Written By: Mckinley Downing from Outdoor Empire.
Money isn’t everything. But its importance shouldn’t be overstated especially when it comes to affording good-quality equipment, travel, and property for hunting. Budgeting is simply taking the amount of money you have and using it as wisely as possible.
Hunting doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, in some cases, you can borrow a rifle to shoot a deer from your back porch for $.80 and a cheap round of $.30-.60 costs.
If you have dreams of a rocky mountain elk hunt, a new bow, or just a few days off to hunt the rut in your back 40, having a written, well-planned budget is going to help out in getting the best hunt possible.
The Real Cost of Days Off
This is the most expensive part of a typical hunting season.
Not because you don’t get paid for the day off, everyone has a different situation there. In fact, everyone only gets a few precious days per year and hunting season falls just in time to compete with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Damn.
The key here is to communicate with your family and friends exactly when and where you’re expected to make an appearance. You’ll find that many of the best hunting times, you’re going to be needed. Well, too bad.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t care, but the rut only peaks once a year!
It’s been a huge help in the past years to get a calendar and write on each day when you’re going to have to entertain family and what religious or charitable commitments you should have.
Then fill in the days when you’re going to hunt and place the calendar somewhere you and your spouse or family can see it.
Use your days off wisely but try not to step on anyone’s toes or waste any vacation time. Especially because you’ll start to see that the cost of equipment pales in comparison to the cost of taking days off can be.
Try not to take unpaid days for hunting, use your vacation days. That way, even if you saw nothing and had a miserable time, at least you got paid for it!
Tags & Licenses
This is the most significant fixed cost you’ll encounter. Everyone needs them, and everyone pretty much pays the same price.
Sometimes, you can avoid paying because some states offer programs not to charge deployed military members, disabled veterans, and hunting on family owned property. Even some species like hogs don’t require licenses in some states.
Look for ways to reduce the prices of tags and licenses by:
⦁ renewing early
⦁ only buy what you know you’ll use
⦁ buying online
On western hunts, shop around! You’d be shocked by the price differences between states for a big game like elk. Popular states like Colorado charge double compared to sleeper states like Idaho and Utah.
As far as budgeting goes, licenses are the easiest part because of the fixed price. Use this to your advantage by reserving the money early because you already know the exact cost. Unlike fuel, land taxes or taxidermy fees.
Traveling to hunt isn’t just going across the country to a western bear hunt. You need to plan for the costs of fuel and oil to go to and from your hunting location; not just your truck, but also your ATVs if you use them.
If you hunt just six times per year, for all seasons, and travel an hour one way to your lease, you’ll likely end up spending up to $200 per year in gas just to get there and back. The solution is to carpool!
Whether you’re driving, flying in, or taking a train to your hunting location, if you have enough cargo space, you can carpool on your weekend deer hunts and cross-country pursuits.
The further you go, the better this tactic works. Not only do you save money, but you can also travel much faster by sleeping and driving in shifts.
Make sure to stay away from restaurants, hotels, and food from gas stations because it wastes money and valuable time. Either drive in shifts or plan your itinerary around camping at campgrounds close to the interstate. It's cheaper, faster, and there’s nowhere to really waste money.
Budgeting for gear is simple. Buy the best you can afford with the money left after the costs of travel, time off work, and licenses.
This is one of the fun parts of hunting, but there’s still planning. Remember, 80% of your budget is going to be spent on the gear you’ll use 20% of the time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend some money on a good rifle, bow, or tree stand because those are the critical pieces of kit.
In reality, you’ll spend just as much on rain gear, layers, packs, boots, and all the little stuff that make the hunt more enjoyable and easier than you will on essential equipment. What you don’t want is to spend too much on gear and then be forced to skimp on travel or time off.
It can be tough to strike that balance of good-quality equipment that lasts and the cheap bargain basement kit that is sold at discount shops.
When it comes to disposable items like hand warmers, fuel canisters, and camouflage duct tape, buy the cheapest you can find that gets the job done. As long as it serves its purpose, don’t sweat on the brand.
For critical pieces of gear like weapons, stands, and vehicles, remember: if you’re on a budget, you can’t afford to buy it twice.
Allow Wiggle Room
Maybe gas will go up. Maybe the cost of corn will go up. Maybe you won’t get paid for that extra vacation day.
Set aside 10% or so of the entire budget to save just in case. That can cover emergencies that may happen while on the field, or it can be the starting point for next season’s budget.
Have a Wish List
When you plan your budget, make sure you have an “on deck” or “wish” list should you have a bit of extra cash or a gift you want to take advantage of.
That could mean new gear, more cash on hand for a long-distance trip or more money for range trips.
Factor in Range Costs
Unless you’re shooting from your back porch, you’re going to spend considerable amounts of money for range use -- range fees, gas, time, and of course ammo.
If your range offers punch cards, memberships or group rate, they’re never a bad idea. Same with bulk ammunition for training purposes.
Use coupons, loyalty cards, and rewards points. Try squeezing out every dollar that you can. It may only amount to $50 saved per year, but that can be gas money or an extra range trip.
Use a Warranty
Don’t just sit idly when your gear fails. Make sure to use a warranty or replacement policy. You can’t afford to replace equipment if it fails prematurely. Take advantage of every warranty or replacement policy that you can, just get some risk protection.