While we all wish we did, most of us don’t have unlimited budgets for hunting! Whether you’re a new hunter or been doing it for years, it’s always nice to get new gear…but we also want to save some money when shopping. But with so many new products, gadgets, and technology, it’s hard to figure out where to splurge and where to save.
First and foremost, look for sales and clearance items; when new gear comes out, last years’ may be on sale. Hunting gear is no different than electronics, mattresses, appliances or anything else when shopping. Compare prices, look at multiple retailers and sites, check warranties, and consider shipping costs. Many retailers offer free site-to-store shipping or free shipping with a purchase of a certain amount.
There are a lot of ways to not go broke buying hunting gear, but I have included my top 4 tips below:
1) Hunting License and Tags
I can’t speak for every state, but I know both Idaho and Kentucky offer a sportsman’s package which includes your tags and license as a package deal, and the price is much cheaper than purchasing individually.
If you want to hunt out of state, do your research to find the least expensive non-resident tags and options where you don’t have to pay up front for a license. In Idaho, you have to pay upfront for a license in order to enter a control hunt drawing, and if you're not drawn, you don't get a refund for your license. In Wyoming you can get a doe/fawn antelope tag for $50, and that cost includes your tag and license. You are allowed two tags (it’s a lottery drawing) so apply for both to make it worth the trip.
Remember to factor in your travel cost when making plans. Road trips might take longer, but you can share the cost with a hunting partner, and avoid the costs for extra luggage and bringing home meat.
2) Public vs. Private Land
Depending on what state you hunt in, the availability of public land can be very different. Most states have designated wildlife management areas that are owned and maintained by the fish and wildlife department. If buying a farm to hunt on or leasing land isn’t an option for your budget, explore the public land. Yes, it can get crowded, but consider trying to hunt during the week instead of the weekends if your schedule allows or walk deeper into the area—most people will stay within close proximity to the road.
Work on finding private landowners that will allow you to hunt, and if you can't pay money for a lease offer to share part of your meat harvest or help them with fencing and other chores as payment. Some landowners may allow you to hunt in bow season but not rifle, harvest does only but not bucks or hunt ducks on their pond/lake but not deer hunt.
3) Find Affordable Gear
Most people won’t need “extreme” clothing for their hunting. If you’re doing a lot of backcountry hunts, Alaskan hunts or hunting where the weather can go from one extreme to the next, yes…probably a good idea to invest in a quality layering system with base, mid and outer layers. But if you’re hunting a typical deer season, using ground blinds and tree stands, you can get away with less expensive gear.
Shop online retailers such as Camofire.com and HuntoftheDay.com. These offer quality gear at deeply discounted prices. Many of the brands that are featured fairly often are Alps Outdoorz, Browning, Sitka, Vortex, and others. The downsides are that they typically offer last season’s gear and clothing may have limited sizes or colors/patterns, but it’s a good way to get those brand names much cheaper.
Check out Facebook Marketplace or join groups that are specifically created for selling used name brand camo gear. Additionally, army surplus stores are a great option for camping gear such as tents, knifes, cookware, cots, etc.
4) Process and Butcher It Yourself
After the hunt, the cost to have your meat processed and butchered can be expensive, especially if you want specialty items such as summer sausage, bratwurst or jerky. For standard cuts of meat, doing it yourself is the least expensive option; the only cost is some baggies, freezer paper, and tape.
I recommend purchasing at least a grinder, since it is the most useful and versatile. Splurge and get something quality so it will last for years to come. I own a LEM #8 from Bass Pro and have been using it for approximately 9 years; it has ground hundreds of pounds of meat.
Over time, you might want to add more equipment to your arsenal, such as a slicer, cuber, sausage stuffer, or dehydrator. Plan for purchasing one piece each year or share the cost and equipment with a friend/family member. Look for used equipment too.
Where I recommend you invest in quality gear:
This is definitely something that depends on where and how you hunt. Hunting in Kentucky, boots weren’t that important to me. Early season, I usually hunted in my trail running/hiking shoes and in the cold, I’d wear my Muck Boots. But if you’re planning long hikes, hunting in steep, mountainous or rocky terrain, definitely invest in a good pair. Then break them in prior to your hunt.
Your gun or bow is something you will use for years, so buy something to last.
Guns – Do your research on what caliber you want to use depending on what you’re going to be hunting. I personally have a Tikka T3 .243 that I’ve been shooting for 10 years, and have used for deer, antelope, mountain lion, and bear hunting. It has been an all-around great gun and hasn’t let me down. Take care of it, and it will last a lifetime.
Bows – If you’re new to bow hunting, go to an archery shop and shoot several bows to see what’s best for you. Then invest in the full set up. Despite what social media says, you don’t have to upgrade your bow every year to the newest model. If you’re comfortable with your bow and it’s working for your hunting needs, there’s no need for something new.
Quality doesn’t necessarily mean “the most expensive”. For optics, look for brands that have a lifetime warranty. Brands such as Vortex and Vanguard have great products at affordable prices, and back up their products with excellent warranties. I purchased a pair of Vortex Diamondback 10x42 binoculars from Camofire.com for much less than they sold for at Cabelas. I know they are quality, and since they have a warranty, if they break, Vortex will repair or replace them. For rangefinders, consider your hunting set up and location. If you can only see 200 yards from your stands, you don’t need a rangefinder that ranges out to 1200 yards. Save money by buying for your actual needs.
Being a hunter doesn’t mean spending your entire paycheck on supplies and gear. Start with the basics and work up to adding more each season. Shop smart, look for deals, and focus more on making good shots instead of having the latest and greatest!
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app and BaseMap app. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.