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How to pull off an out-of-state backpack hunt on a budget

Backcountry hunts

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

Every year that goes by, it seems that more and more hunters are interested in taking their pursuits out-of-state. I don’t blame them. With the resources that we have at our fingertips these days, it makes doing such a thing very realistic for the average hunter. Whereas, before all of these cool data hubs came out, you were on your own and at the mercy of whatever game and fish proclamation book you had at the time. On top of folks wanting to go out-of-state, many want to take it a step further and try a backpack hunt on for size, too. That’s the ultimate adventure if you ask me. The logistics behind pulling an out-of-state backpack hunt off is often enough to push hunters away from trying it. And, like anything, this stuff costs money. The question is how much, though? How much does it actually cost to pull off an out-of-state backpack hunt?

Your tag/license

Colorado tags

First thing’s first, right? If you want to go hunting out-of-state you are going to need a tag and license. For the purpose of this article, let’s just say that we are planning a trip to Colorado for an over-the-counter (OTC) archery elk hunt. I figure Colorado is a great state to use and who doesn’t like elk hunting, right? But there are great OTC elk hunting options in Idaho too! Also, OTC tags will ensure anyone can do this as long as they have a valid hunter safety card. OTC tags are a fantastic place to start no matter what state you want to hunt in. I really like these because it doesn’t leave anything to chance and a hunter can plan their hunt out a year in advance if they’d like.

The tag is definitely going to be one of your biggest costs to pull this off. For an OTC either-sex archery elk tag in Colorado (2019), you are looking at $661.75. With that tag, they require all hunters to purchase a habitat stamp, which is going to set you back another $10. So, in total, you’ll have to shell out $671.75 in order to make this thing official. I know that might sound like a lot when compared to resident prices, but if you are really interested in elk hunting, I’d highly suggest stacking change away early in the year and making it happen.

Gas

Muddy truck

Here is the next big expenditure. Once we’ve got the tag, now you’ve got to actually get to where you have meticulously e-scouted, right? For this, we will take into account the average gas price across the country, assuming you’ll be driving to your hunting destination, which I think most of you will. We’ll also use the average mile per gallon in vehicles for the year 2018. Average gas prices in the U.S. for 2019 right now are $2.83 with the average mile per gallon at 23 mpg. So, let’s break this down. Say you’ve got a 500-mile drive ahead of you there and 500-mile drive back with a 20 gallon gas tank. With a 20 gallon tank you will make it about 470 miles. This means that you’ll need 2.12 tanks of gas for your trip. If gas is sitting at $2.83 as we’ve established, that puts your gas bill at $120.00. For a 2,000 mile round trip, you’ll be about $240.00. So, not terribly bad, but definitely a cost to consider.

Lodging

Sleeping in the truck

Now, here is an area where a hunter can really save money if they choose. For some that are making a very long drive and will need somewhere to sleep for a night there and back, you can go one of two ways. Either grab a nice comfy hotel room or sleep in your truck or tent. Sleeping in the truck or tent at the trailhead will obviously be the most economically friendly. However, if you did want to grab a hotel room for a night the average price for a room in 2019 is about $130. For me, personally, grabbing a hotel room at the end of a trip while on your way home is kind of nice sometimes. After living in the dirt for 10 days and busting your butt, a warm bed with a monster continental breakfast caps a trip off pretty nice. However, on the way there, I tend to sleep in the truck. The choice is yours.

Food

Backcountry meals

The next thing you’re going to need to shell some dough out for is your food. This can range quite a bit with how large or small this bill can be. The easiest route is to just buy freeze-dried/dehydrated meals for the whole trip. On average, those will run you about $12 a piece. So, for a 10-day elk hunt, you’ll be looking at $120 just in dinners. That doesn’t include coffee, breakfasts, snacks or drink mixes. Going this route, I’ll spend around $20 to $30 a day on food. You can for sure chop that down though. For instance, you don’t need to have fancy freeze-dried meals every day. Many people are making their own these days, which I think is awesome. For one pot of bear chili, I am sitting at about $12. Out of that one batch, I’ll bag up to four to five dinners. That’s just about half of my dinners for $12 instead of $60. Big difference, right? By doing that, I’ll spend about $24 to $30 in dinners and around $13 per day for food. So, for the more expensive route, you’ll hang out around $200 to $300 in food and for the less expensive it will be about $130 in food.

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Assess your gear

The last area that I’d like to talk about is gear. This is a place where many of you already have everything that you need. In that case, there is no extra cost. However, if you’ve never done a backpack hunt, this might run your wallet raw a bit. The good news is that afterwards, you’ll have everything that you need, which will completely cut this out of your budget. I won’t dive too much into specifics here because it is such a broad topic. A hunter might be looking at anywhere from $0 all the way up to $3,000, depending on how little that they have. Of course, there are ways to lessen that amount as well by grabbing gear used and waiting for deep discount sales. You can really save money by going this route. Another thing to note is that you shouldn’t think that you need the latest and greatest gear out there. Sure, really nice gear is just that, really nice; however, that isn’t what is going to get you out in the mountains on your dream hunt. So, if it comes down to you either carrying a heavier sleeping bag or buying a top-notch one that will make you put your trip off a year, carry the extra weight. You won’t regret it.

In closing

Boots firstlite

The time has come and the numbers are in! Of course, there is going to be some variability here. If a hunter has absolutely no gear, the bill will go up. If a hunter wants to go all out and spend more on food, the same will be true. Driving distance also comes into play. Without adding in extra gear and taking into account the more expensive trip and averaging that out with the least expensive trip, we’re looking at an average cost of $1,156 for a 10-day backcountry elk hunt. When I first made the decision to go on my first out-of-state backpack hunt, the numbers intimidated me, I will admit. However, with proper planning and discipline throughout the year, the average hunter can totally pull this off. For about $100 a month, you’ll be heading on your first out-of-state archery elk hunt before you know it. If that means not going out to eat as much, I think it’s a small price to pay for a killer blue-collar adventure. With that being said, you don’t know if you don’t go. So, what are you waiting for?

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30 Comments

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Josh K. - posted 1 month ago on 09-09-2019 11:26:08 am
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@Jesse E.

Hey, Jesse! Yes, I do! I will make a big batch in a crockpot. That will usually yield around 5 servings for me. I'll put each of those servings out on one of my trays from a dehydrator. Spread it super thin and then turn the sucker on. Usually takes like 9 hours or so to fully dehydrate the chili. Awesome in the field though. Home cooked meal!

Jesse E. - posted 2 months ago on 08-14-2019 08:09:16 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Josh, how do you bring your chili with on a 10 day backpack hunt? Dehydrate it yourself? Thanks! Great article.

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-13-2019 05:33:59 pm
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@Troy D.

This is geared towards public land hunting.

Troy D. - posted 2 months ago on 08-13-2019 05:11:15 pm

Did I miss something???
What about the cost of hunting leases?
Are we talking about hunting on public land or is the article discussing costs beyond those of securing land to hunt on?

Mike S. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 02:28:56 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

wow, such a controversial article who would have thought. seems pretty accurate in total. doing a 5 day backpack muzzy deer hunt in Nevada with my son and for two of us ( Honey stingers waffles $19.80 + Justin's butter stuff $18.79 + Mountain 20% off free shipping $83.89+ $240 non res deer+ kuiu game bags $61.55 + Misc groceries (bagel thins, cheese, nuts, bacon, coffee instant, batteries AA) $67.82 + havalon blades $15 + Gas $200 (AZ-Cental Nevada) $706.85) no processing (self) no taxidermy and that is a five days for two of us now it would be only more food for more days. but you figure I could go 10 days on that myself and add in $400 more for an elk tag in CO and I get $1,106.85

Marc R. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 11:18:46 am
goHUNT INSIDER

We (me and 3 buddies) have been doing hunts like this for 12 years. Your cost estimates are pretty good. For the 12 years we have kept our yearly costs between 800 & 1000 per guy including all of the items you mention above. Those who say it's not realistic, haven't done it.
Also, if you have trouble with your wives.....you haven't learned how to cook elk meat correctly or you have the wrong spouse. Fix the problem
I live for my 10 days every year. My wife, my friends, my family and my co-workers know that and respect that. I train & work all year for those 10 days. I guess I just love elk hunting that much....and I'm blessed because my other 3 buddies do too!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:19:35 am
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@Trevor C.

Fuel economy will vary of course between vehicles. The MPG mentioned above is the AVERAGE across the board. I drive a 4x4 Silverado and on my end the above mentioned is pretty accurate for highway miles. I've gotten as high as 30 mpg doing those trips on the highways. Most of the time it's right around 23 though. Best of luck out there this year Trevor!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:15:43 am
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@bryce c.

Gas is going to vary of course. The price mentioned above is the AVERAGE across the country. That doesn't take into account different vehicles or different grades of gasoline. Good luck out there this year!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:14:12 am
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@Scott L.

There ya go Scott! I like it! Good luck in CO!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:13:20 am
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@john k.

John! Thanks man! The MPG is the AVERAGE across the board. Of course bigger trucks and such are going to be lower than that. However, I drive a 2017 Silverado and that is pretty spot on for highway miles on my end. Best of luck this season!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:11:14 am
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@Brian S.

Hahaha! I feel you Brian! I drive a 4x4 as well. The gas prices mentioned above are the AVERAGE throughout the country. Us truck lovers definitely foot the bill a bit more, lol.

Best of luck in CO! That sounds like it's gonna be a fun hunt! Great memories to be had with Pops!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:08:21 am
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@Brice W.

Man, Brice! You must be so pumped! Best of luck in Idaho and thanks for the kind words on the article!

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:06:41 am
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@Terry S.

Valid point Terry! That is a cost that we all HOPEFULLY get to take on. It can definitely add up if not doing it yourself. Even with doing it yourself, we still need some of the tools. I did think about including this in the piece, but since you and I both know that not everyone is going to be successful out there, I didn't look at it as a constant like fuel and food would be. We aren't getting away from those costs. Thanks for chiming in though. I can leave here for a euro mount on a deer, that is going to run me about $250. Of course you could do this yourself as well. For shoulder mounts between $400-$750 depending on the critter. If anyone has info on meat care, please chime in. I've always done it myself, lol. Really glad you brought this up Terry. Good on you and best of luck out there this season.

Josh K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 10:01:42 am
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@Dillon H.

Thanks man! Glad you like them. Good luck out there!

Conway.trevor
Trevor C. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 06:49:06 am
Minnesota
goHUNT INSIDER

Let's be honest, throw in a oil change and flat tire repair. $75.... + fuel: $450

Conway.trevor
Trevor C. - posted 2 months ago on 08-12-2019 06:46:54 am
Minnesota
goHUNT INSIDER

After reading the comments about fuel prices... I'm happy to live in Minnesota at $2.50/gallon, but I don't agree with the fuel economy of a fully load 4x4, mid to upper teens... say 16 mpg to be safe, and use $3.00 a gallon: $375 for a 2,000 mile trip.

bryce c. - posted 2 months ago on 08-11-2019 08:46:21 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Gas isnt very realistic

Rick Y. - posted 2 months ago on 08-11-2019 06:41:51 pm

Reading the comments and having traveled from Ohio to Idaho to deer and elk hunt space in a vehicle is always and issue coolers food gear why not build a mobile cooler from a trailer and use the top as a area to tie more gear I believe with some thought and planning you could make it work really well

Scott L. - posted 2 months ago on 08-11-2019 06:22:21 pm

Great article, thanks. Of course as mentioned, your mileage may vary. In the larger scheme of a hunting budget $100 a month isn’t that bad. Hunting is an expensive pastime and it’s usually death to your budget by 1,000 cuts. As for the wife, this year I watched the kids and sprang for the plane tickets to California so she could go to Yosemite with girlfriends. The payback is I’m in Colorado in October chasing elk.

john k. - posted 2 months ago on 08-11-2019 05:29:08 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I like the spirit of the article but how are you guys getting 23 mpg ? I get half of that in a full size / gas truck 4x4 loaded down in the mountains

Mark S. - posted 2 months ago on 08-11-2019 04:20:06 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I have done 3 consecutive solo backpack hunts in SW Montana, 2016, 2017, 2018 (2 for 3 on bulls). I'd say these estimates are pretty close. I however spend more on gas due to driving a Jeep Rubicon from my home in the Adirondack mountains of NY. I usually spend $1000 on gas for the round trip. Unfortunately, I failed to draw a tag in Montana for 2019. This year it's Idaho archery elk and Colorado 2nd season mulies. Big thanks to the goHunt guys for the assist on my fall back tags!

Brian S. - posted 2 months ago on 08-09-2019 11:25:00 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

$2.83 a gallon!!!????? I’d take that any day of the week for my truck! Out here in Northern California, Sacramento, I’m feeling lucky filling up at $3.30 a gallon, just today I filled up for $3.84 a gallon. Anyways, I’ll jump off my gasoline high horse.

I’m so excited for this year, my Dad and I are going hunting in Colorado, 3rd season, Mule deer hunting with his cousin and his son. First time pops and I have hit the hill in 10 years. Being that it is 4 adults, we are renting an Air BnB, $1000 bucks total for 8 nights, 9 days, split 4 ways, it is the perfect way to go.

We decided back in the summer of last year that we were going out of state this year no matter what, so we have been putting some money aside each month and not touching it until this past month when we started getting some cold weather gear. Definitely the way to go, plan ahead, save ahead, and create memories. I hope we all tag out this year, even if we don’t, who can beat being with family, hunting and creating ever lasting memories.

Best of luck to all of you this season!!!

John D. - posted 2 months ago on 08-09-2019 02:31:26 pm
Lewes, DE
goHUNT INSIDER

Another point to consider for this article is travel logistics for east coasters.

We drive sometimes but sometimes have to fly. Headed back to Idaho this year. Last year we drove but this year are flying because of work commitments and to avoid the extra PO’d wife time.

Best case scenario the two of us tag out we are checking coolers and shipping gear home. Checking three coolers and stuffing our carry ons with meat should allow us to get most all of it home. Another option i just learned of is the site uShip.com where u get get bids on what you would have to ship.

I specifically chose the MR Pintler as my pack because it’s small enough that they’ll almost always allow me to use it as my carry on and avoid checking my pack. But i can still get 4-5 days out of it and more if I use meat shelf for food or other gear on the way in.

Larson_Barkurn
Larson B. - posted 2 months ago on 08-09-2019 01:18:58 pm
Petal
goHUNT INSIDER

Food for thought. Once you have the gear. Go for a antlerless tag, make your own jerky from last years kill, split up the cost in gas with a couple of guys. Don't stay in a hotel, take shifts driving, pack sandwich meat for the road. Process your own meat. Over the last 4 years I've got elk hunting in Colorado from MS and my hunting party which has consisted between 2 and 3 guys has connected on 4 cow elk. Plenty of meat for the freezers, including tag I can go elk hunting for 6 days in the backcountry for around $800.00 with really nice gear.

Get a good sleeping bag, pad, and boots. use your deer hunting rifle - i shoot a 6.5 creedmoor with no issues. and enjoy the great outdoors!!

Jay K. - posted 2 months ago on 08-09-2019 09:05:56 am
Dallas, TX
goHUNT INSIDER

I like to tent camp at RV parks as an in between option. You are still sleeping in your tent. But, you have access to bathrooms, a hot shower and WiFi. They often have grills and picnic tables. I find it's usually worth it for $15-$20. Some RV parks will let you setup on your tent one of their RV spots. This costs a little more but gives you easy access to water and power.

Brice W. - posted 2 months ago on 08-09-2019 08:04:36 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I like this article. I am going to Idaho for my first backpack hunt ever, and this has confirmed what I was already thinking/planning.

Dillon H. - posted 2 months ago on 08-08-2019 05:08:59 pm
Douglas, Wyoming
goHUNT INSIDER

I leave Wyoming for Nevada Mule deer hunt tomorrow. I bet I don’t have 100 bucks into food, I apply already so just a $240 deer tag, a couple hundred in gas and that’s it. I am way below 1000 bucks into this. I do it a couple times a year out west. I use my backpacking gear whether it’s a true back pack hunt or not. I drive my small Toyota pickup it all keeps cost down. I do my own euros and cut my own meat. It all keeps costs down, so I can do more hunts. The little things add up. Sleeping in a hotel on the way. Having meat cut and wrapped professionally. Dragging side by sides or other ATVs. Pulling big campers. Terry your spot on with Taxidermy costs! My sheep mount last year was more than my diy hunt! And the deer hunt mentioned above is equal to a quality shoulder mount!

Terry S. - posted 2 months ago on 08-08-2019 04:41:39 pm

Normally, I don’t leave any comments. I think that the estimates for the cost to go hunting are fair and close. However, there is no mention of one of the main reasons most sportsman even are afield. If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I am referring to the meat care, processing, and potentially even taxidermist costs. I strongly believe these have to be accounted for in the budget. As mentioned in the article with food costs, this can also vary if the plan is to process and package the meat yourself versus taking it to the processor. The proper equipment will need to be purchased and/or readily available within a reasonable amount of time for safe transportation of the meat to the processor and home or home to self-process where some supplies and equipment will need to be waiting. Assuming you are not with a large party for multiple days and eat the whole elk while at camp.

Gary H. - posted 2 months ago on 08-08-2019 12:21:14 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I love how it is all portrayed as a value. lol

Only $100-200/month and 10 days of PTO.

Let me know how that works out for you with your wives.

Its doable for most people every few years while this economy holds. When gas goes up to $4.00/gallon a lot of people will give it up.

Dillon H. - posted 2 months ago on 08-08-2019 11:20:37 am
Douglas, Wyoming
goHUNT INSIDER

Josh your articles and topics discussed are on point man thanks, look forward to reading more!