Hunter numbers are down. We’ve heard it for years. Sure, we saw a lot of hunters in the woods during the COVID crisis. And the popularity of public land hunting might make it look like business is boomin’ when it comes to hunter numbers. However, dig past the latest fads and foolishness, and you’ll find that the number of serious hunters, those that view hunting as a way of life, is on the decline.
I read an article years ago that spoke to the fact that hunter decline comes about based on 3 key factors – access, money, and time. We’ll take a closer look at these, and others, below as we help answer the question – is the cost of hunting driving hunters away?
Access on both public and private lands has continued to change the dynamics of hunting for many hunters over the last decade. There was a time when most anyone could handle securing a chunk of ground for their annual deer lease. In those days, a lease was the opportunity for a landowner to help a hunter, as well as the hunter help the landowner knock out some of the extra expenses that come with owning land.
Fast forward a few decades, and we find the commercialization of hunting and the opportunity for hunting leases have become few and far between. The cost of lease ground is through the roof. And if word gets out that you killed a good buck on a lease, you can pretty much count on the price going up, and other hunters coming to outbid you for the land the following season.
“I know several guys that have hunted for years, but have recently given it up and sold all their gear,” says outdoor writer, Taylor Johnson. “The main reason they state for the move is because they keep getting leases sold out from under them, or someone with deep pockets comes in and offers the landowner triple what they were paying for the lease.”
So has lease hunting become a rich man’s opportunity?
The truth is, opportunities still abound for hunters willing to partner up, pool their funds, and secure private hunting access. However, the days of an individual hunter having a lease on their own, or simply for their family, is typically far out of reach.
“The cost of 1-person leases has greatly increased over the last 10 years,” says Jordan Blissett of Primos. “I don’t do as well in camps. I would rather have my own place. However, I can’t justify spending the money it would take to make that happen.”
When it comes to access these days, it helps to have friends or family that own land – or lots of money.
Gear & Tags
It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness. But it’ll dang sure buy you a hunting license, gas for your truck, and snacks for your pack – and that’s enough to keep most hunters happy for a season. The fact is, it takes money to make things happen for any hunter. As mentioned above, it takes money to secure a quality hunting lease. But it also takes money to buy gear and licenses. New bows, guns, arrows, camo, treestands, blinds, ATV, optics, and more are just a handful of the items that hunters spend big money on each season.
But is the cost of this gear pushing hunters away?
Consider the cost – compound bows are $1200, sights for these bows can be $300-$500, a complete set of camo in the good stuff pushes $1000, treestands have hit the $500 mark, and a dozen arrows now ring up for $200. The prices have basically doubled over the last 20 years from when I bought my first Mathews bow at $550.
However, despite the cost of popular hunting gear today, rarely will you find anyone calling it quits over the cost of the tools we tote to the woods.
Hunters will find a way to make it happen when it comes to buying gear. They may miss a house payment, or try to cancel Christmas, but you can bet they’ll still have their new bow, boots, and $400 YETI cooler when opening day arrives. Hunters will figure out a way to get the gear they need (want).
Time just keeps on slippin’ away. And when it’s gone – it’s gone.
Mossy Oak founder, Toxey Haas once said, “God only gives us so many sunrises, I don’t see any need to miss one of ’em.”
Time is a precious thing. And the lack of it, just might be the one factor that drives hunters away the most.
“You can buy cheap bows and guns that’ll get the job done,” says Parker McDonald of Southern Ground Hunting. “You can hunt public land that won’t cost you anything as well. The only real cost is your time and effort.”
Sadly, many hunters don’t have the time and commitment it takes to be successful. And while success is not always defined by a punched tag, if at some point you’re not hauling meat out of the woods, you’ve become nothing more than a bird watcher. The end result is a hunter cashing out and trading in their hunting gear for golf clubs. It’s truly a sad day when time no longer allows us to pursue the things we love the most.
For most hunters, the dream hunting trip requires travel. Even when I lived in the great state of Montana, considerable travel was required to get to the vast places wild critters called home. But regardless of whether you’re talking 3 hours across the state, or 30 hours across the country, there’s no way around the cost of travel for your hunting roadtrips.
Unfortunately, under the current inflated conditions across our country, gas prices are making travel a deal breaker for many. I’ve heard it more in the last year than ever before – “If something doesn’t change soon on fuel prices, we won’t be going.” The cost of travel for hunts is definitely driving hunters away from opportunities that would have otherwise been in reach.
“The biggest financial obstacle I have seen is travel,” says William Frawley of Tetra. “Gas prices are certainly not on our side. I hunted Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Kansas this spring for turkeys and the hardest part for me, or anyone else, is getting there. Not only getting there, but getting around once you are there. Again, gas prices are definitely a hindrance on hunters, particularly traveling hunters.”
Even on a local level, the fuel bill starts to take a toll for the hunter hitting the woods day after day. I hunt private farms and public land anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes of my house, but as gas prices climbed in the recent turkey season, I found myself limiting myself to the closest opportunities to help with fuel cost. I was honestly glad to see turkey season close and bring an end to the excessive fuel expense I was adding to the family budget. Hopefully things will change before the arrival of fall hunting seasons.
So, is the cost of hunting driving hunters away?
Overall, I’d say, no. Serious hunters will find a way to afford the hunting opportunities they are passionate about.
Is the cost of hunting hindering some opportunities? Sure. Under the current political climate, things have been tightened up for many hunters. But that only means that now is a great time to get creative on how, where, and who you hunt with. Split fuel costs with a hunting buddy, hunt closer to home, buy used gear, or stick with what you have to make it happen this year. Bottom line – don’t get bogged down in excuses. Success will require sacrifice. Get out there, and make it happen this season.