Santa Cruz Island Hunt Club

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Danny Castagnola, Captain Chet Phelps, and Carey Stanton's assistant, Marla Daily on the Pier at Prisoners' Harbor, Santa Cruz Island, early 1980s
Archery guide Thom Yaras, Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island Hunt Club (1966-1985) operated as a partnership between Carey Stanton, president of the Santa Cruz Island Company, and partners Richard Lagomarsino and Bill Huffman from 1966 through 1985. The business was based in Ventura, California and operated for almost twenty years. The Club's business office was located at 2538 East Main Street in Ventura, California.

The Club began as a sheep and pig hunting enterprise with both a rifle season and an archery season, and in 1981 expanded to include summer recreational visits. Both feral pigs and sheep were hunted by both rifle and bow and arrow. Camps were separated with rifle hunters operating out of Christy Ranch on the island's west end, and archery hunters operating out of a rustic camp at Prisoners' Harbor. Occasionally hunters would come for quail and dove.

Its first month of operation in January 1966, a total of 64 hunters participated. For one flat fee, customers were transported to the island by plane (Christy Ranch) or boat (Prisoners' Harbor). Guides, meals, lodging, island transportation, trophy and meat animals and their cleaning and dressing were included in one price. In 1966 a two-day hunt cost $100. This included two trophy animals and one lamb.

Some twenty years later, the Club hunts cost had increased to $600/person. The Santa Cruz Island Company received 25% of the gross receipts. In 1966 this totaled $12,396. By its last year of operation, the Club was netting the Santa Cruz Island Company about $150,000 a year in income. The Santa Cruz Island Club ceased operating at the end of December 1985. Plagued by insurance problems and by The Nature Conservancy's desire to eliminate the feral sheep, the Club closed its doors after twenty years of successful operation. The following year, Channel Islands Adventures ran a similar operation for a brief time.

Santa Cruz Island Company revenue [25%] from the Santa Cruz Island Hunt Club:

1966 = $12,396
1967 = $27,752
1968 = $27,078
1969 = $29,089
1970 = $26,711
1971 = $29,562
1972 = $17,548 [drought — no fall season]
1973 = $31,860
1974 = $27,604
1975 = $32,057
1976 = $35,835
1977 = $46,911
1978 = $53,987
1979 = $76,829
1980 = $79,822
1981 = $112,410
1982 = $115,665
1983 = $133,027
1984 = $149,230
1985 = $148,996

TOTAL $1,214,369

Santa Cruz Island guides,
Monty Gratiot and Dennis Benadum

GUIDES: Santa Cruz Island Hunt Club guides ran the daily on-island operations with hunters and guests. Throughout twenty years of operation, dozens guides and employees worked on Santa Cruz Island, including:

  • Pete Bellow
  • Dennis Benadum (1946-2001)
  • Mike Benadum (d. 2006? in Thailand)
  • Earl Bennett (one of the first guides)
  • Johnny Bridgewater (d. )
  • Steve Brown (b. 1947) [1975-1979]
  • Tony Brown (b. 1950) [1974-]
  • Danny Brucker (b. 1947) 340-5547
  • Don Capelli (Nevada trapper)
  • Steve Chicato [Idaho]
  • Paul Dargetz (Buttonwillow)
  • Bobby Dearmore
  • Eric Dobbs
  • Randy Ehorn (d. )
  • Chris Ford
  • Mark Garza
  • Curtis Gay
  • David Gold
  • Monty Gratiot (1947-2007)
  • Jim Greyson (from Buttonwillow)
  • David Griggs (b. 1956)
  • Jack Gruell (one of the first guides)
  • John Hager
  • Ted Hastings
  • Gary Holcum
  • Bob Hubina (b. 1946) (Simi Valley) pre-1973 rifle
  • Lemoyne Jensen
  • John Jones
  • Tim Kelly
  • Billy Kelty (heavy equipment operator)
  • Frank Maribal (Paso Robles)
  • Dave Mills (b. 1962)
  • Dennis Mulgrew
  • Willie Norlan (1948-2006)
  • Irene Osterman
  • Frank Otis
  • Jaret Owens (b. 1949)
  • Ken Owens (Jaret's 2nd cousin)
  • Russ Owens (Jaret's 2nd cousin)
  • Dave Parks (Thousand Oaks)
  • John Petit (Texas)
  • Otto Reynolds (1934-2006)
  • Gordon Ridge (1936-1966) [killed in the March 8, 1966 Christy Ranch plane accident on Santa Cruz Island]
  • Danny Rodney [Pasadena]
  • Ted Shatt ( -1966) [killed in March 8, 1966 Christy Ranch plane accident on Santa Cruz Island]
  • Tom Thomason [Ventura] father died of heart attack on island on guide's day. pre 1973 maybe 1969-70-71
  • Mike Vaughan [Ojai]
  • Donny Weatherford
  • Vern Wetherford
  • Thom Yaras * (b. 1950)
  • Bob Young

Apache Indian


  • Rick Berg
  • Len Daniello
  • Brian Kranz
  • JoAnn Malac
  • Susan Manchester
  • Robert "Rambo" Martin
  • Louie Martinez
  • Dave Mills
  • John Morgando
  • Thomas Nathanson
  • Duane Owens (Jaret Owen's father)
  • Doris Owens (Jaret Owen's mother)
  • Lisa Rice
  • Paul Starboard
  • Bob Young [sheriff]
  • Dick Van Antwerp

In the News~

August 22, 1968 [LAT]: “Hunting Dates. Officials of hunting facilities at Catalina and Santa Cruz islands have set their dates for the 1968-69 seasons. Bill Huffman of the Santa Cruz Island Club said that island will have a split season for boar and sheep, Nov. 2-Dec. 15 and Jan. 4-March 30. Huffman said hunters will be allowed to hunt quail during the first half of the season at no extra charge. He said reservations for the first part of the season are already full and weekends in the second half are almost filled. Doug Bombard announced the following dates for seasons at Catalina: Archery (goat and boar)—Oct. 5-6 and 12-13; Dec. 7-29; March 8-May 25. Rifle (goat and boar)—Jan. 4-Feb. 23. Shotgun (quail)—Nov. 2-Dec. 1.”

November 17, 1985 [LAT]: “Twelve Los Angeles hunters were home safe, sound and dry, Monday after stormy three-day ordeal during which they were: Stranded overnight by rain and mud on Santa Cruz Island and forced to hike 12 miles; pounded in rough water 17 miles south of Santa Barbara when a fuel line on their cabin cruiser ruptured; rescued by a Japanese freighter after the Coast Guardsmen said they were so busy with other sea rescues they could not respond in time. When the party finally arrived Tuesday morning in Long Beach Harbor aboard the freighter Tamon Maru they were still cold and soaked to the skin. But none was ill or seriously injured. Their haul for the three day hunt: nothing. The rain forced them to leave an estimated 300 dead sheep and boar somewhere on Santa Cruz. Several men even lost expensive rifles. "After the first night we were completely soaked and we stayed soaked," said Don N. Yates Jr., 32, after taking a hot shower at home. "I'm just happy to get myself and my rifles back." Yates, a space systems engineer who lives at 6607 Lederer Ave., Canoga Park, said the trip was organized by the Southern California Executive Shooting Club. It was his first trip with the club and the first time he had met some of the other hunters. As far as he knew, the party included: Bob Gibbons, owner of a Honda motorcycle agency in Van Nuys; Howard R. Vermillion, operator of a pack station in Wyoming, presently living in Los Angeles; Nelson French, carpenter and friend of Gibbons who lives somewhere in the San Fernando Valley; Nat Prescott, a test engineer who lives in Palos Verdes; Geroge Kaeding of Hawthorne, Robert K. McNichol of Torrance, and Inglewood, all co-workers of Yates at TRW Space Technology Laboratory in Redondo Beach; and George Bock, Jr., Claude Coats, Jerome Hallalan and Arthur D. Blatt, all of Los Angeles or elsewhere in the southland. According to Yates, the hunters originally planned to return Sunday night. They flew to the island that Saturday morning from Oxnard Airport. After landing on the island, they were met by its owner, Carey Stanton, who drove them by jeep to a remote mountain top, 2,200 feet above sea level, at the other end of the island. He was supposed to pick them up Sunday morning. Unfortunately, Saturday night it rained. "We weren't prepared for any wet weather because we were told to travel light," said Yates. They spent a second night in the rain, eating sheep and boar. Monday, realizing rescue was not at hand, the men hiked 12 miles back to Dr. Stanton's home and phoned for a boat. About 8 p.m. it arrived, the Verna F from Santa Barbara, owned by Kenneth O. Lamb. The men boarded the 56-foot cabin cruiser and it took off for Port Hueneme in rough seas. "All but four of us were seasick from stem to stern," recalled Yates. Suddenly a fuel line ruptured, flooding the bilge with 700 gallons of gasoline. A May Day call was broadcast to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard replied it was on another rescue mission and couldn't be there until 2 a.m. Gibbons, said Yates, started sending SOS signals with his flashlight. Dim as they were, they were spotted by the Japanese freighter. An hour and a half later they were aboard and headed for Long Beach. The Coast Guard finally towed the Verna F with Lamb aboard to Port Hueneme.”

December 11, 1985 [William E. Huffman, President, Santa Cruz Island Club]: “The Santa Cruz Island Club is very sorry to report we are experiencing some severe problems with our liability insurance requirements which have temporarily, and may permanently force us to halt operations. After all these years it is heartbreaking to run into a problem that seems to defy solution. We're not alone, as a number of you fellows have described your personal horror stories about liability insurance. Many sound businesses are foundering and their good employees forced into unemployment. It doesn't seem fair.

If indeed we are not able to restart, we will be planning to return all deposits in an orderly fashion. The S. C. I. Club, Inc. has adequate assets to cover all deposits but not enough cash at this moment to return everyone's deposit immediately. It is necessary that all cancelled hunts receive equal treatment. A comprehensive list of those who have made deposits is being drawn up. All deposits should be returned to those who made them. Our records only show last names in some cases. If necessary would you please provide full names and addresses.

In the event we are unable to resume, and all hunts have to be cancelled we want to have everyone notified and the comprehensive list of depositors drawn upon as soon as possible.

So that all deposits can be paid soon, we have begun to look towards the liquidation of assets. One such sale has been set in motion and should be completed in the near future.

In addition, I want you to know that all salaries have been cancelled so we are interested in a quick wrap-up if no solution to the insurance problem emerges.

It's been a wonderful twenty years. For our side we've tried to run a first class operation and give value received. I know you fellows must have many fond memories too. Who knows, maybe we can save it yet. We are talking to a group who hopes to take over our operation. This is a possibility. The hunts taking place later this season may yet go as scheduled so you may wish to credit your deposit to a hunt then. I hope we can count on your patience and cooperation.”