Terry Knight's Outdoor Column

The answer is simple. There are less hunting opportunities. For example; the state's deer herd is estimated at 800,000 animals but last year, hunters only killed 18,700 deer. The success rate was approximately a little more than 10 percent. Compare that with states like Michigan and Wisconsin where hunters took more than 100,000 deer and enjoyed a success rate of nearly 50 percent.

Publics lands are where most of the state's hunters congregate and as everyone knows hunting can be mighty slim on public land. You can hunt all weekend in the Mendocino National Forest or on Cow Mountain and you're lucky to see five deer, and that's five deer of any sex. If you spot a legal buck, it's a day to remember.

If you want to hunt on a private ranch where your chances increase by tenfold then forget it. Very few ranchers will give you permission to hunt and most of the private deer clubs don't take new members.

The result is that more and more California hunters are switching to either guided hunts or are joining one of the big hunting organizations like Wilderness Unlimited.

Wilderness Unlimited offers excellent deer, bear, pig, upland game, waterfowl and fishing opportunities on their properties.

To join a club like Wilderness Unlimited, prospective members pay an initiation fee plus an annual fee. The club offers several types of memberships that vary from fishing only, upland game hunting, big game hunting, general membership and family and corporate memberships. A basic membership includes the husband, wife and all dependents. That means you don't pay extra for your kids to hunt.

The cost for a membership is very reasonable. In fact, it's less than a guided hunt or joining a private duck club. For this fee you get year around access to some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities the state has to offer.

The way Wilderness Unlimited operates is that they lease ranches throughout the state. The members are then allowed on the ranches to hunt or fish. Each ranch has a daily quota of hunters allowed to hunt.

That way the ranches aren't over hunted.

The club also sets a kill quota on each ranch. When that number of deer or pigs are reached, that ranch is closed for hunting for that year. For example, say the ranch quota is 15 bucks. When that number of bucks are killed then the ranch is closed for deer hunting for that season. However, the ranch will stay open for pig and quail hunting.

The advantage of joining this type of a club is that you're hunting and camping behind locked gates. It's the ideal arrangement for the hunter who wants to take his family with him. Not only is your equipment safe, you don't have to worry about some bozo coming into your camp while you're off hunting and bothering your family.

W/U, as the club is known, is the largest hunting club in the West, It has properties leased in both Northern and Southern California plus Oregon. W/U has 80 separate pieces of property in California that comprise more than 300,000 acres of hunting and fishing properties. These properties range from duck, goose, dove and pheasant hunting in the Sacramento Valley to deer, bear and pig hunting ranches in both ends of the state. For example W/U has 22 ranches that are in the deer A zone alone, including several in Mendocino and Napa counties. A membership in W/U allows you to hunt on all of it's properties.

One of the strong points of W/U is its outstanding waterfowl properties They range from goose fields in the Sacramento Valley to flooded rice fields in the Butte Sink where blinds and decoys are furnished.

If you're a fisherman then W/U has excellent fishing opportunities. One of the best is the Bidwell Ranch in Shasta County. The ranch has both trout and bass ponds. The trout are huge with 3 to 5 pounders being common.

W/U President Rick Copeland says that his organization is geared towards the family. According to Copeland, many of the ranches have a resident caretaker and all have patrolmen. If you get stuck in the back country or get sick, then help is always nearby. This is especially helpful for families.

I had the opportunity to visit one of W/U's deer ranches in nearby Potter Valley over the weekend. This is a 1,200 acre ranch and the daily hunter quota is six hunters. On Saturday alone, I spotted three legal bucks and about 25 does. That's more than I have seen on Cow Mountain in the past five years.

More Information about Wilderness Unlimited is available by calling 510-785-4868 or visit their web site at www. wildernessunlimited.com. You can email them at huntfishcamp@earthlink.net.