If you’re into math, read on. We’ll be doing a whole lot of it. Me? I’m not a math guy. I rely on numbers only when absolutely necessary. But this discussion is one of those instances.
In Michigan, we have pretty fair turkey hunting. But a late-April opener and a one-bird limit leaves too much spring and not enough flopping. Because of this, I always hit at least three other states each spring, but I need to do it on a budget that matches my tightwad ways.
Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about hunting on the cheap. At first, it was a function of pure necessity. I simply didn’t have the extra funds to devote. Now I’m a bit older and a bit further along in my career and have added reinforcements to my financial stability. But old ways die hard and I simply refuse to spend more than I really need to. Here’s how I make the most of each spring and spend the least money possible while doing so.
Now although these are specific to turkey hunts, they can also apply to fall when you're chasing whitetails.
Gas Prices are Never Universal Let’s face it, even when gas is “cheap” it’s still expensive. I’ve tried just about everything to reduce fuel costs, including zipping across the country in a 5-speed 2000s-era Pontiac Vibe. Pushing 35 miles per gallon, that valiant steed definitely saved money on gas. But, as nice as that little car was, there are some adventures that a commuter car can’t tackle. The fuel economy in trucks has improved but it’s still not great. So regardless of what you drive, the tip here is to be smart.
Never—I repeat, never—just wait until the “Low Fuel” light flashes on the dashboard. Plan ahead and use a fuel-finder app like GasBuddy. I have saved, literally, hundreds of dollars on fuel over the course of a year or two simply by using the app religiously. Fuel costs do vary greatly depending on location. For example, I know any time I’m heading west from my home state of Michigan, I’ll never make a fuel stop in Illinois. Gas taxes and other factors mean Illinois fuel costs are significantly higher than other neighboring states. So, I fill up in Michigan and don’t stop again until I hit Iowa or Missouri or literally any other state. Doing so during a recent outing to Nebraska meant saving $1 per gallon.
But even in the same state, I’ve opened the app and found gas 25 to 30 cents per gallon cheaper just a few miles down the road.
Hotels are a Needless Expense I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel or motel while hunting. It was once standard procedure to find the cheapest motel and call it home base. Then I wisened up and realized that I was literally paying for nothing more than a crappy bed and a weak shower.
I’ve also found myself less and less interested in hunting areas that have such amenities nearby. Hotels and restaurants mean humans. Humans mean hunting pressure. Thus I avoid both.
Now, I’ll sleep in my truck almost exclusively during spring turkey hunts. I have a decent camping setup for my truck bed under the cap. For short weekend outings, the backseat of my crew cab F-150 makes a comfortable bed and I can land anywhere I find gobbling birds. A few gallons of water and a bar of soap work wonders for in-hunt hygiene.
Obviously, you can tote a tent and camp. But campsites run about $20 a night and, again, I’m just looking for a place to sleep. I’ve spent many a night boondocking in a public parking area and the savings add up.
Food Costs Add Up I’ll admit it. I’m a Casey’s pizza addict. There is nothing better after a morning of sound thrashings at the hands of local longbeards. At about $4 for a slice and a pop, it’s a splurge I’ll gladly make.
Much has been written about bringing your own food to save costs on hunting trips. I’m not offering up any truly novel ideas here, but it’s worth repeating. The biggest cost savings for me comes from bringing my own beverages and food items.
As mentioned, I’m willing to drop a few bucks for a quick Casey’s stop. But, for the most part, I’m packing what I need in a cooler and I’ll load up on Sam’s Choice soda (half the price, all the caffeine), water, and an array of quick snacks that keep me in the woods and away from the cash-sucking drive-thrus.
Be Smart About Licenses As much as I love turkey hunting, I’m a whitetail guy at heart. Truth be told, my spring turkey hunts are simply scouting missions for deer in the fall. I plan my tags accordingly, which can lead to big savings as well.
For example, since I live fairly close to Ohio, it’s a no-brainer that I would hunt deer there. This is ideal given that Ohio’s regulations require I purchase a hunting license in addition to a deer tag. This means, for an extra $38 I can hunt turkeys in the spring. I could have opted to hunt neighboring Indiana instead, but that tag would cost me $175. The same scenario plays out in Iowa. To hunt turkeys in Iowa, you need a hunting license as well as a turkey tag. In the years I can draw an Iowa deer tag, I’ll hunt turkeys there as well. In the years I can’t draw a deer tag, I won’t hunt turkeys there and opt instead for a nearby state with a lower-cost turkey license.
Feature image via Captured Creative.