How much does it cost to go on an elk hunt? Well, that depends on where you go, wether or not you go guided or do-it-yourself, and how you plan the logistics of your hunt. There is plenty of information out there regarding the costs of guided and semi-guided hunts, but what about those of us that are looking to do everything on your own? What should a first-time, non-resident elk hunter plan on spending on their hunt?
The first costs to consider are the tag/license to hunt elk, and the transportation to get to elk country. For someone coming from the midwest or eastern part of the state, like myself, transportation is a considerable amount – regardless of whether you choose to fly or drive. My either-sex elk tag in Colorado is going to cost $586, and my 2,100 mile round-trip drive to my elk hunting unit will easily cost a few hundred more. It is easy to spend around $1,000 just to get to elk country and have a tag in your pocket.
We now have a tag and a way to get to our elk hunting unit, but now we need to consider what it is going to take to live here for a week and have all of the necessary items to hunt during this time. This is where the costs begin to vary greatly. Everyone that wants to hunt elk is going to be required to have some of the same items – a weapon, good boots, a pack, etc. – but what items you choose, and the quality of those items is where the variable costs begins to run wild. When making a gear decision you should always ask yourself, “Am I buying this item for one hunt, or am I looking to invest for numerous future hunts?”
It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the gear that is required for a DIY hunt, especially if you are living in the backcountry for the duration of your hunt. As I have mentioned previously, the cheapest way to hunt DIY is to setup a base camp at a trailhead or road. If you aren’t carrying all of you gear on your back, then you can get away with cheaper, heavier, and less-expensive items. However, if you are going to live in the backcountry, as I am, then you need to think carefully about what pieces of gear you can afford to go cheap with, and what pieces of quality gear will be worth investing in. (More thoughts on the cost of gear for backpack hunting.)
The Three R’s of Outfitting Your Hunt
The first step in determining your gear budget is prioritizing what pieces of gear are most important for your hunt. At the top of my list are boots, clothes, and a pack. Your list may certainly be different. For example, you may need to place a higher priority on your weapon, shelter, or optics. We all like new stuff, and it isn’t very fun to admit it, but sometimes you don’t need the best – often times just “good” is good enough.
What gear do you already have that will work for this hunt? What gear do you own that needs to be upgraded or replaced? What gear don’t you own? These questions lead me to my “Three R’s” – Repurpose, Reuse, Research!
The easiest way to control your costs is to repurpose gear that you already own. We all love new stuff, but sometimes we already have what we need. Do you need a new bow for your elk hunt? Probably not. Do you need new broadheads or arrows? Maybe. I have a lot of hunting gear, but most of it has only been used for whitetails in the Midwest – of this gear, what will be suitable for hunting elk in mountains? And when it comes to repurposing gear, don’t just think of your hunting gear! Not everything has to be hunting-specific or covered in camouflage. Maybe you have a backpack that you can use for this hunt, even though it isn’t a “hunting” pack. Search your closets, attic, garage and basement – take inventory to see what gear you may find your elk hunt.
One of the easiest ways to save money on elk hunting gear is to buy used gear. There are numerous elk hunters that buy new gear every couple of years, and even more folks that outfit themselves for a hunt and never use the gear again. Scour online forums, Craigslist, talk to friends, and make your interest known at your local hunting and outdoor shop – finding amazing deals on used gear usually isn’t that hard. For example, I saved big by buying a premium $360 tent from a fellow elk hunter for just $100.
If you are going to buy new gear, then you owe it to yourself to research the heck out of every purchase you make. Make sure you are getting the best gear for your needs at the best price possible! Honestly, as much as I love to save money, there is nothing wrong with paying for top-shelf gear if it is what you need and will last for years to come. However, when it comes to hunting and outdoor gear, the options can be overwhelming. Before you spend your cash you need to make sure you know exactly what you need and exactly what you are getting.
Oh, And Don’t Forget The Small Stuff
When it comes to outfitting ourselves with gear for a big hunt, most of our attention is given to the big items – weapon, boots, shelter, etc. – but often times a budget is blown by failing to account for the smaller, less “glamorous” items that add up into big bills. Think about your navigation and communication needs, lighting, knife, game bags, sleeping gear, cookware, etc.
I know I still haven’t answered your question – “What is this going to cost?” We have talked a lot about gear, and didn’t even dive into other associated costs, such as meat storage, meat processing, and taxidermy. The fact is – I can’t tell you what your hunt is going to cost. It all depends on how you hunt, what gear you own, and the quality of gear that you choose to invest in.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to buy the majority of the big ticket gear items (optics, boots, shelter, sleeping bag/pad, etc.) for your trip, then you can easily spend several thousand dollars. In the coming months I will be outlining each piece of gear that I am taking on this hunt, and also discussing general cost options for each piece of gear.