I’m a lifelong hunter that has gone from being a kid taken to a hunting club by his father, as an introduction to hunting back in the mid-70’s, to being a self-sufficient property owner, who can hunt year round for the non-game species (hogs) if need be. I’ll be the first to say that hunting for self-sufficiency in today’s world, particularly in the Eastern U.S., would be a short-lived venture during a TEOTWAWKI situation. The reason being is that there would very likely be a mass migration of people from the major metropolitan areas out in the rural areas looking for food. As people become hungry enough, shooting, killing, and butchering of animals will take place without any regard for regulations, since all that will be gone. People may say that these “City Folk” will not have the skill set to hunt. I beg to differ. In the last 20 years, most of the guys I’ve hunted with live in the major city area of Atlanta, GA and have lived most of their lives in this city’s sprawl. That hasn’t stopped them from joining hunting clubs well outside their home area and hunting successfully. I’ve had members come from middle Tennessee down to Middle-Georgia as well as members from Miami, FL up to Middle-Georgia just to hunt in the rural farm areas of the state. During a TEOTWAWKI situation, I imagine there will be groups of refugees fleeing the major city areas looking for safety, food, and shelter. Some groups will be organized enough to have hunting parties that can secure wild game. With groups like this filtering into the rural areas, game will quickly become scarce and eventually over hunted, as was done back in the Market Hunting days of the late 1800’s.
While hunting for self-sufficiency is a great skill set for anyone to add to their survival skills, in today’s society (not a TEOTWAWKI time) the cost does outweigh the return. I’ll throw some rough numbers out to support my statement. First, it is required in most states to have a hunting license. As a resident this usually is not a major cost. In my home state, a big game license is roughly $20 annually. This allows for hunting of both big and small game during the designated hunting season, and in the Southeast the seasons are usually long and liberal. For a non-resident, an annual big game license is usually over $200. I pay for a non-resident license in Georgia, and it costs me close to $400 because I have to get a hunting license, a big game license, and a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license. Without the WMA, it would be right at $300. Had they offered life-time licenses while I lived there, it would have saved me a lot of money in the long run. That is what I’ve done in my current home state– purchase a life-time license.
As you can see, just the license cost can be substantial if hunting out of state. Other costs can come up too with hunting club dues or leasing property. Sometimes you can get permission to hunt farms or private land at no cost, but this is rare in my opinion. If you own land, there is still the cost of the property, be it mortgage payments, taxes, upkeep, and so on. These costs have a high variance, as it depends on the situation. For instance, my small piece of property is paid for, but I do have annual taxes that I happen to get a break on because it is in a conservation use program designated as farm land. However, I have a clearing project going on with five of the acres (for hunting purposes) and bulldozer work is not cheap.
Acquiring a place to hunt can be costly. In the rural Southeast, or at least my neck of the woods, leased property costs on average about $10 an acre. For me, even though I am a property owner I am a hunter, so I also lease different tracks in multiple states. Personally I do not partake in hunting clubs any longer. There is nothing wrong with them, but I have separated myself from this aspect and focus on what will give me the best chance at harvesting game. I have one 100-acre tract that is for ducks and hogs only. There are deer and other game animals there, but the main focus of this property are these two species. I have another 375 acres that I lease specifically for deer and turkey. I also lease a 178 acre track that is just 10 miles from my home. It is mainly a deer track, but I’ll hunt turkey and some small game, such as squirrel, rabbit, quail, and some hogs from time to time. As you can see, these properties at $10 an acre are costly. I split the cost of the 375 acres with one other friend and the 100 acres with two other friends. The property close to the house, I pay for by myself and hunt by myself. I just let go of a 50 acre track that was ideal for deer, turkey, ducks, and pigs. It was clear cut completely and was along a highway, so I decided to cut some of my costs with leased land. In some areas as little as 10 acres can be hunted successfully, but finding these places is difficult at best. From what I’ve seen, a lot of leased land is 100 acres or more, and the higher the acreage usually means groups, aka hunting clubs, have to lease them. Farmers in the Southeast also know this and lease their farms to hunting clubs too, so the days of going and asking someone if you can hunt their farm are all but gone in my area.
Unless you live on a property that you can hunt without a cost associated with it, you likely will have to drive to a property. This too creates a cost in fuel. There is the round trip fuel consumption cost, and if you haul an ATV the fuel consumption goes up from hauling it. Then there is the added fuel cost of using the ATV. Other fuel consumption factors can build on this too, such as running a generator, chainsaw, tractor, and so on.
As you can see, things are adding up quickly, and we haven’t harvested the first animal yet. Before we get there, we can also look at the cost of attractants. In some states it is legal to put bait out. It may or may not be legal to hunt over it, but in either situation this creates a cost if you decide to do it. Most states and properties allow for food plots. Planting food plots from any size always creates a cost. Most of my food plots are from ¼ to ½ acre in size. On the one 178 acre track, I have six of these plots. Just planting one can cost me between $50 and $60 in seed, fertilizer, fuel, and time. That is doing it myself and not paying someone to do it for me.
Another cost item is the tool you use to harvest game with. Most hunters use a modern hunting rifle. Unless you receive one as a gift, there is the upfront cost of getting one. Rough estimate could be $300. In addition to this you can put a scope on it, buy a case for it, a cleaning kit, and then ammo. Because I am a gun enthusiast, I have many rifles and thousands of rounds of ammo stockpiled. It is an investment on my part, but for someone who is just getting into it I think they could be outfitted for less than $600 and get several seasons from this initial investment.
There is also the idea of additional equipment such as boots, a knife, outdoor garb (camo’s, rain gear, hat, gloves, wool socks), and other items one may need, like binoculars, GPS or compass, bug repellent, etc. Of course depending on what one needs, these costs will vary.
Now what about costs associated with the processing of game? A lot of hunters process their own, and this is a given for most small game. However, for large game, such as deer and hogs, many like to use a processor. The processing of a deer or hog can range from $50 to $100, depending on who you use.
I am sure there is something I’m missing, but given what I’ve covered thus far let’s look at a couple of scenarios of someone who wants to get into hunting and see how much it can cost. We’ll be very conservative too, keeping in mind that someone trying it out likely will not want to put a lot of money into it on chance they decide it is not for them. Scenario One is someone who joins a club over an hour away in distance and has to equip themselves completely to get started. Scenario Two is someone who already has some equipment for hunting and has access to family property. Cost is also cut by having family members that can process the animals as well.
In Scenario One, the cost heavily outweighs the return. Even if you took out the gun and garb cost for future hunts, you are still close to $800. To me this is inexpensive for a three trip season. I personally put in thousands, but also I hunt everything that is legal to hunt and I am not looking for an immediate physical return. It is my hobby and my passion. In Scenario Two I’d say you are getting close to breaking even by filling a freezer full of meat for $400. If the three harvested animals yields 130 pounds of meet and compared to ground beef or pork chops costing about $3.75/pound, this comes to approximately $488.
I know not every situation falls neatly into these scenarios, but from my forty years of hunting I know there is a cost associated with hunting and I am pretty sure the cost outweighs the return in most situations. The return is a full freezer, and for me the return is also being out in nature, working the land, pitting wits against elusive game animals, and the success of a good day’s hunt. For me putting a price on this is hard, so I just look at it as it makes me happy and I’ll work hard to make the money so I can do what makes me happy. And, should I ever need to rely on hunting to feed myself, I think I have a pretty good foundation to build on for my self-sufficiency.