Big Whitetail Bucks on a Small Budget

Whether you pursue whitetail bucks at home or afar, here are five ways to make it affordable again.
Big Whitetail Bucks on a Small Budget

People often say that whitetail hunting is becoming a rich-man’s sport — a pay-to-play diversion — if you will. And to some extent, it’s true. Folks who lease deer ground annually pay $10-20 or more per acre. At the bottom end, that equals $1,000 for a 100-acre lease.

Of course, that doesn’t include food plot cultivation. Premium seed, along with lime and fertilizer could cost you more than the lease itself, depending on the acreage being planted. Don’t own implements? Tack on more for rental fees.

Don’t forget that draught conditions are possible in some regions, which could cause stunted growth or no germination, period. In that event, you might find yourself replanting. Get your wallet out again. And, since time is money, consider the countless hours you’ll spend creating food plots and improving habitat. To some folks it isn’t a lot of money, but it is to me.

Expenses don’t stop there. Kill a trophy buck, and you’re looking at another thousand greenbacks for processing and taxidermy. When will it end?

Understand: I’m not trying to paint a gloom-and-doom picture, nor am I discouraging you from getting a lease, planting food plots and hanging your buck on the wall. Not at all. If you have the funds, do it. But, if you’re looking to cut some costs or make compromises so you can afford other things, there are ways.

Think Creatively

A quote coined by Ayn Rand is, “A creative man is motivated by desire to achieve ... ” To expand on that quote, I believe that anyone, with creative thinking, can meet their goals, even if short of funds.

This could mean obtaining a side job to fund a deer lease and food plots, or it could mean approaching things from a different angle. My mind almost never rests. I’m always looking for creative edges to reach my goals without going broke.

Let’s review some ways that you can save money without giving up high-quality deer hunting. Some focus on hunting around home, others pertain to destination hunts.

1. Keep Knocking

If you can’t afford to lease hunting property, there’s still hope. Sure, you can hunt public lands, but you can also knock on doors. Gaining access to private land was far easier in the ‘90s when bowhunting was less romanticized. But, if you knock on enough doors, you’ll eventually get lucky. I know because I do it — a lot.

I used to be deathly afraid of asking random farmers/ranchers for hunting permission. Through my teens and early 20s, I did it anyway. And you know what? I now do it confidently. More importantly, I’ve gained opportunities to hunt several pretty good properties over the past few years. I’ve used cheese, maple syrup and used hunting equipment for bargaining power. You also might consider offering to help with errands and farm chores.

Now, unless you get lucky, the landowner likely won’t let you plant food plots. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Use the property’s existing resources. And don’t rely solely on those, but consider what adjacent properties offer in terms of bedding, food and water. Often, you can intercept a buck on his way between necessities without creating and hunting over food plots.

2. Pitch a Tent

Who doesn’t love the comforts of home? But such luxuries are expensive, so it pays to explore other avenues when planning a destination whitetail hunt.

Rather than pay $50-100 per night for a motel room, consider other alternatives. I know some crazies who’ve slept a night or two in their pickup trucks to avoid a motel room. You guessed it, I’m one of them.

A more comfortable option is to tent camp. Often, you can camp for free or a very small daily fee on state or federal lands. Rather than pay $350-400 (on the low end) for a motel, you’re looking at $0-100 for a weeklong stay. Sure, you’ll sacrifice Wi-Fi access and a continental breakfast, but so what? If you really need to get online, visit a local library, fast-food joint or coffee shop. I do.

Bottom line, you’ll save hundreds per week by choosing a tent in lieu of a motel room.

whitetail bucks

3. Make Your Own Meals

Eating restaurant meals gets expensive during an out-of-state bowhunt. Of course, homecooked meals require extra planning and equipment. To simplify, purchase protein-rich items that require little-to-no preparation.

For example, I tend to eat Greek yogurt, fruit and granola for breakfast. For lunch, I build nutritious sandwiches. I’ll also eat tortilla chips and salsa or kettle-cooked potato chips. Cheese and crackers are also easy finger foods. Carrots and celery are good for snacking, too. I eat a similar dinner unless I’ve packed a pan, oil and my propane stove, in which case I’ll cook chicken or venison.

At $20-30 per day, restaurant dining could cost $200 for a week. With creative grocery shopping, in contrast, you can eat all week on $60.

whitetail bucks

4. Butcher and Process Your Own Deer

Dropping a deer off at the local meat-processing plant is convenient. However, questions invariably linger about how the meat is handled. Plus, even in its simplest form, processing gets expensive.

With some sharp knives, a positive attitude and a consumer-grade electric meat grinder, you can save money every time you kill a deer by processing it yourself. Have family members share the duties.

5. Mount Your Own Trophywhitetail bucks

“Yeah right,” I’m sure you thought when you read tip No. 5. But, don’t think shoulder mount; think European mount. All you really need to tackle this project are a power washer, propane stove/burner, large pot, hunting knives and needle-nose pliers — items you already have or ones you can likely borrow.

Not only is it DIY-friendly and inexpensive, but it’ll take up less wall space and provide a tasteful touch to your living room or man cave. For men who have wives that won’t let you hang “those dusty, hairy deer heads” in the house, you’ll now have a specimen that doesn’t shed hair and can easily be dusted. And, you’re not faced with a $500-700 taxidermy bill.

Budget Whitetail Bucks

Balancing the whitetail-hunting checkbook isn’t easy. You see, we all want as much as we can get. We want a brand-new bow. We want to have a premier lease where we can plant food plots just like the TV pros do. We want a wall full of world-class whitetail mounts. We want to kick our feet up while our venison gets processed. The list could go on for pages.

I pose this question: Have we lost our minds? What about the earlier days when we had simpler gear, hunted on public land and processed our own deer? I get it, times have changed, but many of our budgets have not. In that case, don’t try to do everything you see people doing on the hunting channels. Don’t put your neck on the line over a whitetail. Deer hunting is meant to be fun, and if you put yourself in a place where you can’t afford it, that’s no fun.

Top image by John Hafner; other images by Darron McDougal


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