Prices for just about everything continue to rise, and waterfowlers aren't immune to this trend. While certain expenses are inevitable, such as buying hunting licenses and gassing up your truck, boat, or ATV, cost-conscious hunters are finding ways to save money while pursuing their favorite pastime. The following tips from veteran waterfowlers will help you enjoy a successful season without breaking the bank.
If you've been planning a trip to a unique waterfowling destination and you know the price of traveling will be steep, you might want to consider several options that can help offset some of the expenses. Mario Friendy, vice president of brand innovation, marketing, and sales for Final Approach, offers suggestions for cutting back on lodging and food costs.
"If you are traveling far enough away from home that you are considering staying overnight in a hotel or lodge, those costs are going to add up quickly on a four- or five-day trip," Friendy says. "My advice is to try camping. You can invest a little in decent camping gear and save on the costs of hotels. You can also pack coolers with food and drinks to save on the costs of eating out. Eating ducks for dinner around a campfire is a pretty good way to end a day of hunting."
Friendy hunts in the Pacific Northwest, where an abundance of public land offers plentiful camping opportunities. "You just have to do a little more homework," he says. "Not only are you scouting for ducks, now you're scouting for a nearby camping spot as well. As an example, in my region there are a lot of public boat ramps that have campsites available. You just have to find them."
You might think that forking over money for a guided hunt doesn't sound like a cost-cutting measure, but crunching the numbers just might change your mind. Holt Blackwood, owner and operator of Briarpatch Outfitters in Brinkley, Arkansas, says that a lot of his repeat clients understand this.
"We certainly position ourselves as more of a blue-collar outfit for just this reason," Blackwood says. "I've got guys who come from all over the country telling me they gave up their lease, sold their side-by-side or boat, and invested that money into multiple short trips looking for quality hunts."
Blackwood recognizes that his hunts aren't cheap, but they can be cheaper than joining a club and buying all the gear you need. "A lot of times guys go this route due to limits on their time, or maybe they've moved to a new job and can't commit to chasing ducks on their own the way they used to," he says. "Then they realize they are actually saving money by hunting with us, and they are enjoying better-quality hunts. They show up and experience a good hunt, with the best gear, without having to actually buy and store their own gear."
Blackwood suggests adding up all the costs you incur over a season of hunting, including lease fees, club dues, transportation costs, and equipment. It might be more than what you would pay for several hunts with a reputable guide service.
No Boat, No Problem
A duck boat can be a major expense, but you don't always need one, even on many public areas. In fact, learning how to bag ducks without a boat might be the single-largest cost saver for some waterfowlers.
Matt Harrison, communications and stakeholder specialist for Ducks Unlimited, explains that walking into public hunting areas where he lives in central Mississippi can be productive if you're willing to work for it. He spends a lot of time hunting in the state's Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
"We hunt one particular refuge quite a bit, and the hunting can be spectacular when the conditions are right," he explains. "There are some areas that aren't accessible by boat, so we hike in real early in the morning. We can get into areas where there isn't any pressure at all, mainly because other hunters don't want to haul decoys on their backs and put one foot in front of the other for 45 minutes or more."
Harrison adds that the benefits of not spending money on a duck boat are twofold. "People definitely do boat into some areas of the refuge," he says. "But the areas that are accessible by boat are also where all the hunters are. We are looking to get back into sloughs that boat hunters can't get to."
Granted, this may be considered a young man's game, but that's not always the case. "Mississippi has done a very good job of offering walk-in access at several wildlife management areas," he says. "I've seen hunters of all ages walking in to hunt here and in other states. But I would recommend making sure everyone is physically fit enough to get in and out. Some of the walks can be pretty tough, and sometimes you might not know exactly what kind of habitat you're going to be walking through in the dark."
New Life for Old Gear
Gear junkies are going to be gear junkies. There's no stopping that. They will always find a reason to add the latest motion decoy to their spread, soup up their shotgun, or buy a new call that sounds just a little "duckier" than the last one. It seems counterintuitive, but being a gear junkie can sometimes save you a little jingle along the way.
Bill Bond, assistant director of fundraising operations for Ducks Unlimited, is a self-proclaimed gear tinkerer, and he has found that taking a new look at old equipment can often be a money-saving alternative to buying new gear.
He knows that most waterfowl hunters, like himself, have closets, drawers, and even entire garages filled with hunting gear.
"I know guys who have 25 duck calls sitting in a drawer," Bond says. "Why not refurbish those old calls, rather than buying new ones? There's value left in some older calls. They may need a new reed or cork and some tuning, but these fixes are easy to make, and they're cheap."
In addition to recycling old hunting gear, Bond recommends making your own. Try browsing sporting goods stores for gear you want, he says, and then go home and make it yourself for a fraction of the cost. "Making your own Texas rigs is a no-brainer. Also, you can get some paracord and make your own lanyard, dog lead, gun sling, jerk string, and even a duck strap. You may find that you really enjoy the process, and you can customize many of these items based on your preferences and your style of hunting. It's a great way to save money, and it can be a fun off-season hobby."
The Group Budget
Jim Ronquest, vice president of development for Drake Waterfowl, is no stranger to traveling across the country chasing ducks and geese. He is also keenly aware of the costs. Most hunters travel with a group, and Ronquest recommends that each hunter contribute the same amount of money to a general trip fund that the group can use to pay expenses. This will help save on individual costs and ensure that everyone involved pays their fair share.
"If you're driving your truck and using your boat, it's not fair that you're eating all the expenses for gas, right?" Ronquest says. "Back in the day, we'd all pile into trucks and take off to some destination, and we all agreed to pool our money to cover the costs of gas, lodging, and maybe even shells."
Ronquest mentions one more cost-cutting tactic he has employed over the years when traveling for duck hunts. "We eat a lot of ducks when we're on the road," he says. "We don't eat ducks at every meal, but we at least have them for dinner every night."
Focus on the "Why"
Jared Serigné, host of the YouTube channel Outside the Levees, hunts and films ducks in southeast Louisiana, and he takes a fresh approach to saving money on all of his hunting endeavors.
"It's easy to get caught up in constantly spending money on the next best products," Serigné explains. "With social media, those products are in our face all the time and, truthfully, they are cool as heck. But they are not always necessary. Our grandfathers proved that you can head to the marsh and hunt ducks with a pump shotgun, a dozen decoys, a plaid shirt, and hip boots. All the flash can be unnecessary."
Serigné looks for many must-have items, including shotguns and camouflage gear, at pawn shops or thrift stores. He says it's the "why" that keeps his spending in check. "I like to ask myself, 'Why am I doing all of this?' on a regular basis. For me, it's spending time with friends, connecting with what it means in my human makeup to hunt for food, and to keep this part of my region's culture going in my family. Finding your 'why' will keep you less focused on products and trying to look cool and more focused on the real reason we do this."