By Grace Smith
||Using their expertise, Leo Allen and Johnny Lanier meet every day to ensure every guest is given the best possible hunting experience. Their desire to accommodate guests’ every need has undoubtedly contributed to the success of Bent Creek Lodge.
Alabama may have just said goodbye to the 2007-2008 deer season, but turkey season is right around the corner and it’s never too early for deer hunters to start thinking about the upcoming hunting season. If you’re looking for one of the nation’s finest hunting experiences that is right in your backyard, then consider Bent Creek Lodge in West Alabama.
Located in Jachin, this 34,000-acre hunting camp boasts some of the nation’s most outstanding whitetail deer and eastern turkey. While Bent Creek Lodge has seen much success since its establishment in 1982, the owners amusingly recalled their initial ideas to develop such an operation.
"In the early 80s my father had a feed mill and farmers used to come and buy corn," co-owner Leo Allen said. "We’d get to talking about deer hunting and they’d say, ‘Why don’t I give you $100 dollars and you take me hunting?’"
So, that got him thinking about the possibility of starting a hunting camp. Shortly after, he made a visit to a friend, Johnny Lanier, about leasing some of his property for this undertaking. But Lanier wasn’t just interested in leasing property; instead he wanted to join with Allen in developing the camp.
"We started with two small camp houses," Allen said. "Then we built the lodge in 1985 and our daddies thought we were crazy."
Their fathers may have been skeptical, but Allen and Lanier have proven their dream was far from crazy.
"I was just hoping we’d make enough to pay the expenses of the lodge," Lanier said. "After we got started, it got a little bigger every year."
The comfortably-equipped lodge has been expanded to 6,000 square feet and can accommodate up to 34 guests. But Allen and Lanier prefer to keep the number to about 20-25. This allows the owners and employees to best serve their guests.
While visitors aren’t hunting, the lodge offers several entertainment venues like a sunroom with a pool table and card table, a living area with television and VCR, and chairs and sofas comfortably arranged around a fireplace, perfect for sharing the day’s hunting stories.
Hunting can work up a monstrous appetite for any outdoorsman, so the lodge provides its guests with three delicious, plantation-style meals each day.
The lodge and its amenities are enough to draw anyone to the hunting camp. But if that’s not enough, the wildlife surrounding Bent Creek Lodge provides hunters the opportunity to harvest some of America’s most superior deer and turkey.
Whether you prefer a gun or bow, Bent Creek Lodge can accommodate your ideal hunt. With over 200 green fields averaging two and a half to three acres, over 600 acres have been planted this year. Allen said they purchased all their seed at Choctaw Farmers Co-op and he added despite the drought, their fields look as good as they ever have.
Experienced guides provide guests with transportation to and from the field. Using their knowledge of the land along with a consideration of weather and wind, guides are able to provide guests the best hunt possible. After making that "big kill," guides will also weigh and dress all game taken in the camp. The lodge offers walk-in coolers to store dressed game until guests leave.
While Bent Creek Lodge has seen great success with deer and turkey hunts, Allen and Lanier have added quail hunts for visitors who prefer wing shooting.
"I used to quail hunt when I was in high school, but then it kind of went out," Lanier said. "[Years later] Leo and I went quail hunting and enjoyed it. We just figured it would be something else we could offer the customers."
Allen and Lanier’s desire to accommodate guests’ every need has undoubtedly contributed to the success of Bent Creek Lodge.
"Our biggest challenge is satisfying our customers so they’ll come back," Lanier said.
Allen said over the years, they’ve had guests from all over the world and numerous celebrities visit the camp like professional athletes Will Clark, Chipper Jones and Jim Kelly. But Allen said it is important to treat each guest as hospitably as the next.
"We have had several celebrities come by, but we treat everyone the same," Allen said. "We’re laid back guys and we just treat people like we would want to be treated."
Serving on the Choctaw Farmers Co-op Board of Directors, Allen and Lanier use the service and management skills they’ve developed at Bent Creek to better serve members of their Co-op.
Choctaw Farmers Co-op manager Ronnie Gibson, a friend of Allen and a childhood friend and classmate of Lanier, appreciates their work both as successful business owners and as directors of the Board.
"[Johnny and Leo] run a class-act operation," Gibson said. "They have management practices many clubs don’t enforce. It’s good to have them on my Board of Directors as well because Johnny is a cattle owner and Leo has owned cattle, so they can identify with the needs of farmers and ranchers around here."
Gibson worked at Bent Creek Lodge as a guide for six years after retiring from the Department of Defense as a facilities engineer and before coming to work for the Co-op. As an employee, Gibson was able to experience the quality of service at Bent Creek Lodge first hand.
Grace Smith, associate editor AFC Cooperative Farming News.