“Hunting is an expensive hobby.” I hear it all the time. Mostly from family members trying to steer my financial decisions away from bankruptcy. Hunting doesn’t have to be expensive. Over the past few years I’ve made some blunders but also found ways to stretch my dollar across several western states and species. You can beg and borrow on your way to affordable success. While you may not look like a Sitka model in the woods, the experience will be what you remember.
Beg and Borrow
On every hunt an unexpected expense will threaten to spoil your plans. Don’t exhaust your budget prior to the season. You may have buddies that have chased elk in the past or know of guys that no longer use their backcountry set up. Relatives with camping gear might be willing to lend you a stove or a tent for the week. And, friends that love summer backpacking, often don’t do as much in the fall.
My sister’s father-in-law had an extra bugle tube that I borrowed during my first season. And, last week a fellow dog trainer offered to lend me his lightweight tent for my upcoming hunt. Even small pieces of gear start to add up.
If all else fails, rent from a local shop or your college outdoor rec program. Get creative; you never know who will help you out.
Boots and Clothing
In 2017 I made the mistake of investing in my elk hunt before I knew what to expect. I bought $450 Scarpas and hardly wore them during the season. I had spent the summer running in trail runners and realized they were faster, quieter and more breathable than my boots.
For guides and hunters that will spend 100+ days a year in the field, expensive boots and packs make sense. For the average outdoorsman with a week or two, they’re a bit excessive. A decent pair of hiking boots will save your ankles on pack outs and rain days, but most of the time running shoes will do the job.
While specialized gear has its benefits, the budget hunter likely already owns most of the necessities. I have a $200 pair of Sitka pants but have shot my last two bulls in $12 cotton gym shorts. On September hunts early season whitetail or earth-tone hiking apparel will work fine.
Optics and Packs
Prior to my second season I bought a $1,400 spotting scope; it was two years before I put it to use. Most podcasts recommend buying the best optics you can afford. Before dropping a grand make sure you’re headed for open country where glass is essential.
A high-end pack can cost more than a low-end motorcycle. Search for used hunting or backpacking options before buying new. Companies like Gregory, Osprey and Mammot offer some really good products at an affordable price.
I believe in owning a decent pack that fits well. Toting out my first two bulls with a cheap climbing rig left my back feeling like I’d wrecked my low-end motorcycle. I switched to a backpacking set up and haven’t had issues with my last three elk. Don’t worry about color. When strapping antlers to your pack you’ll be glad it’s not buckskin.
Check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Good Will. My brother bought a pack at Salvation Army for $20 a few seasons back that is still running strong.
Hunters killed elk in the nineties while wearing faded blue jeans and Chicago Bulls windbreakers. Spend less time at work and more time working out. It will have a bigger impact on how your body feels than a slightly nicer pair of boots.
At times western hunting becomes a game of finding where you can avoid spending money. Saving a few hundred bucks may allow you to spend a few extra days in the woods. And a few extra days could make the difference.