Last week we discussed the best states to hunt on a budget. Though location is important, it is just a small piece of the budget of a hunting experience. When taking a budget friendly “destination” hunting trip, there are a lot of other factors to consider, such as food, shelter and equipment. It is entirely possible to take a week-long hunting trip to a new place for less than $500 total trip price, as long as you are not afraid to “rough it” for a few days.
This past spring, my buddy Brandon Martin and I hopped into my truck and drove 13 hours southwest to an area of Tennessee that neither of us had ever been to.
We spent 8 days chasing turkeys all over the southern portion of the state and came home filling multiple tags. We each spent under $450 for the trip in total including, food, shelter, gas and tags. We were able to do this by carefully planning each step a few months in advance and made sure to keep each other in check so that we would stay well under budget.
On this trip there was never any talk of staying in a hotel or cabin. We knew in order to keep the trip cheap, we would have to camp. Brandon was able to borrow a tent from his soon to be father-in-law, and I spent a few hours researching and calling different campgrounds in order to get the cheapest rate that still provided water and electric hookups (We especially needed electric so that we could charge our phones at night, because we needed the GPS units since we were in a new location, and had no idea where to go without it).
Our camping area was $17 a night, which is a small fraction of the cost a hotel or cabin would’ve been. In 2019, we hunted in an area of northeastern Tennessee, where we were able to truck camp for free on national forest. I slept in the bed of the truck, while Brandon slept laid back in the front seat. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it was really cheap and gave us the opportunity to hunt. I definitely recommend sleeping in a tent over truck camping, if there is more than 1 person involved.
When camping on a trip like this, it is important to have your gear dialed in so that you stay as comfortable as possible. If you are tent camping, it is important to have a cot or comfortable sleeping pad. It is also important to have a sleeping bag that is rated for cold weather. On our 2020 trip, we experienced temperatures at night from 22 degrees all the way up to 45. Being able to stay warm at night is extremely important. If not, you simply will not get good sleep, which will affect your entire hunt.
When on a trip that you don’t have access to a washer or dryer, it is important to have clothes that dry quickly. There are a lot of companies out there that make good technical apparel for relatively cheap.
I also try to pack a few different “sets” of clothing, because the last thing you want to do is put wet clothes on in the morning. I also like to bring multiple pairs of boots. I always bring a pair of rubber boots for wet days and a pair of hiking boots for dry days. I have found hiking boots to be much more comfortable than conventional “hunting” boots. Also, bring multiple pairs of quality socks. Keeping your feet comfortable is 1 of the most important things you can do for your body on a serious hunting trip.
When packing gear, it is pretty typical to pack everything in hard plastic totes, but for me, I try to keep everything in soft, malleable bags, which can be mushed down in order to save space. I drive a pretty small truck, so it is important to maximize the amount of gear I have by saving as much space as possible.
Staying cheap with food can be a little tricky, because it takes a little extra effort to do this. Going to a restaurant and eating a meal after a long day of hunting is much easier than making something on your own, but if you are truly on a budget, it is important to consider what you are going to eat. On my “destination” trips, I try to cook 1 meal a day and get the rest of my calories from energy bars and peanut butter.
Before each trip, I try to stock up on trail mix and Cliff bars, then make “ration bags” for each day.
In each bag, I’ll include 2 energy bars, a bag of trail mix, a small bag of almonds and 2 small containers of peanut butter. By doing this, I save a ton of money and time when I am on the actual trip. It is so easy to throw a premade ration bag in my pack instead of having to get everything together in the morning.
I try to cook a decent sized meal every day, typically around lunchtime instead of dinner (I have found that it is easier to go on a big hike in the morning with a semi empty stomach, so I try to stay away from big dinners when hunting). I preplan each meal in advance and take the necessities in a cooler. I make everything on a propane powered camping stove, which I keep in my truck.
This past spring, Brandon and I did not make a single meal at camp. Instead, we made our food on the tailgate between hunts. Simple yet hearty meals like tacos, pork chops and chicken breast, with a side of instant mashed potatoes, are easily made on a camp stove and provide ample fuel to get you through the rest of the day. The key is to plan in advance and have everything ready to go before the trip.
When going on a “budget” hunt, the most important thing that you can do is simply accept the fact that it is going to be difficult. Aside from sleeping in a tent or only eating 1 hot meal a day, the hunting will most likely be tough. The sooner you accept the fact that you will have to put in a tremendous amount of work, the sooner you will start to enjoy yourself. On a “budget” trip, the best thing that a person can have is a good attitude and an acceptance for discomfort. This past spring, Brandon and I averaged 8.7 miles of walking each day.
We dealt with rain, wind and lots of hunting pressure, but we each filled tags. Last fall, I spent 5 days hunting through blizzard-like conditions on a public land archery hunt in Indiana, where I killed a great public land buck on the next to last day in minus-7 degree weather. Going into a “budget” hunt and accepting the fact that you are going to have to deal with discomfort will absolutely make or break the experience.
Go Do It
There is a lot of planning and prep that goes into taking a tip on a budget. From dialing in food and gear systems, to calling wildlife biologists to figure out where to spend time in each state. As a whole, it would be much easier to throw down a bunch of money and go on a hunt where someone does the work for you, but that is simply not an option for most people.
If you really love to hunt, and want to experience the wild places outside of W. Va., I encourage you to throw in with a buddy and plan a trip for a place that you have never been to. Some of my fondest memories have come from trips such as these.
My friends and I have experienced some pretty miserable times, but the discomfort just adds to the story in the future. There is a lot of success to be had for cheap, as long as you put the forethought into planning. o