Sometimes hunting can feel like a certain credit card commercial as you tally up all of the expenses you think are necessary to kill big bucks. Bows, arrows, broadheads, clothing, boots, trail cameras, food plot equipment, fertilizer, seeds…the list goes on.
If you buy into the hype, it’s easy to believe that it takes big money to kill big bucks. I’ve even heard working class hunters lament that the “rich guys” kill the biggest bucks. But is that really true? Does it take a fat bank account to put a mounter on the wall?
(To clarify, I’m not talking about high fence hunting here, where it is certainly true that unlimited financial resources can get a world-record-caliber whitetail. This conversation is about free range deer only.)
Who are the Rich?
In the hunting industry, the term “rich” has a slightly different connotation than in regular society. Yes, it can still apply to someone’s financial status. But I also think we view people as rich if they own and hunt on hundreds of acres of private property. They are rich in land and can plant food plots and manage the deer herd to produce older and bigger bucks. In that regard, they absolutely have an advantage over the blue collar hunter who doesn’t own or have access to a bunch of private land.
Too many hunters, though, get caught up with jealousy to realize that they have the same opportunities as those “rich” guys. Now more than ever it’s easier to lease land. No matter your budget, you can find a lease in a price range that you can afford. And if you want a bigger lease, invite a buddy in to help you split the cost.
A lot of it comes down to how badly you want it. I have a good friend who complains about the cost of a hunting license and can’t afford to take a few days off of work to hunt, yet he has no problem spending $6,000 every year for he and his wife to spend five days on a beach in Mexico. The same friend recently bought a brand new, $40,000 pickup truck.
Ironically, a number of years ago, this same friend was baffled that I could afford a $3,500 hunting lease. I was able to afford that because I drove an old pickup that was paid off and I didn’t go on any lavish vacations. And yet, when the topic came up, he often made it sound like the only reason I got nice bucks was because I had more opportunities than he did. In his eyes, I was rich, even though his yearly income was three times larger than mine.
It’s all relative, I guess. What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your hunting dreams? How important is it to you? For a brief time, I worked in financial services and helped families create budgets. It was amazing how much money people spent frivolously without even realizing it. The little expenditures really do add up. If you’re willing to pinch pennies and do without some of those daily luxuries (Starbucks coffee, for instance), you could be well on your way to owning or leasing your own piece of whitetail heaven.
The Public Option
Despite the common belief that there are no big bucks on public land, record book whitetails are killed every year on state and national forest lands, WMA’s, game lands, and other properties open to all hunters. In fact, in 2017, the current Pennsylvania state record archery buck was killed on public land. The rack gross-scored 193 3/8 inches and netted 185 4/8 inches.
Although your odds of connecting on a Boone & Crockett whitetail are slim on public land, there are a lot more quality bucks roaming those properties than most hunters realize. Finding mature whitetails often means hiking deeper into the woods, getting away from the crowds, and putting forth more effort than those who hunt private land.
I have two separate groups of friends who hunt public land in the Midwest every fall. They save up their vacation days from work and spend the first three weeks of November chasing whitetails. They work their tails off all year at their blue collar jobs just so they can fully immerse themselves in the hunt every fall, and it pays off. Out of 8 or 10 hunters, they typically harvest 5 or 6 bucks and at least a couple of them are jaw droppers.
Their success didn’t come easy, though. Their first few years were challenging and not very productive, but they stuck with it and eventually found ways to beat the competition. Each year they went, they learned more about the area and the deer they were hunting. They’re now reaping the rewards of persistence.
We’re so blessed here in the U.S. to have so many state or federally owned public lands that are open to hunting. Yes, you might run into competition, and yes, you’ll have to hunt harder and smarter to kill big bucks, but the opportunities are there and they don’t cost a dime.
Gear and Gadgets
On every new hunting product is a picture of a celebrity holding a freakishly big whitetail. Much of that, of course, is effective marketing. How else can a product compete with the hundreds of other products on the shelves unless it appeals to the imagination. The key strategy of marketing, after all, is convincing consumers that they need a particular product to be successful.
Nothing draws a harsher line between the haves and have nots than the amount of money spent on hunting gear. But how much do we really need to be successful in the deer woods? It doesn’t take $500 camo clothing or the latest, greatest bow on the market. Big bucks certainly don’t care how much you paid for your trail camera.
Owning nice things is fun, and I always recommend buying the best quality that you can afford, but in the end, nothing trumps knowledge. Truth is, hunting today is just as much for the blue collar worker as it ever was. You can spend as little or as much as you want on fancy gear and gadgets, but there’s no product you could ever buy that can replace the education gained by spending more time in the woods studying wildlife. You don’t have to be rich to learn more about whitetail behavior. That alone will help you kill more big bucks.
Big Bucks and the Average Hunter
It doesn’t take money to kill a big buck, but let’s be realistic – it helps. It makes the acquisition of land, food plotting equipment, and all the latest technology much easier to afford. To have the same experience, the average hunter must be more creative and savvy with their finances, but it can be done. The question is, what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want? Are you willing to drive a beater pickup truck instead of a brand new, decked out luxury vehicle? Are you willing to give up the beach vacation and dedicate that money to your hunting dream?
It’s easy to say, “If I had that property, I’d kill big bucks, too.” But would you be willing to invest the time and money it takes to turn that property into a whitetail haven? Or if you had more money, would you spend it on luxuries other than hunting – a bigger house, perhaps?
I don’t begrudge anyone who has more than I do, whether it’s land, money, gear, or whatever. All I can really focus on is myself and improving my own situation. If someone is having more success than me, I don’t ever want to make the excuse that it’s because they have more money. Instead, I want to ask the necessary questions, which are what can I do, or what should I be doing, to accomplish my own dreams and goals, and what am I willing to sacrifice to make them happen.