FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE MARRIED, Im going to warn you up front that this article is going to throw out some dollar figures related to your hobby of deer hunting, so you may want to either hide this issue or read it somewhere other than the house so that you stay out of trouble. Ill give you a second to find a safe place to read.
Lets go ahead and get to the heart of this article, deer hunting can be expensive. Real expensive. Between leases, firearms, archery equipment, feeders, stands, clothes... it can cost a small fortune to just see a deer. Add a few family members to the mix and expenses double or triple instantly. However, there are ways to decrease these expenses if you do some research and legwork.
Since one of the largest expenses most hunters incur is a lease, lets start there. Just for grins, how much do you pay for your current lease? Since I cant hear you I did some highly scientific research on the subject, I checked craigslist. Dont laugh. You can get anything on craigslist (from miniature milking goats to electric dryers to a radio knob for a 1974 Chevy Nova) including deer leases.
What I found on craigslist is about what I expected. Of the leases I looked at the average price was just over $2000 per gun with the lowest priced being $1000. I stopped looking when I got to leases that were around $5000 per gun. I know there are some priced much higher but I dont want to know about them since those are well out of the reach of the average hunter.
Just like everything else, the price of leases has crept up over the past few years. It wasnt unheard of to find a decent lease in East Texas for around $750 per gun (with guest or family access) just a few years ago. A lucky hunter might even find one for under $500. Today, East Texas leases start at $1000 and expect prices to get higher the further south and west you go.
While land is a prerequisite for deer hunting, dont feel like you are obligated to drop thousands on a lease (no Im not advocating trespassing) just to put some venison in the freezer. Im talking about hunting on the thousands of acres of public land throughout the state. Dont look at me like that, Im not crazy. While public hunting in Texas isnt most hunters first choice it is a viable option to reduce the cost of hunting. For $48 you get access to thousands of acres of land that hold some big deer but you have to be willing to put in some work to get to them.
There is no baiting on public land and you will have some competition but if you put in some miles scouting you can find secluded spots that hold deer. Speaking from my own experience, Ive kicked up plenty of deer while hunting public land. The one drawback is that many of the wildlife management areas (WMA) only allow deer hunting with archery equipment, but this should not be a major deterrent. Archery hunting is far from easy, but due to advancements in bows it is much easier than it was just a decade ago. If you dont want to learn to shoot a vertical bow, then look into the option of a draw hunt using a crossbow.
Its too late this year to apply (so keep this in mind next year) but many of the wildlife management areas have draw hunts for both firearm and crossbow hunters. For a $3 application fee you get to throw your name in for a hunt on land that rarely sees hunters, and for crossbow hunters the odds of getting drawn are fairly good (if drawn you pay $130 to hunt which is still a lot cheaper than a deer lease). For example, in 2010 on the Big Lake Bottom WMA, there were 31 applicants for 31 crossbow permits so the chance of being drawn was 100%. Also, the success rate for these hunters was 14%. For reference, the national average for bow hunter success is somewhere between 10% and 15%. Keep in mind that the national average is for a season and the success rate at Big Lake was just for a few days so you have just as good a chance to kill a deer in a few days as the average bow hunter does all season. For firearms hunters there is more competition for the permits but there is also a better success rate.
Weapon of Choice
Lets say you lucked into a lease for next to nothing, whats the next biggest expense in hunting? For most its your weapon of choice, either a bow or firearm, which at times can cost as much or more than a lease itself but it doesnt have to.
Im not too proud to admit that over the past few seasons my wife has kicked my rear during bow season, and shes done it with a rig that costs a lot less than you might think. Since crossbows have become legal to use during archery season she has taken to the woods with a crossbow we purchased for around $150 from Sportsmans Guide (the same bow can even be found on Amazon, yes Amazon). We added a few carbon bolts mated to some standard Muzzy broadheads and for around $200 total she was taking deer (three in two seasons). That price is hard to beat.
For firearms hunters, dont fret, you can find good deals too. You just need to get away from the mindset that you must have a stainless steel, synthetic stocked (gold plated diamond studded) 7mm magnum to hunt Texas deer.
Have you shopped around for a rifle lately? If you have then you noticed that firearms manufacturers have flooded the market with what would be considered introductory rifles. While these firearms might not have all the bells and whistles of their higher priced cousins they are still more than capable of taking a deer in most hunting situations. Im a fan of Savage firearms for their accuracy and their bolt action Axis rifle can be found at Academy for under $300. If that is out of your budget then look into the single shot market. A brand new, already scoped Remington H&R .243 single shot can be had for $300. Its not top of the line but well worth the price. If you look around a little bit you can find a used one for a lot less. In case youre keeping count, you can get a crossbow and rifle for less than $500.
One way to save money on a deer stand is to simply NOT use one. Photo: BIGSTOCK
One of the other parts of deer hunting that drives up the cost substantially are stands, but you can get around this one easily too. Just dont hunt out of one. I know, its a foreign concept around here but you dont have to sit in a box blind or tree stand to kill a deer. I keep a set of pruning shears in my backpack so that I can make an impromptu ground blind anywhere at anytime. Some of the biggest bucks Ive taken have been while sitting on the ground nowhere near a stand. Making a makeshift blind against a tree has become one of my daughters favorite ways to hunt. Just wear full camo, sit still, and you will see some deer.
Deer hunting can be expensive, but it doesnt have to be. If you adjust your thinking and perception about how hunting should be in Texas you can take a lot of deer for minimal expense.