Is Deer Hunting a Rich Man’s Game?

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.)

redneck-blind

Do you have to have big bucks to kill big bucks?

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.

hunter with buck rub

More than money, success comes down to how bad you want it.

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.

is deer hunting a rich man's game - public land hunting

Public land provides limitless opportunities for those willing to work hard.

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.

is deer hunting a rich man's game - mathews instagram

Will the best gear and gadgets lead to bigger bucks for you this season?

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.

Ralph Scherder

Ralph Scherder

Ralph Scherder is a full time award-winning writer and photographer from Butler, PA, where he lives with his wife Natalie, two kids Sophia and Jude, and an English Setter named Charlie. He has hunted and fly fished all over North America, and God willing, will continue to do so for many years to come.
Ralph Scherder

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Comments

  1. John Torchick says:

    Interesting article and thought provoking. Has anyone taken the time to figure out what it would cost, bare minimum, to start hunting from scratch? Plus, what kind of hunting- big game as deer, small game as rabbits and squirrels? My hang-on stand is now out of the question now due to physical limitation. But it would stretch the budget to buy a climbing stand or ladder stand. Hunting isn’t a rich man’s game but having discretionary income helps a lot. As for the $3500 lease, that is something I have never been able to afford even when my wife and I were both working full time and making decent income.

    Reply
    • Lonnie lauing says:

      Thankyou for that.i have a new look on my future for hunting.

      Reply
    • Disagree! If you are rich you can easily obtain bigger bucks! Just because your friend needed a truck and a badly needed vacation doesn’t make your story true. Your own land, feed them and hunt them by yourself makes it way easier to get them. I’m not saying its impossible I’m saying its WAY EASIER to obtain bigger bucks having the bucks!

      Reply
  2. To me the big cost is land leasing or buying. When I started hunting in the early 70s it was simple to get permission. I know you still can and there is public land but that’s just not practical in most cases because of the distance. My mentor into hunting told me someday it would be a pay to hunt someday. He was right

    Reply
  3. JIM BAKER says:

    I’ve been saying that, “it’s becoming a rich mans sport” back in the early 80’s, it’s coming true. Outfitters and groups of hunters are leasing everything they can get, more power to them. Yes the author is right, i can lease land however, if an outfitter or hunter or group of hunters wants that land to lease, they’ll drive the price through the roof and out of range for most blue collar guys like me. I’ve had it happen. As far as ALL the gear to hunt big game or small game, you’ll have a small fortune invested. The products available aren’t cheap, inexpensive, or whatever word you want to use. So, yes it is becoming a rich mans sport

    Reply
    • doe shooter says:

      Agreed. In 1991 I bought ground in Illinois Golden Triangle. My neighbors lease for Bow . And they get a pretty penny. I tend to tread very lightly in the early season. The lease guys chase everything my way. These guys start out wanting a big buck ,by Thursday they shoot a fawn. They chase the bucks away in the first week. I don’t care about antlers. I want to see the numbers rise ,so I target young bucks for meat and let the does walk. We;ve taken a good number 140’s-150’s. But that was just being at the right place at the right time.Nothing we did on purpose. If you want big deer ,you have to pay for very limited access hunts,where people are not stomping around the woods. I did the QDMA thing for 13 years, it really did not make any difference. Deer I let walk got shot next door. The bills come every month . Electric costs every month use it or don’t. Taxes (2 different ones). Insurance. I own it clear,but it still isn’t cheap. My family enjoys it. For me alone ,it would not be worth the cost.

      Reply
  4. Jeremy Morgan says:

    Yes all hunting is money . Do we all have same opportunities in hunting? Hell no. Should the record books have many or more like most so called hunters removed? Hell yes. Hunting now is more of a farming nature than actual hunting.

    Reply
  5. I’ll add another component to this discussion. If you have a child that wants to hunt, the costs go even higher! Someone has to pay for their license as well as the clothing, boots, firearm, etc. Let’s face it, the kids don’t have the money for this stuff.

    Reply
    • I disagree I was 15 with no job and managed to save up enough money mowing lawns and doing house work, etc. to buy a used mission craze bow, arrows, and broadheads without the help of any adults. It is not hard to find good equipment for a relatively cheap price. You just have to have good work ethic and motivation to do so.

      Reply
    • Ralph Scherder says:

      I bought my first bow from my neighbor for $60 when I was 15. I bought arrows and broadheads and wore my dad’s old hunting camp from the 70s, or wore dark clothing because I couldn’t afford real camouflage, and I killed a deer that first year.

      My point is, compared to the hobbies kids have today, hunting is relatively cheap. Some video games cost over $100 per game! I know a guy who just spent $300 on WiFi headsets for gaming. Look at how much money gets spent on technology such as iPhones, iPads, etc. If a kid wants to start hunting, the startup costs aren’t much different than any other hobby. They don’t need to splurge on expensive camo and the best and fastest bow on Earth to get their feet wet.

      Reply
  6. I think this topic in it’s self points out one of the current problems in the deer hunting industry and that is this pervasive attitude about big antlers. The industry has convinced gullible hunters that antler size means something. It’s all about money; “to kill that big racked buck you need to use this supplement, this trail camera, this bow, this camo, this brand of seed, this scent control product” etc. If you want to get a buck in a so called record book you have to give them money. The industry claims the smartest deer have the biggest racks; seriously so the smartest humans have the biggest heads? I’m worried this antler horn size craze could be what turns non hunters against hinting. They try to claim if you kill a big rack buck you’re some kind of a great hunter when in fact maybe what you are is a great baiter, a great food plot grower, a great rancher of semi domesticated deer.

    Reply
  7. P.J. Reilly says:

    I don’t think hunting is a rich man’s game. I think rich people have access to better hunting, but that’s not the question. The question was, “Is it a rich man’s game.” I’m not rich, and I can still play the game. I play it in PA where I don’t pay one penny to anyone to hunt. I don’t always kill deer. I don’t always kill big deer. But I can play the game without being rich, and I can fill tags without being rich. Hunting is what you make of it. If your goal is to only kill 160+ bucks in my state, you had better have exclusive access to a big chunk of land, and even then, the odds are against you. But if you just want to sit in the woods in a tree stand, shoot a doe or any legal buck, then you can absolutely play the game and be successful without being rich. Even then, you still might get that trophy, once-in-a-lifetime buck.

    Reply
    • doe shooter says:

      In the state owned hunting areas ,opening morning looks like a pumpkin patch in the woods. No thanks.

      Reply
      • PJ Reilly says:

        Hunting public can be like that. But I hunted a public spot opening day last year and didn’t see anyone. You gotta do your homework to get away from the crowds.

        Reply
    • Ralph Scherder says:

      I agree 100%, P.j., hunting is definitely what you make it. I’m also a PA guy. I’ve leased in other states but mostly hunt public land in PA. Oddly enough, my best experiences and biggest bucks have come from PA public land. The opportunities are out there for anyone willing to put forth the effort.

      I know guys who complain that a $20 hunting license is too expensive, yet they have no trouble at all spending $100 on a sports jersey with the name of their favorite player on back. Or how about this…why is $20 too much to pay for a hunting license that provides you 365 days of opportunity, but they’ll happily pay $40 for a round of 18 holes of golf with a cart and say it’s worth it, and that’s just for one day of fun.

      Reply
  8. Jeffrey C Bradley says:

    Hunting is as expensive as you make it. There’s plenty of public land out there if you seek it out, and you don’t have to have the latest, greatest equipment to enjoy it. Keep it simple.

    Reply
  9. Jeffrey C Bradley says:

    Hunting is as expensive as you allow it to be. There’s plenty of public land to hunt if you seek it out, and you don’t need the latest, greatest equipment to kill a deer. keep it simple.

    Reply
    • doe shooter says:

      Public hunting ground quality and accessibility varies from state to state. Here in IL near St Louis, you are going to have to drive 75-100 miles and walk in a long way to find a good hunt. Urban deer are super spooky. So on a typical outing you get up 0200 drive ,get breakfast, walk in 45 minutes to be set up at 0600. Stand hunt all day and head home . 18 hour day. Many of the out of the way areas don’t have camping. Some do. If you camp , sign in is not guaranteed. You have to be early. Yeah ,you can do it if you have the enthusiasm.

      Reply

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