately eliminate any camps north of Hattiesburg or those more than an hour or two away from home.

Basically, camps come in two variations: stock ownership and lease modes. So if you are able to fork over some sizable upfront cash, you might want to consider a camp in which you buy shares. It's the same thing as buying your house instead of renting it. Hopefully, through the years the camp's holdings will appreciate allowing you to sell your shares someday or pass them on to your heirs.

If you can't or don't want to make that much of an upfront investment, then you need to look for a camp that only charges annual dues. You'll also need to set a limit on how much dues you can afford or are willing to pay each year.

You'll also need to factor in the cost of housing at your prospective camp. Do you have to buy/bring in a cabin/trailer? Or do they have a common bunkhouse? Or is the camp near enough to your home, you'll just commute back and forth each day? What about meals? Does the camp have a common kitchen where someone cooks breakfast or night meals? If so, what is your cost for that benefit?

Most camps have a distinct personality to them, formed by the collective membership. So what about the "atmosphere" at the camp? Perhaps you're a teetotaler and there are nightly drinking parties around the campfire. How will you handle that?

Also, do you have minor children who want to hunt with you? What is the cost for that and for their meals? What if you want to bring a friend or relative to share a hunt at your new camp? What are the rules at this camp about visitors?

Most are pretty strict, and rightfully so since the current members paid their dues, planted the fields, hung the stands, etc. So they aren't usually real keen on an outsider coming in and taking game that they hoped to harvest.

Speaking about the game on the land: Are you looking for a place to land a trophy buck or just a good place to get meat for your kitchen? Do you primarily like to duck hunt, deer hunt, squirrel hunt, rabbit hunt, fish, etc.?

How important is the fellowship element of a camp? To some, it's the main reason they belong to a specific camp; to others, they couldn't care less, as long as other folks treat them OK or just leave them alone.

There are also ethnic and gender issues to consider. What if you're black and there are no other blacks in this camp? Or what about your being the first female in an all-male camp? I know plenty of men would like to be the first male in an all-female camp!

Do you already know anyone in the camp? What's your relationship like with them? Most camp members will tell you they belong to their particular camp because of the people who belong there. Ultimately, it's a matter of friends, food, family, faith and fellowship as to why we do what we do and where we do it.

What about a camp where dues have to be paid by Jan. 1 and your annual bonus is paid to you in June and with six kids, you're usually overdrawn on your checking account after Christmas?

Other questions you might ask your possible camp:

1. How many years has the camp been in existence?

2. How many acres do they have? Owned? Leased?

3. How many members do they have?

4. How is the camp governed?

5. Who is the camp contact person?

6. If you're primarily a deer hunter, ask: Do you still hunt, run dogs or both? What type of stands does the camp provide, if any? Can members erect their own private stands? How many and where, and can other members hunt them? How do they draw for stands? What is the camp's average harvest for bucks/does? What are the minimums and the penalties for not meeting those minimums? What's the best buck ever taken here? Who cooks/cleans/plants plots/erects stands, etc.? When are workdays/cookouts/annual meetings? What types of terrain does the camp hunt? Who's the oldest/youngest members? What about vehicles in the woods and when? What unusual about this camp? Ask members why they belong here.

7. Do you primarily rifle, shotgun or bow hunt?

8. Has there ever been a hunting- or stand-related accident here? If so, what?

9. Finally you might ask this two-part question. What's the best thing about this camp? What's the worst?

I'm sure many of you can think of other points that should have been included here. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive form, but merely a tool to get someone to thinking and asking the right questions. Only then can someone have a reasonably good chance of knowing: "What's the right camp for me?"

For autographed copies of Mississippi Hunting Camps ($81) or Tales of Old Rocky Hill ($18), mail check/money order to: Bill R. Lea, P. O. Box 321023, Jackson, MS 39232

To schedule a visit to your camp, call 601-502-4720 or email billrlea@yahoo.com.