There are very few fixed costs in hunting, making it a pursuit that is possible to undertake at a very low cost. The perception can be that it is a very high cost activity. One may think they need to have a rifle, with all kinds of specialized clothing and gear as well as the ability to charter a flight out to some exotic locale or use some type of motorized transport. The reality is quite different and after a few baseline purchases, hunting can cost the same or just slightly more than if you were to go for a walk in the woods.
Like most pursuits, the average hunter does not need the latest and greatest gear and clothing. For most people, this will not make you a better hunter. Although you may look cool, it is not the most efficient way to increase your actual hunting ability. For that you need time at the shooting range and in the field. All that’s really necessary is a gun, some game bags, a knife and a way to sharpen it, a pair of binoculars and a pack. That’s it. This can all be had for under $700, with the bulk of the cost being the rifle, pack and binoculars. All of which can last your lifetime with appropriate care and maintenance. Take some neutral colored outdoor clothes from your current wardrobe and you are off to the races.
Other fixed costs are licenses and any harvest tags or permits that you need for individual animals. This will vary within each state. Alaska is very favorable to resident hunters and I buy my annual fishing and hunting license for $69. Almost all of the permits and harvest tickets for big game species are free. There are some drawing hunts within the state that can be applied for and had for $5 per entry.
The variable costs after this point are your consumables, cost of gas in getting where you need to go and cost of ammunition used. If you do find yourself having success, the latter isn’t usually much, amounting to just a few dollars at most. The former is dependent on where you are going, it’s proximity to your home and how you choose to go about getting there.
Hunting can be a very expensive affair if you choose to hunt in locations far from home, off the road system, after very sought after, rare species and with expensive gear. Or hunting can be something that fits into your web of goals where you source your food while achieving other goals. For example, a few years ago I killed a moose. I went with friends/acquaintances who provided a ride to the area where we were hunting. We were out for a weekend and two nights were spent post hunt processing the meat from my moose and that of someone else’s. In return, I took home about ~140 lbs of meat. I calculated the cost out to be roughly $0.75/lb. Most of my expenses were in the form of building social capital/goodwill. I provided a good portion of the alcohol for both during and after the hunt.
It can be cost efficient even on solo hunts. Last November, Alana and I went up the Steese Highway northeast of Fairbanks to look for caribou. We were lucky and returned home with 2 and about 150 lbs or so of meat. Our immediate costs were bullets (4) and cost of gas (~$25). Including the cost of depreciation for wear and tear of the vehicle for 180 miles or so of travel and an amortization of the license, total costs come out to around $129. Still under $1/lb for high quality meat.
It doesn’t always work out well though and not all hunting trips are as lucky. This past August, I was lucky on my first hunt of the season. Taking home a caribou. I then went out for caribou two other times and moose three other times. I hunted 15 days in total and was unsuccessful in all but one of them. These trips I still incurred travel costs, ultimately increasing the end cost of anything I’m able to take home.
Other times it can be more for a unique experience, like when I went on Dave’s bison hunt. I returned with about 110 lbs of meat. I had much higher costs due to flying out to Montana, but nonetheless even with my increased costs, the meat ending up costing me around $8 per pound. Still much better than what can be found at your local butcher or grocer.
There are also costs on the home front, including space needed to store meat and preserve it. Space is not an issue in Alaska, so that is not personally figured into my costs. I also benefit from a lengthy winter season, minimizing the time I need to run a freezer. An additional freezer would certainly increase costs but chest freezers can be found inexpensively on Craigslist. The freezers can not only be used for storing meat, but also stocking up on any produce sales at your local grocer. My 3 freezers currently are powered by solar power during the summer months and are unplugged during the winter months, leading to almost no ongoing costs.
I don’t like factoring in opportunity cost of labor because most activities I participate in outside of paid work would not be replaced with paid work if I ceased to do them. This includes hunting.
Of course I benefit economically speaking from being able to hunt the largest mammal in North America. A whitetail deer is a fraction of the size (yielding 70-100 lbs of meat vs 500 lb for moose), but they are more prevalent. I haven’t calculated the expense of someone hunting based out of a city. The transportation involved may not make it worthwhile. Then again, if you had 2 to 3 friends to carpool with, you could get multiple deer and still make it a worthwhile experience economically speaking.
Hunting is much more than just a way to source meat economically, but it is a nice bonus. It is worth remembering that for thousands of years, people hunted successfully without any of the high end equipment that is supposedly necessary nowadays.