Why Try to Justify Your Hunting Expenses?

By Patrick DurkinAugust 23, 20161 Comment

Can you honestly justify your hunting expenses? And why even try?

A friend likes telling a story about the time his in-laws from the East were eating salmon he had caught on Lake Michigan.

They were thrilled by the idea he could go out on a nearby lake and catch such great-tasting fish for fun. “Why, salmon in Philadelphia must cost about $10 a pound,” the father-in-law exclaimed. “Here, you can just go out on the lake and catch it for free. That’s great.”

My friend chuckled in his wry way and said, “I wish I could catch salmon for only $10 a pound.” His father-in-law didn’t get it.

deer meat on tailgate

Hunters will always struggle to cost-justify hunting or fishing based on meat alone.

He and I have talked occasionally about the silliness of trying to cost-justify hunting and 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 must concede that any meat derived from the fishing trip is mere frosting on the upper lip.

For kicks, I just ran a quick calculation on what I spent last summer re-outfitting for Lake Michigan fishing, and then making about five trips to Kewaunee from my Waupaca home. Not even figuring in our boat, which is now paid for, I calculated the lake trout and salmon we brought home last July cost about $25 per pound. Heck, I could have eaten about 14 fish sandwiches at McDonald’s for one pound of salmon, so there must be something more to fishing than food harvesting.

hunters loading deer

If you figure in the cost of your hunting gear, gasoline and truck payments, one deer won’t balance your expense account.

Last week, while exchanging deer hunting information via e-mail with Professor Tom Heberlein, now retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I said I couldn’t understand why hunter/gatherer types feel they must cost-justify their activities. After all, does a golfer, softball player or flower-gardener feel compelled to cost-justify their recreation?

While hunters and anglers sometimes obtain something tangible and material (meat) from a visit to the woods or lake, the greater motivation is more related to enjoyment, satisfaction-seeking and other fuzzy spiritual stuff.

Heberlein responded that there’s something in Americans’ work-oriented nature that makes us want to affix price tags to all consumptive activity. For example, “Where else on Earth,” he asked, “can you say to someone, ‘Are you working hard?,’ and mean it as a genuine greeting?”

dragging deer out

Some bowhunters think they’re not getting a good return on their license fee if they don’t get a deer.

An interesting point, I thought, so I passed it along to another friend. He nodded, agreed it made sense, and offered his own experience in such matters.

“It’s the wives and girlfriends,” he said simply and seriously.


“Oh yeah. There’s a guy who hunts deer with us, and he has to go home with something or his wife gets mad. She says he’s wasting their money if he doesn’t bring home a deer. There’s been years where we’ve shot a deer for him just so he would stay out of trouble.”

An interesting twist, I thought. Most wives I know hope their husbands don’t come home with a deer, goose or duck because they don’t like to cook or eat wild game. And they live in palm-sweating fear that their honey will shoot something so big that he’ll want to get it mounted and hang it in their living room.

“Oh yeah, I know that,” my friend said. “But this guy makes everything into sausage and his wife likes that. It would probably be much cheaper just to go out and buy the sausage, but at least if he brings something home, he can justify the trip. His wife looks at the hunting license as a coupon he has to redeem before coming home. She’ll say, ‘You spent all that money on a license and you didn’t get anything?!’”

Whew. She sounds like a charming lady, huh? I wonder how her husband would cook and serve his scribbled notes if his pastime were bird-watching.

Patrick Durkin
President at Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association
Patrick Durkin is a lifelong bowhunter and full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He has covered hunting, fishing and outdoor issues since 1983. His work appears regularly in national hunting publications, and his weekly outdoors column has appeared regularly in over 20 Wisconsin newspapers since 1984.
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