Why Put a Price Tag on Our Venison or Fillets?


A friend often tells a story about the time his Philadelphia in-laws were eating a salmon he had caught on Lake Michigan.

They loved the idea he could go out on a nearby lake and catch such great-tasting fish for fun. “Why, salmon back home must cost about $10 a pound,” the father-in-law said. “You’re really lucky. You can just go out and catch one for free. That’s great.”

My friend chuckled and said, “I wish I could catch salmon for only $10 a pound.”

His father-in-law didn’t get it. But how could he? The man doesn’t fish or hunt.

My friend and I have talked occasionally about the craziness of trying to cost-justify hunting or fishing. When fishing, for example, after you figure in gasoline, rods, reels, a boat, engine, maintenance, downriggers, lures, life vests, launch fees and a token state license fee, you realize any fillets you bring home are mere frosting on the upper lip.

The same goes for bowhunting, of course. For instance, I’ve made nine elk bowhunting trips to Montana, Idaho and Colorado since 2005. I’ve passed up five shots and messed up two others, and have yet to bring home an elk. Three of these trips were drop-camp bowhunts, with an outfitter taking us in on horseback; and the other six were do-it-yourselfers.

According to my records, the average cost of those nine elk bowhunts was $1,800. Although I came home empty-handed every time, I can’t wait for my next chance to go. (As I write this, my next elk bowhunt is 5-1/2 months away; not that I’m counting.) Sure, I’d love to bring home an elk every time, but I also know I’d much rather pass up iffy shots than live with the guilt of wounding and losing an elk.

For kicks, I also ran a quick calculation on what I spent during a recent summer when making five trips to Lake Michigan from my home in central Wisconsin. Not even figuring in my boat, which has long been paid for, the lake trout and salmon I brought home cost about $25 per pound.

Heck, I could have eaten about 12 fish sandwiches at McDonald’s for one pound of salmon, so there must be something more to fishing than food harvesting.

Last week, while exchanging deer hunting information via e-mail with my friend Tom Heberlein, a retired professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I said I couldn’t understand why so many hunter/gatherers felt the need to cost-justify their activities. After all, does a golfer, softball player or flower-gardener bother cost-justifying their hobbies and recreation?

Heberlein said there’s something in Americans’ work-ethic that makes us want to put a price tag on our activities, even things we do for fun in our free time. “Where else on Earth,” he asked, “can you say to someone, ‘Are you working hard?,’ and mean it as a genuine greeting?”

I thought was an interesting point, so I passed it along to another friend while we butchered a deer last fall. He nodded, agreed it made sense, but thought it was simpler than that.

“It’s the wives,” he said.

What? Really?

“Oh yeah. One guy who hunts deer with us has to go home with something or his wife gets mad. She says he’s wasting their money if he doesn’t get a deer. There’s been years where we’ve shot a deer for him just so his wife wouldn’t give him a hard time.”

That’s interesting, I said. Many wives I know hope their husbands won’t come home with a deer, goose or duck because they don’t like cooking or eating wild game. Worse, they live in palm-sweating fear that their husbands will shoot a big buck or bull and want to hang it in their living room.

“Oh yeah, that’s true too,” my friend said. “But this guy makes everything into sausage and bologna, and his wife likes that. It would probably be much cheaper to just buy that stuff, but when he brings home a deer, he can justify the trip. If he gets skunked, she says, ‘You spent all that money on a license and you didn’t get anything?!’ ”

I just shook my head, happy she isn’t my wife. I wouldn’t like that kind of pressure. It sounds like the guy’s wife looks at his hunting license as a coupon he has to redeem every year before coming home. 

I wonder what she’d ask of him if his pastime were bird-watching or catch-and-release trout fishing? How would he justify those trips?

Then again, that’s not my problem. I married more wisely.



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