Hunting is a fun sport that many people engage in. While it is not considered necessary for survival anymore, there are still some people who like to hunt for all their meat rather than buying it from their local grocery store.
If you compare only the cost of a year’s supply of meat with a year’s supply of simple hunting expenses, it could be cheaper to hunt for meat rather than to buy your meat. But if you include hunting start-up costs, meat processing, ammunition, scouting trips, and more, it gets complicated.
If you’re a recreational hunter who is going out to hunt for the thrill of it and to enjoy some time in nature, you probably won’t save money in the long run. But let’s look at some scenarios where you might be able to break even.
When Is It Cheaper to Hunt vs Buy Meat?
In order for it to be cheaper to hunt than to buy meat, some conditions have got to be right.
- You need to be able to hunt where you live.
- You’ve got to have a high success rate.
- Be frugal when it comes to hunting gear and expenses.
- Have a meat hunter mindset as opposed to a trophy hunter mentality.
If you really want to feed your family and save money by hunting, don’t pass up a legal doe on opening day just in case you have a shot at an old buck a week later!
A Case Study
Let’s take the case of my uncle. He’s a guy whom, I presume with great confidence, saves a whole lot of money on meat thanks to his hunting endeavors. This is because he:
- knows what he’s doing, so he always fills his tags.
- hunts for meat, not trophies.
- hunts local since he lives in the mountains where he can hunt near his home (or even off his back porch).
- uses the same gear he has for years and doesn’t waste money on new fancy guns, optics, camo, or gadgets all the time.
- hunts multiple game species like deer, elk, turkey, and chukars (and he fishes too).
- sometimes has my aunt or cousins fill a deer or elk tag too.
- preserves his meat in different ways including freezing, canning, and smoking.
In that way, my uncle manages to harvest and preserve enough meat during hunting season so that he can literally feed his family year-round with his take.
Since he doesn’t travel far, he’s not spending extra money on out-of-state tags, gas, or major travel expenses.
He’s frugal when it comes to gear. And he relies more on his know-how and experience to maintain a high success rate.
Thanks to all those things combined, his hunting expenses are quite low. And it is indeed rare that he ever buys meat at the grocery store.
The fact that he has learned how to preserve meat in different ways ensures nothing goes to waste.
This level of self-sufficiency is admirable. But it came with years of practice and experience, as well as a lot of discipline.
Costs of Hunting Instead of Purchasing Meat
The average American consumes about 275 pounds of meat per year. When you average out the costs to include beef, pork, and poultry, that’s about $750 worth of meat every year, per person. So for a family of four, that’s $3000 a year for meat in an American household.
The casual hunter spends about $2500 on hunting expenses annually. So even if you are a casual hunter that goes out for 5-14 days throughout the year and hunts a little bit of everything from beaver to moose, the expenses of hunting could be cheaper than what you would have spent on buying meat from the store.
Of course, this depends on how successful you are with hunting. If you go out once or twice a year and fill all your tags, you’re a very efficient hunter. You probably didn’t spend much on gas, supplies, or ammo. So your cost for that meat that you harvest is pretty low. In this scenario, it’s definitely cheaper for you to hunt rather than buy your meat at the store.
Unfortunately, most hunters don’t have such luck. Many serious hunters will spend days scouting the best hunting location. They will spend thousands of dollars on gas and gear, and countless hours on the range preparing for their hunts.
These recreational hunters will have a great time and could very likely bring home meat, but they will not break even on the costs. It would be much cheaper for them to buy their meat from the grocery store. (But also a lot less fun.)
It is difficult to say whether or not your household will break even or save money on hunting for your meat rather than purchasing it. But it is certainly possible for a small family to save money by hunting.
If this is something you are interested in, it is important to start preparing yourself because hunting is hard, even for those who are experienced. And if you’re interested in the cost savings aspect, you’ll need to know about some up-front costs when you start hunting.
Related: Pros and Cons of Hunting
Start-up costs for a beginning hunter will include a weapon that is strong enough to kill big game, whether this is a gun or a compound bow. The cost for a heavy-duty hunting weapon will be at least $400, not including ammo or arrows, which can easily add on another $100-$150.
Licenses can get somewhat pricey depending on your state and the kind of license you choose to purchase. There are many options for a hunting license depending on your state, including one-year, three-year, and lifetime licenses. These can range from $15-$2000 depending on the state and the type of license you decide to purchase.
Hunting tags are another fee that should be considered as they can get pretty pricey. Again, the price depends on the state and the kind of game you are looking to hunt. You may also need to purchase a permit to use your weapon for hunting in certain units, which generally only costs $15-$30.
The time spent scouting, hunting and traveling out to the hunting areas are also costs to consider when calculating the cost-effectiveness of hunting rather than purchasing meat at the grocery store.
When it comes to getting set up for hunting, there is obviously a wide range of what you could spend. When you calculate your start-up costs of a weapon, ammunition, licenses, tags, and basic gear you’re looking at a range of $800-$2000 or more. And when you include gas and other provisions, it’s safe to say you’ll spend over $1000 minimum and up to $2500 or more.
Big Game Hunting
Big game hunting is most likely more economical than small game hunting because you get more meat for your work. If you can only go out once or twice a year, getting a deer and an elk will bring in a lot more meat than a couple of ducks.
A single mature deer will bring in about 50 pounds of meat or more. That could feed the average American for a few months. If you supplemented with some smaller game, you could stretch out that deer meat for a year.
If you harvest a 50-pound deer (which would be on the smaller side), how does that compare to the price of meat in the store?
Let’s take an average price of $10.00/lb, with ground beef a bit cheaper than that and steaks a bit more expensive at your local discount grocery store. 50 pounds of meat would cost you about $500. So if you harvest your own deer, that’s approximately $500 of meat you just hunted.
That sounds like a great bargain until you remember that you likely spent over $800 to get out there to shoot that deer.
Small Game Hunting
Let’s examine the cost savings (or lack thereof) when hunting small game. Small game could include ducks, geese, pheasants, rabbits, etc.
For comparison’s sake, we’ll look at the cost of chicken at a discount grocery chain. Let’s take the average price of chicken at $4.00/lb. The average duck will produce about 3 pounds of meat. So that would be $12.00 per duck harvested.
The daily limits vary depending on your area’s regulations, but it’s usually around seven birds per day. It’s safe to say most hunters are not out shooting seven ducks every day of the week. So let’s say you harvest 10 ducks a week (which would be a great accomplishment) at our estimation of $12.00 per duck. That’s $120 saved every week (nearly $500 per month) by hunting for ducks instead of buying chickens at your local grocery store.
Again, you have to take into account the cost of your gun, ammo, gas, gear, etc. The costs for hunting small game are similar to that of hunting big game. So if you’re spending a minimum of $800 to start hunting, it would take several months of successful small game hunting before you break even.
There are several ways to process your meat. You can process it yourself in your home or garage. Some people prefer to just take it to a commercial processor or butcher rather than do it themselves.
Generally, a butcher will give you 50 pounds of meat back if you have them butcher your large animal. Having a deer processed can cost anywhere from $75-$150 depending on the butcher. But this price will fluctuate depending on what you want to have done to the meat.
You have to factor in this cost when you’re trying to determine whether it’s cheaper to hunt or buy your meat.
When Hunting is “Worth It”
Your financial break-even point may not come for a few years after you start hunting. There’s a steep learning curve and you may come back empty-handed your first several times.
Hunting starts to become “worth it” financially when you can consistently bring home game. This way your trips to the store and your hunting area become less frequent.
You’ve got to hunt local and be focused on filling your freezer more than hanging trophies on the wall.
But most hunters are not just in it for the financial savings. Hunting is also “worth it” for the thrill of the hunt and the peace and solitude that is found in the wild. When you factor in the happiness of the hunter, the break-even point may come a lot sooner!