Does Hunting Really Save You Money?

The one-time & recurring costs of bringing home the bacon the old-fashioned way

The blessing and the curse of modern capitalism is that it’s taken from us both the joy and the burden of fending for ourselves. Few of us sew our own clothes, bake our own bread, or grow our own vegetables.

Still, there are a few proud do-it-yourselfers left who still extol the virtues of self-sufficiency. Yes, it can be more rewarding to provide for yourself than relying on store-bought items, but what about the economics of it?

Hunting is a proud tradition that persists even in the presence of affordable chicken breasts, bison burgers and ground beef. Its practitioners remain in touch with the land, with nature and with themselves. However, is it really cost-effective?

Let’s break down the sport of hunting to see just how far you’d have to go to make it worth your while.

Hunting: The One-Time Costs

The obvious place to start is with the equipment. If you’re serious about hunting for your food, you’re going to have to buy in to the lifestyle if you want to stand a chance of breaking even.

  • Rifle or Bow. Cost: $500

What’s your weapon of choice? If you choose to hunt with a rifle, you have lots of options, and Guns & Ammo’s seal of approval seems to start at the $500 mark. For those who prefer hunting with a bow, the minimum cutoff for quality equipment also starts at $500.

While your weapon of choice is a one-time expense, the price of maintenance is not. Eventually, you’ll need to buy replacement parts or even pay a professional to clean, service or repair it for you.

  • Storage Freezer. Cost: $300

If you’re intent on making hunting your primary source of meat, you’re also going to need a place to store the supplies you bring home until they’re ready for consumption. That means buying a dedicated freezer. Walmart sells deep freezers for as little as $150, but models large enough to accommodate a deer or two will run closer to twice that.

Hunting: The Recurring Costs

Any examination of hunted vs. store-bought meat needs to include the recurring costs associated with each. For store-bought meat, the equation is pretty simple: you buy the meat. There’s no upkeep, no specialized equipment, no bullets, and no cost for butchering or processing. The transaction is a simple one, and it’s easy to budget for.

When it comes to hunting, the recurring costs can add up quickly:

  • Land Lease. Cost: $1,000 per year
  • Hunting License. Cost: $50 per year
  • Ammunition. Cost: $50 per year
  • Traveling. Cost: $10 per hour
  • Meat Processing/Butchering. Cost: $400 per year or $2 per pound of meat

There are bound to be some variations from hunter to hunter. For example, not everybody hunts on their own land, and some hunters are capable of processing and butchering their own meat. The truth is, this is only the beginning of the ways we need to quantify our hunting expenses.

For example, time spent hunting is itself a significant expense. If you spend all day in the woods, that’s time that could have been spent in some other profitable pursuit. Will it be worth it? It’s certainly possible, but seeing a return on this investment of time relies as much on luck as it does on your skill as a hunter.

Nevertheless, we’re talking about a potential annual expense of more than $1,500, plus additional one-time expenses of $800 or more, if the above numbers are considered typical.

Store-Bought Meat: What Does It Cost?

Here’s the number you’ve been waiting for: $2,171.65. That’s one man’s carefully calculated estimate for providing a family of three with enough store-bought meat for one year. That accounts for roughly 435 pounds of assorted meats, including beef, poultry, and fish.

If an average buck will provide around 53 pounds of meat — possibly more, if you use an air compressor to efficiently skin and process your kill — then you’d need to bag about eight or nine bucks in total to keep your family fed for a whole calendar year.

Comparing the Costs

If the annual cost of hunting is around $1,500, and if a year’s worth of store-bought meat costs, on average, $2,171.65, then it appears that the savvy hunter might just come out on top.

Remember, though, the sheer number of variables in this equation. Travel time varies wildly from hunter to hunter, as does the cost of gas. Hunters also need larger vehicles to transport their gear and their kills. There’s also the many hours of time spent in the backcountry, which are themselves a recurring expense.

The truth is, there’s no easy way to answer this question — but from everything we’ve learned, it might be a wash anyway. Store-bought meat, even if it carries a price premium, may just make up for the added expense because it’s so darned convenient. Plus, you don’t need to wait for it to wander into your field of vision.

Consider an Alternative

According to, buying a side of beef — or other type of meat in bulk — is a great way to save on grocery costs. It might not come with the thrill of the hunt, but it’s a good way to shave a couple hundred bucks off your annual grocery bill — after you account for the price of a larger freezer, that is.

Nevertheless, it’s probably safe to say that nothing you’ve read here is going to sway you if you’re already in the lifestyle. Those who love hunting do so not necessarily because it’s economical, but for the other reasons touched on here: It’s primal. It takes place in the great outdoors. It’s just damned fun.

Some things in life are worth paying for.

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