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By Jace Bauserman
Few things are more fun than a DIY hunting road trip. Watching mile markers tick by as you near a landscape where new adventures await makes the heart thump a little faster. You’ve thought about the idea—loading up the truck and burning up the blacktop. Then you start thinking about expenses like gas, food, lodging, tags and the rest of the seemingly endless list. You figure you can’t swing it and push it to the back of your mind.
I’ve been there. I taught elementary school for nine years and for three of those years, my wife was finishing school. My hunt budget was limited, but I learned to make it work and go on no less than two DIY road-trip hunts each year. Here’s how you pinch the pennies and make it happen.
Good hunting buddies are hard to find. When embarking on a DIY road trip, you want to pick compadres that love to hunt as much as you do, won’t shy from work and aren’t whiners. Get a bad egg in the bunch and the joy of the trip will get sucked down the toilet. I recommend taking two good buddies. This way you can split expenses into thirds, share the work that will happen on the hunt and learn together so you can repeat the process multiple times.
One of the most expensive parts of any DIY road trip, liquid gold is a requirement to make the trip possible. Grab a calculator and figure out how many miles it will be to and from your hunting ground. Next, figure in the number of miles you’ll likely drive while on the hunt and multiple that number by two. Trust me, you’ll end driving more than thought. New spots need to be explored and often the game-rich nirvana you’re looking for will be found more than a few miles from camp.
After figuring total trip mileage and estimating in the gas mileage of the vehicle you plan to take, you have a number. Good. Now add $50 to that number to cover swings in gas prices. Get an envelope and have your friends follow suit. Every week drop between $10 and $20 in the envelope. You’ll be shocked how quickly it adds up.
Stay out of town! Going into town means stops at convenience stores and restaurants. This is a needless extra expense that will add up quickly. The only time a town visit should be made is for gas. Cook and freeze as many meals as you can ahead of time. In addition, each time you make a visit to the grocery store, pick out two food items you’ll need for the trip. Stash them so the kids don’t find them, and your rations will add up.
Pulling a camper is always an option, and not a bad one if you factor in the gas ahead of time. Your cheapest route though, is a tent. A little searching will reveal plenty of no-charge camping areas near your hunt destination. Of course, if you’re hunting out West and plan to camp on BLM, Grasslands or National Forest, fees are never an issue. My advice is that each person brings his/her own tent. You will want and need your own space, and nobody wants to listen to snoring.
If you road trip long enough, it will happen. A tire will blow up, a starter will go out and a battery will die. Someone will slice a finger and need stiches at the local hospital. I’ve seen this more than once. During your planning meeting, create an incidentals envelope. Again, each person going on the trip should do so. Decide on a weekly amount that should go in the envelopes and stick to it.
The good news is eight times out of 10, you won’t need that income on a hunt. Save it! That money now becomes your starting fund for your next DIY road trip. You can do this. I roam the country each year on DIY sojourns — from the Rockies to the Midwest. My average hunt cost including tags (nonresident elk excluded) is $586.