I started hunting later in life than many. I grew up around a hunting family and have fond memories of my grandfather skinning deer from his hunting trips in South Texas with his old Willys army-style drab green jeep with a fold down windshield and old-school 4x4 shifters. One of my first memories is with my dad and grandfather skinning a huge 400-
pound hog that had recently, and I mean very recently, gone feral on his deer lease. My dad and I would spend hours in the pasture of my grandparent’s property practicing target shooting and gun safety with pellet rifles but he was more enamored with Bass tournament circuits since, in his words, you can hunt deer 2 1/2 months of the year (gun season) but fish year round.
Many people have told me that I am the king of hunting on a budget. Don’t get me wrong though as I love hunting with the highest quality products in the industry. I just don't like paying full retail prices for them. Everyone, for the most part at least, likes to save money and get a deal on what they buy. You can always find a productive outlet for the money you save after all, right? If you are just starting out in the world of hunting as I was at one time, or interested in saving some money on what you usually do each year, I thought an article like this would be helpful to a hunter at any stage of the game. I only believe in hunting with high quality and durable products that stand the test of time as most of us hunters are hard on our gear. The truth is that quality, utility, and durability does not always have to come with a high price tag.
I graduated from Texas Lutheran University with a music degree and other things on my mind when I first started hunting. Needless to say, starting out in the real world with a mountain of student loan debt and credit card bills wasn't easy. I inherited a nice Remington Woodsmaster Model 742 in .308 Win from my Grandfather after he passed away that was handed down to my father. That was nice, especially because it didn’t cost anything out of pocket and was a fantastic all-around rifle chambered in a versatile caliber. I went to a local pawn shop and traded a bass guitar amplifier I owned straight across the counter for a Savage .22LR rifle and learned the valuable skill of trading what I didn’t want or need any more for what I wanted or needed for hunting. Later on I even traded a battle pack of South African .308 NATO rounds for military surplus rifle and another time even traded a beat-up war time surplus rifle I owned for a couple of years for a really nice deer rifle. I judged the value of what I had owned and the appreciation in value over time and “traded up”. The South African NATO Ammo I purchased for $35 traded for a gun retailing for many times more than that. The same story was true with a surplus rifle in trade for the deer rifle.
Being smart and saving money by “trading up” takes a little skill and knowledge but I have saved hundreds of dollars over the years on deals like these and have been able to put the money I saved into even more. Purchasing or trading for a used rifle can be a great value on a budget . Most guns hold their value well but you can almost always purchase one used at a more favorable price than new. I have done a video on purchasing a used rifle with things to look for and things to avoid so I won’t go into all the details in this article. The general rule for any used gun is that if a firearm looks rougher than a night in jail on the outside, chances are that the parts you can’t see will not be as pure as the driven snow on the inside either. I always equate this to buying a used car. Good deals are out there but there are plenty you should walk away from at the same time.
An educated buyer is the best defense against a bad purchase, as is the case with most purchases in life.
Milsurps – Military Surplus Rifles
Many years ago the gold standard for a military surplus rifle was an WWII Springfield bolt-Action Rifle in .30-06 or K98 Mauser chambered in 8mm Mauser. Back in the 1950’s and 60”s and even later, it was cheaper to “sporterize” an old military warhorse than to purchase a new gun. In most cases, the handguard part of the rifle stock was removed and bottom part of the stock was cut down and rounded off to make a new forend and resemble a commercial hunting rifle. Sometimes the gun was even re-barreled to a more popular hunting cartridge for better ammunition availablity or one that that was better suited for the hunter’s needs. Then the gun was usually always drilled and tapped for a scope, effectively turning it into a “deer gun” but ruining the collector value of the rifle as a result. Again, it was cheaper to do this than purchase a new gun in years past and there were plenty of guns available for a low cost. Part of the consequence for this though was that the market on these guns dried up and the collectible value rose high among the guns that were not sporterized. Now this being said, many gunsmiths today still do sporterizing an make some beautiful creations. There are several very well done milsurp sporters on the market today from years past and I happen to one of these. I have an FN Belgium Mauser chambered in .270 Win and it is one of my favorite guns for hunting and target shooting.
It is usually cheaper now days though to purchase a new or used rifle for the cost of sporterizing and old one unless you can find one already in “hunting” configuration, which is a great value by itself. Many sporterized K98 Mausers can be found for $175-$250 and represent an excellent value along with several other military surplus guns like the Enfield, Swedish Mauser, Japanese Arasaka and more! Because of the recent importation over the past few decades of guns from around the world, many domestic and foreign ammo manufactures now produce ammunition for once hard-to-find calibers. Once again, there has never been a better time to be alive and active in the hunting and firearms industry than today.
Enter the Mosin Nagant, one of my personal favorites for its cost, utility, and durability. This gun has been called “the $100 .30-06” because the 7.62x54r cartridge is close to a .30-06 in ballistics and the 91/30 version of the rifle can still be found for
around $150-$200 at local gun shows and pawn shops. Shorter carbine versions, the M38 and M44 can be found for a little more but are easier to maneuver in the woods because of their shorter barrels and overall length. If you are just starting out in hunting or need an inexpensive but durable rifle, they do indeed represent a great value and anyone can easily add a scope rail on the existing rear sight assembly and a pistol scope or long eye relief scope without a visit to a gunsmith or drilling and tapping the receiver, effectively making a “Scout Rifle.” This set-up takes a little getting used to if you have never shot a gun with a Long-Eye Relief or Pistol Scope but this configuration works well in the 100-200 yard range for just about anything four-legged animal in North America. Many ranch owners also use a Mosin Nagant for a “truck gun” or ranch rifle as they are inexpensive and tough as nails. With the advent of the Rock Solid, JMeck, and other no-drill scope mounts for the Mosin, you can now mount a standard eye relief scope mount on this fine rifle. I own 5 Mosins in different hunting configurations and love them all!
With the advent of Craigslist, Facebook groups, and other local and regional peer-to-peer selling and auction websites and outlets, purchasing a bargain of a deal on a bow or crossbow is not hard. There are things to look for such as splitting or cracking in the limbs or riser, fraying or drying-out of the bow string, and nicks or sharp edges in the cams, to name a few important factors to look for when shopping. Tuning a compound bow bow is not hard to do these days in most cases and with the advent of different sized draw modules, most adult –sized bows can fit just about any adult archer with the right cam module installed for his or her draw length. This is also true with many youth bows.
A good rule of thumb I learned when purchased my bow used is to try to find a bow that is 4 years old or newer if possible. Older bows are fine (especially for uses like bowfishing) but with the advent of newer models of bows, sourcing replacement parts can become an issue down the road if and when you might need them for the bow you purchase. I bought one of my bows when it was only 3 years old and it had less than 50 arrows shot from it by the previous owner, who was getting out of bowhunting completely in favor of gun hunting exclusively. I bought everything he had, and I mean everything, for only $200! This included a hard case, arrows, field tips, extra nocks, you name it! The bow retailed new for $500 in stock form when it was new and the previous owner had upgraded many accessories in the time he had owned it as well. I have won several 3-D Archery tournaments and harvested number of deer and wild hogs over the years with my bow without any issues with replacing parts aside from getting a draw module to accommodate my longer draw length.
The same rules apply for purchasing a crossbow except for the consideration that most crossbows are pretty universal to any size or age. An overall good rule of thumb is to buy a bow as new as you can afford in the used archery market to maximize the best in quality and durability before having to put money into replacing the bow string or any moving parts. Like a used car, let the first owner take the hit on the depreciation while still getting the best part of owning part of the “new” life of the bow if you can.
One quick point about accessories for your bow should be mentioned here. Never purchase broadheads used or go with cheap knock-off brands. It’s not worth the chance of losing an animal or having a malfunction, which has happened to me in the past in such cases. I am a fan of Grim Reaper Broadheads (www.grimreaperbroadheads.com) which can retail in the $39 range for three new broadheads and a practice tip but I always buy a replacement/rebuild kit and am usually able to rebuild the heads a few times before they become unusable. Grim Reapers have a solid core to their ferrule, or center part of the broadhead, making them easy to rebuild time after time. Many brands of premium broadheads on the market sell rebuild kits but are not as durable to go through as many rebuilds as the Grim Reapers. This is one reason why I will always spend a little more up front if I can get more utility out of what I buy down the road. The old saying goes that it’s better to by the best now than pay for inferior products over and over again several times down the road later and this is especially true in the realm of broadheads and other accessories we use in hunting. I always either shoot new or completely rebuilt broadheads on every hunt I go on to keep the odds in my favor.
Day Hunt Ranches
One of my many roles in the outdoor industry is working in outside sales and marketing for DB Hunting Ranch (www.dbhunting.com) in Central Texas. Day hunt ranches are an excellent and affordable ways to hunt without having to lay down thousands of dollars for a deer lease or other hunting property. If you don’t have access to hunting land of your own or if you are after some exotic big game and don’t feel like getting on a plane or crossing state-lines on the road, this is an excellent choice. Find a ranch with a good reputation and ask around on hunting forums on the internet and or other venues about other hunters’ experiences. I have seen plenty of hunting ranches come and go over the years working in the business and a general rule is that ranches that don’t serve their hunters well over time don’t last very long.
Hunters talk and news travels fast, especially in our current time with social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I have shot trophy rams, exotic deer, Catalina billy goats, tons of hogs and more on hunting ranches like the one I work with and they are unbeatable. This is especially true when it comes to a variety of factors such as the amount of time and money you can save on a guided or semi-guided hunt compared to doing it on your own. Most hog hunts can be done in the $150-$250 range and exotic hunts are fully-guided with a guaranteed shot opportunity, giving you the best chance possible to close the deal on your pursuit. Exotics and hogs can also be hunted year round here in Texas, making it even better for any season of the year.
Affordable Hunting Land
This is a subject that I am well versed on and all of my hunting buddies know me well for hunting on land in trade or barter for something or even free in some cases. Some of my friends even give me a hard time about my barter skills but I also spend my hard-earned on better things than they do most of the time. Two deer hunting hot spots I have had were near residential areas which make them perfect for bowhunting. One spot was on a 5-acre tract of land outside the city limits but about a 15 minute drive from my house. How did I get this place? A married couple that attends church with me invited me to hunt there after hearing that I am a bowhunter a few years ago. I trade them a some processed deer meat in return for hunting the back part of their property and improving their land quality while I hunt there.
Another spot I have had was behind a neighborhood in a municipal utility district, outside the city limits, along a creek that is has been there for thousands of years. This spot is really close to civilization so I am extra respectful of the landowners and
communicate regularly with them as well as my local game warden every season I hunt there. I nicknamed this spot “Deer City, Texas.” Hunting this area cost me nothing in trade except for a little sweat equity from time to time. A single elderly woman owns this land and she asks me on occasion to help her with a few chores around her property that she is unable to do such as trimming trees and mowing from time to time. Plentiful deer and close to home.
These were not my only hunting spots by any means but as a busy guy with a wife, growing family, and a demanding job, having two blinds set up 15 minutes from home to go spend a morning or evening was a welcome option versus having to pack up for a whole weekend and be away from my family. Many hunters I tell about the two above properties never believe they could pull something like that off where they live. My response comes from a famous quote from Andy Rooney, “Opportunities are never lost. Someone will always take the ones you miss.” I am certainly an opportunist and am never afraid to ask if I see a chance to hunt somewhere new, which is how I ended up with these two hot spots. Your mileage might very but chances are there are ample hunting areas that are far less than an hour drive away from you. Consider the fact that some recent studies have shown that bigger and better trophy bucks are being harvested near residential areas with archery equipment than many surrounding popular “deer hunting” counties way out of the city. This is one reason why many hunting shows now cover “close to city” style bowhunting. It can be done but check with your game warden and local landowners around you to make sure what you are doing is legal and safe for everyone in the area. You will be surprised on what is available out there and how many homeowners and land owners welcome you back if you are respectful and professional in the way you handle yourself in your hunting activities.
Cash and credit seem to be the only medium of payment in our world today where our ancestors used to do quite a bit of commerce with bartering and trading goods and services for what they wanted or needed in times past. There are even reality TV shows on this subject and I am a long-term student of the “Art of the Deal” or trading something you have for something some else wants or needs. I actually started out in the outdoor industry over 10 years ago, when I was just starting to get away from “flat broke” in my financial situation, by selling hunts for a hunting ranch on the side in exchange for a free hog hunt for every 8 hunts I sold. This was certainly a good trade for both the ranch owner and I. I realize that not everyone is that creative or ambitious but most of us have something of value to trade for something we want and people value that. It never hurts to ask or offer your services or something else you have in trade for what you want as long as there is value in what you have for the other person. I heard of many people trading ranch labor for a predator hunting or big game hunting opportunity for instance. Networking is not just a skill used in the business world. Build your own network of those around you who have land or access to hunting property and take care of them accordingly. You might be amazed at what you receive in return.
Affordable Hunting Gear
Many people do all of their shopping for hunting gear at the big box sporting goods or outdoor stores. Even good ol’ Wal-Mart has a pretty good selection of camo clothing and other hunting gear and accessories around and during hunting season. All that being said though, few people I run into in the hunting community ever give a second thought to shopping at an Army/Navy Military Surplus store. Since where I live happens to be rather close to Fort Hood, one of the largest Army bases in the world, there is no shortage of places to explore in this realm. What can you get here? Many stores, especially the one
closest to my home, now sell a variety of very reasonably priced hunting gear and have consignment items from all over the place. For example, I have a variety of military issue water canteens, which are excellent and durable for carrying water in the field, and inexpensive too! As long as you don’t set these canteens too close to a heat source, they will provide years of utility and durability. I have used the ones I have hundreds of times and they look super cool to carry around.
Over the years I have purchased hunting clothing, knives, flashlights, gun accessories, and more at the surplus store for far less than the big box outlets. Usually, since most of these items are built for the use and abuse of active combat in extreme conditions, durability is as good as it gets, if not better than many retail products found at many big box sporting goods stores. If there is a military surplus store near you , check it out! They are full of all kinds of fun stuff!
Branch Out to Online and Mail Order Retailers
Another great savings idea is to shop mail order and internet sporting goods stores. Among these, my favorites are Sportsman’s Guide (www.sportsmansguide.com) as well as Cheaper Than Dirt (www.cheaperthandirt.com). Both have mailing lists you can get on to regularly receive their catalogs and newsletters and they have an extensive online store. For knives and even some cool novelties, one of my favorite companies is BudK (www.budk.com). These guys have quality and value paired up well! I have several Bowie knives I use for Hog Dog hunting and other tasks for a fraction of the price that many are sold for elsewhere. Some retail for less than $10 with EXCEPTIONAL build quality for that price. If I lose one of knives in the woods on a hog hunt it’s not a huge deal either. Sometimes you do get what you pay for but hang around guys like me for long and you will find both quality, rock-solid durability, and a good price tag all combined!
Hunting does not have to cost a second mortgage on your house or deciding between a hunting lease or your children’s or grandchildren’s college savings plan. To the educated bargain shopper goes the spoils and I save thousands upon thousands of dollars every year because I have found ways to fill the freezer and even put trophies on the wall without spending everything I earn on hunting. I still believe there is no excuse for the very best in quality and durability but price does not always have to be in the way of these two factors.
Regardless of what you pursue, hunting is never the least inexpensive sport you can participate in but I will argue that most other sporting pursuits do not yield near the rewards as hunting can in meat, trophies, memories with family and friends, and much more. You certainly don’t have to spend a ton of money to enjoy many aspects of the hunting lifestyle if you shop smart and build relationships with those around you. I wish you many blessings in the field as always, my friends. May your aim be dead-on target and your freezer be full of meat!
Dustin Vaughn Warncke is an avid hunter, outdoor industry consultant, and Pro-Staff for Mac & Prowler as well as several outdoor industry product and guide service businesses. E-mail Dustin at email@example.com or visit Warncke Enterprises at www.dustinsprojects.com