How many times have you seen someone on a social media site posing the question, “If you could go anywhere and hunt anything, what would it be?” I used to answer those truthfully, but it got to be rather redundant and kind of depressing. So I started answering with the most off-the-wall thing I could think of. “Unicorns on Easter Island,” was a fun one.
There are ways to make a dream hunting trip come true, however, that are much more realistic. The place to start is by being honest with yourself. Where do you really want to go, and how much can you afford to spend doing it? From there, it’s all about the details.
Dare to dream
What is it about a dream hunting trip is it that makes it worthy of that name? Is it the destination? The game? Everything? Let’s look at this from a couple of perspectives.
If, like many of us, the destination is the dream part of the trip, what is it that is holding you back? For example, hunting in Alaska is a major dream destination for a hunting adventure. That, at least for me, is a $700 plane ticket right now. Add the cost of licenses, rental cars, and guide fees (if you do not want to attempt a DIY hunt), and you’re going to end up with $10,000 or more to go moose hunting. You ask a lot of hunters, me included, about hunting in Alaska, and they’ll say they want to hunt moose.
Let’s be realistic though. How much of that 1,500-pound moose are you going to get back to the Lower 48? The airlines will let you check extra bags and a 50-pound box of meat is a lot of meat. But from that 1,500-pound moose, you might have 700 pounds of meat. Can you haul back 14 extra bags? And don’t forget shipping the rack back.
The only ways to do a hunt like an Alaskan moose excursion seriously are to either plan to donate the meat and have the antlers shipped or have it all shipped. And that isn’t cheap. But if you’re only going to do it once, why not go big?
If you’re of the opinion that the destination is more important than the game, there are tons of cheaper options for hunting in Alaska. I’ve been looking into things and have recently found that an Alaskan duck hunt could be done for under $1,000 with current airfare. I’ve been in Alaska during duck season and there are some truly awesome spots that could be accessed on a DIY basis. The license, at least right now, is only $25. How sweet is that?
In sum, if the destination is the dream, that can usually be found cheaper than the whole package. I know I’d love to hunt moose in Alaska. But seeing as how I can’t afford it, I might plan to go to Alaska again to hunt ducks, ptarmigan, and fish. There are cheaper places to go for moose, some I can drive to. Heck, I can take my wife’s compact car. You would be amazed at how much stuff I can shove in the trunk.
For most of us, the thought of a DIY hunt sounds pretty good. The actual execution of it, however, is another story. Think of all the logistics of it: scouting, getting gear around, making sure all of the proper permits are ready. They can bog down a hunt faster than I can max out my credit card in a Cabela’s store. The solution is an outfitter.
Paying a guide and going the outfitted route is a great way to go and a lot of people make their living from it. Do your research. Check websites and look for recommendations. Go to sport shows, as sometimes you can score a “show special.” Just make sure the show special is really a deal. Know what a hunting trip should cost before you book so you know you’re not paying too much. Ask for referrals, too. Quite often, a reputable guide will let you get the “show price” after you ask folks who’ve hunted with him before, if he knows his stuff.
Another great idea is to use a trip planning service. Cabela’s has one of the best booking services available with Outdoor Adventures. It’s not the cheapest, but I know from personal experience dealing with these guys that everything about your trip will be as it is advertised. That’s saying something.
If you absolutely want to do things yourself, and more power to you, there are a few things to add into the plan. One, and this is the biggest, is time. You thought I’d say money, right? Money is big, but time is the most important thing to have on a DIY hunt. Time is the quite often the reason behind a failed DIY hunt.
Scout as much as possible. I did a DIY pronghorn hunt in Wyoming a few years ago. I was able to drive over several times in the weeks leading up to the hunt to scout the entire unit I drew. I also pored over maps of all types and scoured through aerial photography of specific zones and region of the unit. Still, the first attempt at the hunt failed, but I planned ahead and added in some extra time. I went back the following weekend with a buddy and was able to close the deal. It was an awesome hunt, too—one I plan to do again some day for sure.
Contact the state wildlife agencies. Quite often you can tap into a wealth of info, even getting to talk directly to the game biologist in that area. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be adaptable. When applying for a tag, have second choices and even thirds. Be open to hunting other areas that might just be more DIY-friendly. You’ll never know until you ask.
Live the dream
The most important things to do when preparing for a dream hunt are to plan for it as long as you can, make it work for you, and enjoy it. So often success is measured by the trophy. Forget that! Enjoy the moment. Take in every part of it from the first moment the idea crosses your mind, through all of the prepping and planning stages, to the actual trip itself.
It’s like reading a book. You have all of that build up to the final climatic event of the book. Enjoy every chapter. If the ending lets you down and you go home eating tag soup, at least you got to go. How many people even get that far?