If you love math, read on. We are going to do a lot. Me? I am not a mathematician. I only trust numbers when absolutely necessary. But this discussion is one of those examples.
In Michigan, we have a fairly fair turkey hunt. But a late April opening and a one-bird limit leaves too much spring and not enough flop. For this reason, I always hit at least three other states each spring, but I have to do it on a budget that matches my narrow ways.
Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about hunting on the cheap. At first, it was a function of pure necessity. I just didn’t have the extra funds to spend. Now I’m a bit older and a bit more advanced in my career and have strengthened my financial stability. But the old ways die hard and I just refuse to spend more than necessary. Here’s how I make the most of every spring and spend the least amount of money.
Now, while these are specific to turkey hunts, they can also apply in the fall when you’re chasing whitetail deer.
Gas prices are never universal
Let’s face it, even when gas is “cheap”, it is still expensive. I’ve tried just about everything to keep fuel costs down, including crossing the country in a 2000s Pontiac Vibe 5-speed. Pushing 35 miles per gallon, this stalwart steed definitely saved money on the essence. But, as beautiful as this little car is, there are some adventures a commuter car can’t tackle. Truck fuel economy has improved, but it’s still not great. So no matter what you drive, the advice here is to be smart.
Never – I repeat, never – just wait for the “Low Fuel” light to flash on the dash. Plan ahead and use a fuel finder app like GasBuddy. I have literally saved hundreds of dollars on fuel over the course of a year or two just by religiously using the app. Fuel costs vary greatly by location. For example, I know that whenever I head west from my home state of Michigan, I will never make a fuel stop in Illinois. Gasoline taxes and other factors mean that Illinois fuel costs are significantly higher than other neighboring states. So I fill up in Michigan and don’t stop until I hit Iowa or Missouri or literally any other state. Doing it on a recent ride in Nebraska meant saving $1 per gallon.
But even in the same state, I opened the app and found gas 25-30 cents a gallon cheaper a few miles away.
Hotels are an unnecessary expense
I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel or motel while hunting. It used to be standard procedure to find the cheapest mote and call it base. Then I woke up and realized I was literally paying for nothing more than a shitty bed and a weak shower.
I also found myself becoming less and less interested in hunting areas that have such amenities nearby. Hotels and restaurants are synonymous with humans. Humans mean hunting pressure. So I avoid both.
From now on, I will sleep in my truck almost exclusively during spring turkey hunts. I have a decent camping setup for my truck bed under the hood. For short weekend outings, the rear bench seat of my F-150 Crew Cab makes a comfortable bed and I can land wherever I find gobbling birds. A few gallons of water and a bar of soap do wonders for hygiene while hunting.
Of course, you can carry a tent and camp. But campsites are around $20 a night, and again, I’m just looking for a place to sleep. I’ve spent many nights in public parking and the savings add up.
Food costs add up
I will admit it. I’m addicted to Casey’s pizza. There is nothing better after a morning of sound beatings at the hands of local bearded men. At around $4 for a slice and a pop, it’s a splurge I’d happily do.
Much has been written about bringing your own food to save on hunting trips. I’m not offering really new ideas here, but it bears repeating. The biggest savings for me come from bringing my own food and beverages.
As mentioned, I’m willing to drop a few bucks for a quick stop by Casey. But, for the most part, I pack what I need in a cooler and stock up on Sam’s Choice soda (half price, all caffeine), water, and a range of quick snacks. that keep me in the woods and away from the money-sucking drive-thrus.
Be smart about licensing
Although I love turkey hunting, I am a whitetail guy at heart. Truth be told, my spring turkey hunts are just fall deer scouting missions. I plan my beacons accordingly, which can also lead to big savings.
For example, since I live quite close to Ohio, obviously I would hunt deer there. This is ideal considering Ohio regulations require me to purchase a hunting license in addition to a deer tag. That means, for $38 more, I can hunt turkeys in the spring. I could have chosen to chase neighboring Indiana instead, but that tag would cost me $175. The same scenario is playing out in Iowa. To hunt turkeys in Iowa, you need a hunting license as well as a turkey tag. In the years when I can draw an Iowa deer tag, I will also hunt turkeys there. In years when I can’t draw a deer tag, I won’t hunt turkeys there and instead opt for a neighboring state with a lower cost turkey license.
Feature image via Captured Creative.