Traveling hunts aren’t cheap, but they don’t need to be expensive either. If you intend on taking an out-of-state hunting trip this spring or next fall, now is the time to start planning. A guided sheep hunt might be financially out of the question for many of us, but a quality DIY deer or turkey hunt probably isn’t. Many decent western hunts can be inexpensive, especially if you plan to hunt public land. While over-the-road hunts tend to carry the stigma of being costly, that’s not always the case. There are plenty of affordable opportunities that can be made even more financially palatable with the right planning.
What You Can’t Control
Licenses are typically the biggest up-front cost for nonresidents. There’s no way around this expense, but look at it this way: you’re paying for an experience you can’t get at home. That’s not worth $300 to some (or sometimes triple that price). If it is, and you have the desire to cross state lines to hunt, expect to pay at least 5 to 20 times what you would for tags at home.
While the sticker shock is tough to swallow, it’s not going to change. It’s also not ever going to get less expensive. The price tag on your deer or elk tag today will look like a bargain in 5 years. Count on it. Consider non-resident license fees the hard cost of experiencing new adventures.
What You Can Control
Here is how you can directly influence the cost of a trip: start with meals. I’ve got a buddy who doesn’t like to count food in the overall cost of a trip, because as he says, “You’ve got to eat anyway.” He’s not wrong. It’s not like you’d be fasting for 96 hours in a row if you stayed home instead of traveling to Montana to bow hunt mule deer.
It’s a given that you’re going to eat, but don’t take that as a hall pass to blow up the calorie budget. Colorado outdoor writer and public land bowhunter Jace Bauserman says that adopting a strategy to avoid towns on your hunts can help with food costs.
“Prepare all of your meals and snacks ahead of time,” Bauserman said. “This helps you avoid the inclination to head to the nearest town to grab lunch or swing through every evening to eat dinner at the local café.”
One trip into town for a burger isn’t a big deal, but doing it every day adds up in both food and fuel costs. This past fall I prepped and pre-cooked all of my food before my Indiana whitetail trip. I basically ate leftovers the whole time, but that’s fine. I was there to hunt, not eat fancy food.
Besides meals, lodging can really tack on the Benjamins if you’re not careful. Even the cheapest motels run about $60 a night, sometimes more. Camping is a much better option, but as Bauserman cautions, not all sites are as good of a deal as they might seem.
“The cost of tent and RV camping sites has skyrocketed in recent years. Sure, you might get a picnic table and a fire pit for $20 per day fees, but you can also often do some research and find areas to camp for free.”
Generally, when camping for free, you sacrifice some amenities. However, you could temporarily live on the same ground that you’re hunting. This is something I aim for on all of my DIY trips because it allows for more efficient hunting while keeping the fuel bill in check.
If you can walk from your tent to your stand or glassing knob, you can travel with fewer vehicles. This means that if you and a buddy or 2 want to take 1 truck and split fuel costs, it’s logistically feasible. With this setup, 1 or 2 hunters can operate right out of camp while the other hunter takes the truck down the road to another spot to spread out the pressure.
With this strategy, you don’t have to worry about picking up your hunting partner at a certain time or having to hustle to a spot to get picked up by them. This might not seem like a big deal while planning for a hunt, but if you’re sitting on a bedded mule deer for hours in a spot with no cell reception, it is. It can be a game-changer to walk out of camp and only be responsible for yourself throughout an entire day.
This strategy might not be worth it with low fuel prices and a relatively short, round-trip commitment. If gas prices start to creep up and your destination is 4 states away, it can make a difference for everyone in your hunting party.
New Gear Trap
Taking the plunge on a non-resident license is often the catalyst for hunting gear purchases. For certain hunts, like a whitetail hunter’s 1st foray into the mountains for the western game, some equipment is necessary. You might also find that you just want to buy stuff for a hunt that you don’t really need.
Be honest about the gear you already own that can work on your destination hunt, versus the stuff that will likely make the experience much better. This might be something as important as buying a lightweight treestand for a traveling whitetail hunt. Or it might just be a subscription to a mapping system so you don’t get lost or accidentally wander onto off-limits ground.
A whitetail hunter from Pennsylvania will certainly need more gear than a mule deer hunter from Washington if both are planning a trip to Alaska. Some purchases will absolutely enhance your trip, while others won’t.
This ties into proper gear planning. Not planning for game care or some other obvious hole in the packing plan will result in an on-the-fly purchase somewhere. Make a list of the gear you need to bring and cover all aspects of the hunt from camping to butchering, then pack accordingly.
The more meticulous you are at this, the more you’ll enjoy your hunt. You’ll spend less dough on random incidentals, and the more of these financial wins you stack up, the easier it will be to enjoy an affordable adventure.
Run the numbers. Plan meticulously. But most importantly, take the trip now before it really gets too expensive. Being a teacher, I don’t exactly make a ton of money, so it is important that I budget for things. Traveling to hunt is 1 of my favorite things to do, and it is totally possible for me to take 3 to 4 trips a year, as long as I keep them cheap. If you are someone who wants to start hunting places other than W. Va., I encourage you to do so. You certainly do not need to break the bank to do it. o