During the past few months, many of the organized hunting clubs that lease Mississippi bottomland along the lower Mississippi River have been in something of a turmoil.

I won't try to go into detail, but the situation seems to have stemmed from a decision by the old-line timberland owner Soterra, Inc., to sell all of its bottomland hardwood forest to the huge and well-known Anderson-Tully firm (which might possibly be the largest hardwood timberland owner in the country).

A great many clubs are on the land owned by Soterra (formerly known as Grief Bros. Lumber Co.). Members of those clubs have found themselves left with no place to hunt unless they make some sort of lease with the new owner or purchase some of the land from the new owner.

It is well-known that Soterra had leased hunting rights to clubs along the river at very low rates, often only requiring the clubs to pay the taxes on the land each year. You can see this was quite a bargain.

During the last few years, most of the other timberland owners raised their lease fees considerably. The rates have reached the point at which many club members simply can not come up with enough disposable money to pay the fees. Apparently Anderson-Tully, like most of the other landowners, has raised its per-acre fees to the point that many members cannot pay them.

In an effort to help resolve the problem, some of the clubs are making outright purchase deals with the timber company, but this, too, takes lots of money and leaves quite a few would-be members out in the cold. What the final solution will be is not at all clear to me, but I feel pretty certain that those left-out members are going to find that hunting on publicly owned land might be their only option.

All of this is quite amazing to me and a few other Old Timers who had either bought or leased such lands for unbelievably low figures. One such club that has existed since 1949 purchased 5,000 acres of riverfront woodland for as low as $8 an acre and became sole owners of the land, including all timber and mineral rights for as long as they own the property. This same land today is classified as being worth as much as $1,200 an acre (believe it or not, some groups are purchasing such lands for this figure).

The only real bright spot in this business is that residents of the state of Mississippi have many thousands of acres of publicly owned woodland that supplies superb hunting. Unlike many other states, most of the management areas are open to anybody. You're not even required to sign in and out of the property.

In the upper Delta, one of the best and most famous of these management areas is the Malmaison Management Area near Greenwood and Grenada, Miss. Its 9,500 acres provide superb duck hunting in flooded timber and croplands. It is, in fact, one of the best areas in Mississippi for waterfowling. It also has a fine deer herd and lots of turkeys, squirrels and most other game (with the exception of quail). Even rabbit hunting is good on this land. A hunter who has been accustomed to hunting private club land might be very pleased at what he can find there.

Many other fine management areas offer good hunting, including O'Keefe near Lambert, Miss., Sardis Game Management Area near Oxford, Miss., Matthews Brake, Sunflower Waterfowl Area, Morgan Brake and Panther Swamp NWR, all just south of Greenwood near Yazoo City, Miss.

Also offering excellent hunting for all species is the huge Delta National Forest near Yazoo City and Rolling Fork, Miss. Many of my friends have told me of taking season limits on both deer and turkey in this unique forest.

South of Jackson, Miss., and just above the Gulf Coast, the huge DeSoto National Forest offers fine hunting.

In fact, there is not a spot in the state of Mississippi that isn't two hours or less away from hunting as good as or maybe even better than what you'd find on some private clubs. All is not lost, even though it is tough to lose the use of fine old spots that you have hunted for many, many years.