This is a reprint of an essay I wrote years ago. A discussion elsewhere triggered the notion that I should put it here as well.
Is Hunting Worth it?
Often the debate has raged over the price of a pound of wild meat vs the
cost of a pound of beef, but there is more to this than simple dollars
per pound and that 'more to it' is hard to articulate.
Some ground rules so we're not over complicating it;
We'll assume that due to National Forests, State Land, family land etc
that the average Nimrod (that's an endearing term not an insult) has
access to ground to hunt without paying through the nose.
Not assuming a vehicle cost because you need one of these for work, and
or to get to the grocery store. If you're public transportation enslaved
you're not likely in the argument anyway.
The common argument goes like this;
Ammo = $XX
Gas to get to hunting ground =$XX
Gas to grocery store =$XX
Cost of meat =$XX
At first blush is appears a no brainer, grocer meat is the cheap!
Not so fast. If you're a hunter starting green and have no rifle, no
ammo, no hunting gear (more on this in a minute) then yes, your first
year out you're invested with little return expected.
Year two, you're not purchasing a gun, and if you purchased hunting gear
with some actual forethought on durability and practicality you're not
buying any more of that either. So gas and license, and ammo.
The common argument at this point turns to success rates and whether or
not our Nimrod is successful. Depending on the state success rates, a
2006 survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that
only about 50 percent of the deer hunters across the country killed one
or more deer in a season. The average deer hunters take an animal every other year.
The average, yet I say what one man can do then so too can another. In
the past 37 years I've put at least one deer in the freezer every year,
more often than not it was two, in many cases three. I do work full time
and most of those years saw deer taken on public not private or leased
Hunting Gear doesn't have to be mad expensive. When I was young I didn't
know what 'hunting gear' even was. I wore jeans, a carhartt jacket, my
grandfather's thuty-thuty and a pocket full of green tainted brass
shells of god only knows what origin and age. In my other pocket was
usually found an apple and a PBJ sandwich. The boots on my feet were the
same ones I wore for work. Essentially my initial investment was the
cost of the license and the calories spent walking. Even then I killed
my deer every year.
Many years later I found out what 'hunting gear' was and was fooled for a
few years by the 'gotta have this' well I outgrew that. Now I do buy
'hunting gear' typically high end clothing that is well made and I use
it year round for I am not a seasonal hunter. I've learned that there is
much more to learn about the woods and the animals I hunt in the off
season as much as there is in the 'in season' and thus I wear these
clothes the year round in the woods. You do not need to buy the whizbang
to be a hunter.
So let's say by year three you're getting dialed in and can put a deer a
year in the freezer. In my neck of the woods the average dressed weight
is about 75 pounds, sometimes more, a doe a few years ago netted me 90
pounds of meat for example. I do my own butcher work so there was no
cost here save in vacuum sealing bags.
So in year three you've connected and you've spent $$ on all of the
aforementioned items, some of which are one time buys. The common
thinker now divides the pounds of meat yielded by the total expenditure.
Now let's talk about the 'more to it' that no one ever seems to calculate.
What did you learn? Education costs money and time, that's a given. So,
in the three years what did you learn and what was it worth? Learning
the woods, was that valuable? Learning animal habits and ways, was that
valuable? Is what you learned transferable to other endeavors? As an
example, did you learn to read a map of an area, to determine where best
to hunt? Did you plan a hunt based on that terrain? Did you come to
understand weather patterns? What was all this education worth? Put a
number to it and subtract it from your investment costs because you
won't unlearn it, you get to keep it, forever.
What did you experience? Experiences cost money and time, this is also a
fact. Was the experience over the three years enjoyable to you? Think
hard about cost of experiences because they're hidden throughout our
lives. What do you pay for them? What was your three years of hunting
worth? Keep in mind that time spent in the woods hunting is time NOT
spent shopping, spending money, or getting fat on the couch. In fact,
you're in the field pumping lungs, walking off the chips and soda,
driving your sense and getting healthier! What's that worth? Subtract
that number from your investment.
What did you gain beyond education, experience, and physical meat?
What's in the quality of meat? Three ounces of lean beef contain, 247
calories and 15 grams of total fat. Three ounces of venison contain 134
calories and only 3 grams of total fat. Venison has more protein: 26
grams to 23 grams in beef. Venison also has more vitamins and minerals
per serving than beef does. It has advantages in iron, vitamin B6,
niacin, and riboflavin. Do a google search for health benefits of wild
game, do due diligence in your research. I think you'll find the meat
quality is superior to anything you find wrapped in cellophane. What's
that worth? Decide on a figure, subtract it from your investment.
Further, who made it a rule that this debate is only associated with
venison? It is highly common for me to take other animals during hunting
season as there are usually a slew of other critters in season during
that time. Take grouse for example, every year I take a goodly amount,
enough so that we've not bought chicken for meals in years. Add to this
what I take through trapping, if you've not had coon you owe it to
yourself to try. Properly cooked it's fine eating. These things add to
to the total in 'pounds of meat' taken. What is this worth, the quality
of the meat, the additional meat types? Subtract that from your
As Horace Kephart said, 'There is no graduation day in the school of
the woods', similarly with hunting, there is no end to the education,
to the experience, to the enjoyment, to the health benefits. They are
value adds for as long as you hunt.
Lastly and likely the single most difficult to determine a dollar figure
for. What is the worth of being within the circle and cycle of life as a
active participant rather than an observer? To 'make meat' by one's own
wit and will, sinew and skill? It is an achievement and to do it
consistently is a series of milestone sets that builds much more than a
collection of horns on the wall. My hand did this thing that feeds me
and mine the most healthy meat available. My hand put protein forth that
went on to fuel the building of young minds and hearts, mental and
spiritual nourishment, can you find that beneath the florescent lights
wrapped in cellophane?
Do you remember your last trip to the grocery store to buy meat? Was it a
rewarding memory set to last a lifetime? Will you tell the tale at the
dinner table, of how you stalked the shopping cart? How you chased
through the dangerous herds of starving wildebeest charging the free
sample lady at the CostCo? Is it something that in your twilight years
you will think back upon, a warmth in your chest of a younger man, the
hair standing on your arms, recall the stinging November breeze on your
cheeks as you brought rifle to bear. Will you recall the warm blood on
your hands as you cleaned the animal? Will you remember the smell of the
earth, of life, of death, all the cycles and that you were a part of
What is this worth?