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Does the cost of wild game meat pencil out?

Mule deer harvest

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

Over the past few years, the locavore movement has been on the rise. People are paying more attention to where their food comes from and, in turn, are starting to take up hunting along with gardening and fishing. Most would rather fill their freezers with locally grown, humanely harvested, wild game meat rather than grocery store meat. I don't blame them. In fact, I don't see how someone wouldn't want to consume that over store-bought meat. There is really no comparison in terms of quality and the difference between the price you pay at the grocery store versus how much you pay for a tag is an interesting comparison. The idea of saving money sounded attractive to me when I dove into all of this idea. I could continue to buy meat every week or I could spend $100 on a few tags and hit the hills. Obviously, I chose the latter. The question becomes, though, does it pencil out? Are you actually saving money by filling the freezer on your own?

The average American meat eater

Wild game meat

Have you ever tallied up how much money you actually spend a year on beef, chicken or pork? It's white noise, right? We buy and consume, buy and consume, and the cycle continues. It isn't like we really have another option—unless you are a farmer. I am going to guess that most of you reading this are not. I can't say that I have ever done this little experiment myself, but it is definitely an intriguing topic. I did some digging and found out that the average American eats 3.7 pounds of beef, chicken or pork a week. That comes out to roughly .50 pounds a day. With an average price per pound across the board for beef, chicken, and pork being around $4.00, that is almost $15.00 a week or about $770 annually for one person. In a household of four people, that is just over $3,000 spent annually to consume store-bought meat. That isn't grass-fed beef either, which would be equitable to the quality meat a hunter would harvest from wild game. Grass-fed beef prices range anywhere from $6.00 to $9.00 a pound. We are well over the $3,000 mark at this point. Buying meat can add up pretty quickly. Is it more than what a hunter is investing though?

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The average American hunter

Average american hunter

When I say the "average American hunter," I am talking about the regular person that works hard to go on one, maybe two hunts a year. He/she might spend anywhere from 5-14 days in the field and is back to work afterward, whether they find success or not. I think this category is where most hunters fit. Hunting is a great American tradition and these people are the bloodline of it. When they were kids, their dads or grandpas took them into the field and it's something that has stayed with them ever since. In light of that, they now take to the field annually in pursuit of not only game but a great time with their family and friends. This is a tradition that I hope is not soon lost. This person, on average, could spend $2,484 annually on hunting. If this hunter is successful every year, they are definitely coming out on top and saving money. Not even looking at grass-fed or organic meat, they are roughly $516 under the average amount spent on meat a year. Not only are they saving money, but the quality of meat they are consuming far surpasses the average store-bought variety. For the quality of meat that is venison, for instance, you are going to pay anywhere from $15 to $30 a pound. This is quite a difference and well worth the investment in a deer tag if you ask me.

The die-hard American hunter

Practicing before the hunt

Now, this is a different breed of person altogether—the one that eats, sleeps, and breathes hunting. This person trains in the gym all year, acquires new gear, scouts constantly, and prepares for their hunts well in advance. The sound of a bugle takes their breath away and haunts them during the night. Hours upon hours are spent at the range making sure everything is perfect. Their craft is their passion and their passion flows through their veins. It's very hard to put a price on that. If you were to ask me, I'd say this individual is going to spend way more than the average American meat eater does. I know this well because I am one of these die-hards. The amount that I spend on gas every year for scouting and my hunts will probably rival that of what the average American meat eater spends on meat. This doesn't even include the new gear that I will undoubtedly acquire for the year. I am perfectly OK with that though because it is a deep-seated passion of mine. Some people are into cars, some are into antiques, I’m into hunting.

The impact

Enjoying the outdoors

This is something that I doubt most folks have thought of, but if you have, kudos. The culture that I was essentially raised in exposed me to a lot of disturbing things involved with factory farming. In response to that, a lot of the people that I crossed paths with were vegan or vegetarian. In fact, if any of you know me, you know that my wife is actually a vegetarian. However, she also helps me process my game meat and supports my passion with every bone in her body and I support her the same. Something that many of these individuals are concerned with when eating meat is not only supporting factory farming but their "footprint" of how many animals they are saving by being a vegan or vegetarian. Did you know that according to a few vegan websites, the average American meat eater supports the killing of 371 to 582 animals a year through buying meat at a grocery store? Pretty crazy to think about, right? I kill three to four animals a year on average through hunting. This is not meant to be an insult of any kind to anyone, but it is just food for thought.

The verdict?

Final thoughts

So, what's the verdict of all of this? Does it pencil out, in the end, to harvest your own meat over buying it from the store? This is a common attractant to new hunters and I've been asked that question several times. Well, as you can see, it is going to vary from person to person. If you are anything like me, you know that for die-hard hunters, it doesn't, but we are completely fine with that. Maybe you fall into the "average American hunter" category though? If this is you and you are successful every year, my hat is off to you. That is nothing short of impressive to me. As someone who spends well over the average amount of days in the field every year, I definitely know how tough it can be to fill tags. To only allow 14 days of hunting a year and be successful annually is awesome. If you are not a hunter but have been thinking about it, a bit of advice: Hunting is hard. It is not easy to go out into the mountains, find the appropriate game and bring it home to the dinner table. There is a reason that success rates are low and you hear a lot of "almost" stories. If it were easy, the die-hards like myself probably wouldn't exist. Hunters don't hunt to save money. Hunters hunt because it is ingrained in them to do so. It's the most natural thing we can do.

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18 Comments

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Matthew M. - posted 15 hours ago on 09-18-2018 10:17:57 am
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Floyd and Josh, I am an avid hunter and a rancher. I suspect the large count of animals killed relates to counting every chicken when my kids have chicken nuggets, hog when we eat bacon, and beef when we have a hamburger. This number fails to account for the fact that the same hog fed you pork chops, sausage, and ham; or the fact that almost all of the animal is used for meat or byproduct.

Josh K. - posted 1 week ago on 09-06-2018 09:30:46 am
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Thanks Steven! Glad you enjoyed it! Good luck this season!

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Steven B. - posted 1 week ago on 09-06-2018 09:02:03 am
Spring Creek, NV
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Excellent article. In Nevada, we obtain cow elk tags for $110 and usually fill those tags with about three days of hunting. For 110-150 pounds of meat, even with a few hundred for hunting, it pencils very nicely. Of course, this is a passion, but it is interesting and worthwhile to point out that meats worth well in excess of $10.00 per pound are what you are retrieving from the field. It significantly offsets the price of your hunt and you are providing the absolute finest quality meats for the table. Great article!

Josh K. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-28-2018 05:11:22 pm
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Kevin,

Very true. I know I don't really have any other hobbies other than hunting. It's definitely my thing. Getting some great meat out of it is just a by product of our addiction! Good luck to you this season!

Josh K. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-28-2018 05:09:18 pm
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Seth D.,

Thanks for the input Seth! Interesting stuff!

Josh K. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-28-2018 05:08:19 pm
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Scott,

Awesome point Scott! The entertainment value is definitely something to take into consideration!

Josh K. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-28-2018 05:07:35 pm
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Gary,

I now think it is pretty funny too. We put so much into harvesting one animal, hahahaha.

Josh K. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-28-2018 05:06:01 pm
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Floyde,

Thanks for reading the article and the response. Great catch on the factory farming subject. I couldn't agree more with you on that. Not all farming and/or ranching are created equal and shouldn't be treated as such. As for the stats, I did some digging around on Google and came up with an average number of meat consumption per person. I think something that is overlooked, particularly in the fast food side of things is that just because you are eating one burger somewhere, doesn't mean you are eating the meat of just one animal. In turn, the higher supported number of animals killed. For someone like yourself who is actually ranching, this might not apply to you, as you are probably getting most of your meat from your ranch. Which I commend you for, by the way. With the grass fed beef assumption, I said that it is more equatable to the quality of meat that a hunter would harvest from wild game.
I would again assume that the price reflects the quality of the product. Please correct me if I am wrong there.
Thanks again and good luck to you this season!

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Scott C. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-27-2018 07:30:01 am
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Excellent article which talks about some of the same debates I have had with friends and family over the years. One aspect that must be considered is the “entertainment” value. I have expenses like fuel to go to the store and buy meat just as I do to go hunting and those are not figured in to the cost. Minimal I know, but on the other hand we don’t figure in the “entertainment” value of shopping vs hunting. I leave Wally World usually angry and frustrated, not very entertaining for me. On the other hand, two weeks in the mountains, spending time with friends and family, exercising, enjoying nature, and relaxing leaves me refreshed and happy. So don’t forget to calculate the “entertainment” value when figuring cost.

Richard D. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-25-2018 08:59:54 pm

Excellent article and very thought-provoking. I consider costs when I go hunting and, as a result, don't participate in hunts where I deem the tag to be cost-prohibitive. Additionally, I use my equipment until it no longer functions (my bow is a 2010 model) but still consider my equipment's depreciated value when I determine how much the meat actually cost my family. I love hunting and shooting my bow but I am still mindful of how much an item costs and generally refrain from purchasing top shelf products, when I can see from historical data that cheaper and less-advanced items will do the job just as well.

michael w. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-24-2018 11:21:07 am
Benton, AR
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Great article. I think a lot of hunters, including myself, could harvest game much cheaper than we do. Let's face it guys, we spend a lot for certain gear that's really just convenience things. Things to make us more comfortable on the hunt and maybe give us a little edge over the animal. In my state I can get 6 deer tags, 2 turkey, and includes small game for $35.00 a year. Add that to cost of ammo and now your getting pretty darn cheap meat. I love my cool gear and clothes and the experiences that the gear allows me to have but as a poor teenager and up into my 20's, I killed a lot of deer with a cheap .243 wearing hand me down clothes that only cost me a box of ammo.
I feed a family of 5 every year hunting. We buy no meat ever at home. I do not care what wide game meat cost me now days. cause we I scroll through my fancy phone of about 5000 photos of my 3 smiling kids and wife obtaining that meat, well that's priceless.

SETH D. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-23-2018 09:12:28 pm
Big Wonderful Wyoming
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Grass fed beef is great. We eat a mix of grass fed beef and grass fed bison when we can. Organic means nothing, it only means that the food sources were grown without certain chemicals, and that the animal can not be given most steroids. For chicken you want free range, the British gov did a study comparing different ways to raise chickens and came up with a number for standard chickens, free range and standard organic. Free range chickens were the most protein, most healthy fat, and were rated to have the best flavor. Organic and standard chickens were basically the same, and had unhealthy fat, and minimal protein.

Chandler C. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-23-2018 03:30:44 pm
Beaverton, OR
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Some friends and I were debating this the other day. Interesting take for sure!

Alan C. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-23-2018 03:13:01 pm
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I agree with you, Gary. Elk tag this year in Montana cost me over 1000 dollars. That doesn't include the diesel for the scouting trip and now the return hunting trip. I'll have well over 3000 dollars by the time it is all finished. Of course, I may not have any meat either!!!!!!!

Kevin L. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-23-2018 01:50:52 pm
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Interesting question. I don't think any Hunter really wants to do the math. One thing that isn't factored in is the fact that for many hunters hunting is their hobby. In other words instead of spending money on golf or woodworking or whatever, they spend it on hunting. Some hobbies have side benefits. Hunting is one of those when you're successful. For many years I spent thousands golfing but the only thing I brought home was a smile or a frown. Never did I bring home a chance to feed my family.

Gary H. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-23-2018 07:15:36 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I just laugh when people tell me they are hunting to save money on buying meat.

I could buy 2 beef cows and have them packaged and probably pay someone to stack the meat in my freezer for what I spend on hunting every year.

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TREVOR H. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-23-2018 06:50:41 am
OKLAHOMA CITY
goHUNT INSIDER

Certainly a thought provoking article; I certainly appreciate the spirit of it. However I feel like there's a lot of costs missing. Time-Value-of-Money is one. Assuming the US median household income of 60k/year at 8760 hours/year=$6.85/hour pretax. Thats a cost to add for every hour spent preparing, traveling, hunting and processing. A top tier set of optics could buy a cow each year and feed my family for 2-3 years easily. The same could be said for all other gear. Obviously gear costs get diluted thru many years of use, but there's just more to consider.

There's a reason hunting is called 'The Sport of Kings.'

Don't let your significant others see this post, not trying to spoil the party.

Floyde F. - posted 3 weeks ago on 08-22-2018 05:51:44 pm
Burns, OR
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Interesting take on this subject. You have two glaring assumptions in my opinion. One, that grass fed or organic meat, which are not even close to the same thing, are significantly better than all other types of meat. Two, you classified all meat production in the US as factory farming, without defining factory farming. As a rancher in the West, I would argue that raising beef out here is not factory farming in the sense it's alluded to in your article. A beef animal being killed at a plant is much more humane than the way the majority of game animals are taken in my experience.

I will concede that beef is much more expensive across the board, and I'm sure if you used only beef as the example vs. wild game the savings would be even greater in favor of the hunter.

Where did you get the stat of how many animals the average American meat eater 'kills' a year? I eat meat every day of the year and I'm quite positive I don't even come close to 'killing' 300. Again, very interesting article, thanks.