When I first started bowhunting nearly 20 years ago, I dreamed of living on adventure’s edge — chasing big-game animals in far-flung locales. Grabbing every bowhunting magazine and book available at the time, I dog-eared the pages and smudged the pictures soaking in every syllable. I oftentimes felt I was looking over the author’s shoulders as he slipped into bow range of a feeding black bear, and I could often hear the moaning groans of a moose that was coaxed into archery range. I longed to experience these adventures, but I thought, like many of us do, that my middle-class budget would hamstring such adventures.
Outdoor writer, motivational speaker and Mathews pro staffer Tracy Breen used to think the same thing.
“I dreamed of going to places like Alaska to bowhunt moose and caribou, as well as the whitetail mega-states of Illinois and Kansas,” says Breen. “But, as a kid and relatively new bowhunter, such trips seemed like a pipe dream.”
Like many of us, money and time were two things he didn’t have in abundance. With bills, meager vacation time and a growing family, he explained going on hunting trips outside his home state of Michigan seemed like something that would never happen.
That all changed in the fall of 2001 when Breen decided to save his pennies and head west on a DIY Idaho elk hunt. Although he readily admits he never released an arrow at fur and bone on that inaugural, bugle-filled bowhunt, he figured out that he didn’t need deep pockets to make these adventures reality.
“The truth is a person on a peanut-butter-and-jelly budget can hunt almost everywhere,” Breen said. “All they need is a little bit of money, a little bit of time and, most of all, a lot of desire.”
Breen has hunted in dozens of states and several Canadian provinces over a 15-year span on a middle-class budget. In his recent book Big Game on a Budget, he provides step-by-step strategies that put dream bowhunts into reach.
According to Breen, the first — and perhaps most important — step in making a shoestring-budget hunt a reality is a lot of planning and research. Breen typically starts at least a year in advance, leaving no details unnoticed — from how he plans to get there to where home will be once there to meals and the style of hunting.
Determining the best areas for the DIY hunter is also a must. This involves weeks of studying state harvest stats, locating the ground he wants to hunt, talking with state game officials and networking on social media. All must be done, of course, while staying mindful of the budget.
If your dream is to hunt out West — and this is the dream of many — another step in the planning process is drawing a tag.
“Virtually all western states offer a drawing system that involves some type of point system or random draw,” said Breen. “Understanding how the system works in the particular state you wish to hunt can give you a leg up in the drawing process. For example, rutting bull elk is typically on the top of the list for many bowhunters seeking a budget DIY adventure, and although you can go to states like Colorado that offer tons of opportunities with an over-the-counter tag, your chances of success are much higher if you plan on hunting areas with a limited number of tags. Granted, it can take well over a decade to draw a limited tag in some areas if your goal is a top-tier unit; however, with a little research you can find areas you can draw every couple of years and have a great experience.”
Time is also an important factor when planning a budget hunt. Breen has found that many guys and gals trip when it comes to giving themselves enough of it.
“Whether you’re hunting caribou in Alaska or elk in the Rockies, carving out at least 10 hunting days for most adventures is a minimum,” says Breen. While he admits a well-planned hunt can end with a punched tag on the first day, invariably the hunt will not work out as planned. “Ten days is no guarantee that you’ll have your freezer full when you come home, but at least you’ve given yourself an honest shot at success.”
Breen said lastly that your budgeted bowhunt demands as much physical preparation as mental.
“These types of hunts typically mean hunting on your own — generally on public ground without the assistance of an outfitter — pushing yourself the extra mile,” says Breen. “This can be both physically and mentally draining, but it’s often these factors that separate the consistently successful bowhunter from the unsuccessful one. Being in good physical shape is a foundational building block to mental toughness, and this really boils down to good discipline and priorities.
“If you choose to embark on a dream bowhunt on your own, you will be in for the time of your life. The expense will not be in the greenbacks an outfitted hunt costs, it will be in planning, time, blood, sweat and tears. You have to be willing to work, willing to hike the extra mile, willing to go to lengths most hunters are unwilling to go. In return, you will feel more pride, joy and excitement than you would ever feel on a costly guided hunt.”
Tracy Breen’s book, Big Game on a Budget, is informative and packed full of species-specific information for planning your own dream budget bowhunt. At only $10 a copy, it is worth the investment.