By Tony J. Peterson
Q: My hunting partner and I really want to expand our horizons and do a DIY out-of-state bowhunt for whitetails. The problem is, we don't know if we can afford any of the hunts we actually want to do. What is the best way to have a great hunt without going broke? Seth O., via e-mail
A: This is a question I hear from a lot of bowhunters, and it's usually accompanied by some self-defeating statement like, "Hunting is becoming a rich man's sport." The reality is, there are a lot of low-cost opportunities out there if you're willing to work and to manage your expectations.
There are two things you need to do if you really want to start hunting out of state. First, set a budget, and second, decide what your expectations are for this hunt. Define what would make this a good trip for you. Too many hunters think that it takes a big, dead buck to make a good hunt.
If that's the case, you might be better off staying home. But, if you want to learn some new ground, have a good hunting experience outside of your comfort zone, and have a decent chance to fill a tag, then you can definitely have a good hunt.
As far as a budget, here's the thing: There are great opportunities out there that won't break the bank. The biggest expense will be your nonresident license. This is going to run you anywhere from about $200 to nearly $600. Just throwing a $10 bill into a piggybank each week for a year will get you the license.
The next biggest expense will be fuel, followed by food. You mentioned you have a hunting partner, which means fuel and food costs can be split down the middle. A couple tanks of gas can get you quite a ways down the road, and as Curt Wells likes to say, "You have to eat whether you're on the road or at home, so food cost doesn't count."
Where you'll stay is another factor. If you can camp, then do so, especially on early season hunts. It's always cheaper than a motel, and most of the time you can camp where you're hunting, which is a big advantage. So far, you might be into your actual hunt costs for $500 to $750 apiece — maybe a little more depending on where you plan to travel. That's pretty cheap in my book.
Now, I noticed in your inquiry that you mentioned that you can't "afford the hunts you really want to do." I'm just guessing here, but I assume you are alluding to a trip to one of the premier states like Iowa or Kansas. I'd never discourage anyone from hunting either state, or any other top destination, but don't forget that there are cheaper states with excellent hunting opportunities.
I've done DIY whitetail hunts in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and a few other states, and I've had great hunts in each. Some produced Iowa-quality bucks at a fraction of the cost, and all were on public land, which means I didn't have to pay for access to property.
Certainly, your cheapest route is to hunt on land you already own — public land. However, if you've got a connection to some private ground, then by all means hunt there. If not, don't fret. With the right amount of research, you can find a spot to have a great hunt. Better yet, if you plan it out correctly and manage your costs, you'll find that great hunts are truly affordable. In fact, my favorite hunt from this past season was in South Dakota on public Walk-In land with a few of my buddies. The entire hunt cost me less than my taxidermy bill, which is always a good problem to have.