“Hunting is religion for me.” – Tom Brokaw
Religion is a stretch. In fact, I consider hunting a solid third in the rank of priorities in my life. Faith, family, then, unequivocally, hunting. My career, as much as I enjoy it, is simply a means to support #2 and #3.
But to say that hunting isn’t a major, all-consuming priority in the minds of many sportsmen would be a severe miscalculation. For lukewarm sportsmen, or those looking to pick up the sport, watching a fellow hunter who lives an otherwise average lifestyle excel at consistently hunting a lot, and doing so with great success, can be a point of confusion and even jealousy.
“Must be nice,” the onlooker says, as an avid hunter makes plans to hunt out of state yet again, or arrives back in town with a trophy in the truck bed after a long stint in the backcountry.
As detestable and un-American as the “must be nice” mindset is, it’s a sign of ignorance. Most people don’t understand. The simple fact is that the freedom to pursue hunting at a high level is, more often than not, the result of many personal decisions and sacrifices made in order to maintain hunting as a priority. People who pursue hunting as a trivial pastime often don’t grasp this concept.
Those who seem to have it all figured out are often decades deep into a serious, calculated hunting lifestyle; the jobs they have, the places they live, the things they don’t buy and the vacations they forgo can often be attributed to the fact that they’d rather hunt than experience a lavish lifestyle elsewhere. Time, money, energy, and mindshare are finite resources. The ultra-dedicated outdoorsman understands this, consciously or subconsciously, and allots his/her resources accordingly.
Without question, income level will impact - but not dictate - the amount of big game hunting an individual can do. Most hunting guides will tell you, though, their best clients either have lots of money or lots of time, but rarely both. So capitalize on the resource you have readily available, and if you’re not flush with cash, it doesn’t matter.
Thanks in large part to this nation’s conservation model, the working-class American can accomplish a great many things in a hunting career, such as harvesting a sheep, completing a North American Super 10, and more importantly, experiencing vast expanses of cathartic wilderness that most of the world’s population can’t even imagine.
Prioritizing Expendable Income
When speaking to the average American, Dave Ramsey strikes a wise chord when he suggests living below one’s means. I’ll add to this; live below your means so that you can hunt at or above your means. In essence, if you really want to hunt at your greatest potential, every purchase decision should somehow be guided by the question, “How will this affect my ability to chase elk this fall,” or whatever it is you dream of hunting. Do you need the bigger house, the fancier car, etc.? Keep up with the Joneses or keep after the big game?
Personally, my wife and I decided long ago that we value experiences over things. We haven’t been on a “vacation” that didn’t somehow include work or hunting since our honeymoon in 2012. That sounds a bit extreme, but we really value the time we have together in the field, and we realize that if we want to fill tags consistently, it’s what we need to do in order to reach our hunting goals.
We’re also frugal. We buy store brand groceries. We go out to eat twice a year, and we both drive vehicles that were paid for in cash. If you make a lot of money, skipping restaurants and vacations may sound ridiculous, and if you have little expendable income, buying a vehicle with cash simply might not be a possibility. Regardless of your financial situation, there are always ways to improve your budget in order to prioritize your hunting goals.
So what are the best things for a big game hunter to invest in beyond the hunt itself? In my opinion, only the items that will help maximize my hunting experience, keep me in the field, and increase my opportunity for success. With few exceptions, this includes high quality optics, rifle/bow, and technical clothing.
Conserving free time and allocating it to hunting is, to some extent, much like the intelligent use of money. Generating an income while having a flexible schedule simply isn’t an option for everyone. After all, supporting a family comes before a hunting career. So use your free time wisely.
Identify how you waste time and determine how it can be better applied to hunting. Watching too much TV? Use that time to get physically fit. Is social media a drain? Read informational books or scout online instead. Skip the weekend party in favor of shooting, or go scout the area you plan to hunt. It all sounds intuitive, but sometimes we find ourselves caught in the snares of modern society.
As previously mentioned, my wife and I cut vacations from our schedule in favor of hunting. This saves money but it also avails several weeks each year for hunting trips. On a day-to-day basis, we eliminated TV from our schedules. We still have a TV and we watch a movie a few times each year, but we don’t have satellite or cable TV, saving time and money. That hour or two saved each day means we can work a little longer, sleep a little longer, spend more time at the gym, and actually get out to scout on some afternoons. I also guard against scrolling Instagram for too long, and I find this a much harder habit to kick than watching television.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of where you place hunting among your priorities. There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying the pursuit of big game only occasionally, or as a mere pastime. If your career, vacations, or other hobbies bring you just as much enjoyment as hunting does, that is your decision. Nobody has the right to question it, just like nobody has any business judging you for pursuing the outdoors with a rabid fervor.
But if you feel that you’d like to pursue hunting at the highest degree possible, I’d urge you to take a long position and be mindful of the fact that all the decisions you make have an impact on what you’ll be able to accomplish.
If hunting is your priority, make it a priority.