Adjusting Expectations … The “Free” Hunt

January 24, 2013

This is just a note, sort of in response to a couple of recent emails I’ve had lately.  I hope no one takes any of this the wrong way, but it needs to be said because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s experienced this.

One of the reasons I came to Texas is the abundance of game and hunting opportunities.  And, of course, when I moved here, I told many of my friends that they’d be more than welcome to come down and hunt with me.  (It was a sincere offer, and it still stands, by the way.)  But the thing is, I can only invite folks to hunt what I have here to hunt.  Right now, on my place, the only consistent game is whitetail deer.  I’ve had more and more turkeys lately, and I have a feeling the spring hunt has good potential, but I don’t have any hogs and I don’t have any axis deer. 

So when someone sends me a note and wants to come hunt axis deer or hogs, I tell them I can probably set something up.  Then I do some research, ask around, call a few people, and there’s usually someone offering day hunts or weekend hunts in the area.  But it’s usually not going to be free.  And that’s when I hear something I used to hear so much in California.  “Well, the hogs (or axis) are supposedly overrunning the place down there,” they say.  “I’m not going to pay someone so I can come get rid of their pests!”

Seriously, I get the sentiment.  On first glance, it does seem that, if farmers wanted to get rid of hogs, or axis, or coyotes, or whatever, then they’d open the gates to the masses.  I felt the same way in CA, when I watched the price for a hog hunt go from free, to a couple hundred dollars, to over $500!  I remember seeing where one rancher had slaughtered over a dozen pigs in his barley fields, and just dumped them in a ravine.  I asked about getting permission to hunt and maybe help get rid of some of these troublesome hogs, and was told I’d have to pay $200 a day to do so.  Since then, an outfitter has leased that property and you’ll pay about $650 if you want to come kill one hog.

But this is a reality, and it’s no different in Texas than in CA.  As the popularity of hog and exotics hunting increases, these animals become a valuable commodity for the ranchers and farmers.  It’s a little extra income for people in an industry that doesn’t generally offer very high profit margins.  Add to this the reasonable fact that few people are comfortable with the idea of armed strangers roaming un-escorted around their properties.  Escorting the strangers takes time, and time is money.  If a property has invasive exotics, those critters are eating crops or taking feed away from livestock.  Charging money for hunts helps recoup those losses.  It is seldom “greed” that drives landowners to charge hunters for the privilege of hunting their land.

Point is, there aren’t that many free hunts around these days.  Not only that, but the price of paid hunts is going up.  That’s the facts.  So if you ask someone to do the footwork to find a hunting opportunity, don’t get indignant if the best they can find exceeds your budget.  Adjust your expectations.

And to be clear, there are a couple of groups of people for whom I’ve coordinated hunts in the past.  I enjoy doing this, and look forward to doing it again in the near future.  This message is not intended for any of you.


13 Responses to “Adjusting Expectations … The “Free” Hunt”

  1. Dave on January 24th, 2013 18:39

    So, when are you going to arrange for those hogs to come to your stand while I am sitting in it?

  2. J.R. Young on January 24th, 2013 20:28

    Free is just a four letter F word. It’s a shame people actually feel entitled to go onto private property, hunt and not have to pay anything. Sure, they can be vermin but who bears the risk here. Risk of injury, damaged property, littering, and carelessness? Certainly not the person who feels they should be able to hunt for free….if they feel they should hunt for free I wonder how they feel about closing gates, making safe shots, and disposing of trash?

  3. Mike on January 24th, 2013 21:48

    Everyone wants a free lunch. I live in Colorado and have hunted hogs in Texas annually for 20 years…It’s never been free, we never expected it to be free but we return because it’s a great time and still, pretty reasonable as these things go.

    Now, if we could get some rain!

  4. Phillip on January 25th, 2013 07:52

    Good morning, all!

    First and foremost, AMEN, Mike, on the rain comment. Man we could stand it down here, and in no small way!

    Beyond that, I appreciate the input from everyone. Keep it coming.

    And Dave, my friend, if you make your way down here, we’ll find you a hog if I have to spray paint one of these whitetails black and buy it a set of dentures.

  5. Bruce on January 25th, 2013 11:54

    When I first moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, the superb big game and bird hunting on public land blew me away. I can hunt hogs, sheep, goats, wild bull, and numerous species of game birds for 10 bucks a year, with big game open 365 days a year. I used to post stories on Jesse’s Hunting Forum and received many emails from mainlanders wanting to go hunting with me. Long story very short, I set up several of these hunts and with only one exception, regretted it. I ended up supplying the 4WD vehicle, almost always most or all of the gas, often the gear, and I’d hear comments like, “I only have 20 dollars with me.” “I thought I was your guest. You don’t charge your guests for gas, do you?” “I didn’t have time to get my license [this after the hunt]. That’s not a problem, is it?” And the clincher, I took a young man—college student—out on a pig hunt to Laupahoehoe. After the hunt I dropped him off in front of a huge hotel where he and his folks were staying and he said he’d be right back with $40 to reimburse me for gas. I waited 1/2 an hour but he never returned. He never answered his cell phone.

    Recently, somebody looked me up and called when he was here in Kona. What the heck, I gave it a shot. We were out in the boonies [my truck, most of my gear, but he did pay $20 up front for gas]. Within 10 minutes he was spouting all sorts of political dogma, then he became ultra-ultra-religious, and then he tried to save my soul out in the rainforest. I told him no thank you and he became surly and turned on me. We made it a short day and I’m sure I’ll never hear from him again.

    Now when somone I don’t know well wants to hunt with me, I say no. I’d rather be alone and at peace with the world than dealing with people who want a free hunt, at my expense.

  6. Al Quackenbush on January 25th, 2013 12:00

    It never ceases to amaze me the ‘entitlement’ some people feel when they hear ‘free’ or get an opportunity to hunt of private land for nothing. To me it is never ‘free’ and knowing how tough it is in California I am fortunate to have a friend who has some property. Each time we are fortunate to meet up, I supply the dinner meals for each night. He thinks I am going overboard, but providing a meal with venison and a bunch of other goodies makes for some happy hunters. It’s the least I can do. I even offer to help clear brush and chop firewood. I would work my butt off on his property knowing I could hunt it. There are way too many lazy and ungrateful hunters out there. Much respect to those who hump it day in and day out.

  7. JAC on January 25th, 2013 16:42

    I just read a book on agroforestry and the author devoted a chapter to family farm income. I was pretty shocked at the huge percentage of family farms that skirt the poverty level. So, if hunters help family ag stay on the land, I’m all for suitable fees. My only concern is that commoditizing invasive species makes the problem worse. But, as Texas, Florida and California attest, that cow is already out the barn door. So sign me up as a willing payor.

    P.S. Bruce’s story killed me. The thought of being aggressively evangelized by a stranger-freeloader is so fantastically terrible I don’t have words. Thanks for that post.

  8. Brad on January 26th, 2013 17:35

    While I cringe when I read about the behavior of the “free”loaders, the cost of hunting has gotten to the point where if it isn’t free, I probably won’t bother anymore. When I lived in Cali, I was lucky enough to goon a few hunts with Phil as a guide, and I always felti got my money’s worth, but at a immune of $600 for the fees, plus a couple hundred for transportation and processing the meat, it just wasn’t worth the cost. Even a truly free hunt in Texas would set me back at least that much, just due to transportation and lodging. Then the logistics of transporting the meat comes in.

    All that being said, if someone were to provide me with a great hunting location for no access fee, they would not only get any actual expenses reimbursed, they would get a bottle of their favorite spirits for each day or some other appropriate gift.

  9. Bruce on January 27th, 2013 11:10

    Hunting has become a commodity, just like gold or petroleum. It has monetary value, either to the government [public land] or to private individuals or groups [private land] and the market dictates its worth. When someone offers you great hunting for no access fee, they are giving you money out of their pocket, and simply put, that ain’t gonna happen. The states are really strapped for money and the enormous increases in nonresident hunting fees reflect this. Check out the current hunting tags for nonres hunters in Montana. A guided elk or trophy mule deer hunt in Montana now costs a lot more than a guided safari in Africa. I recently received Cabela’s Outfitter Brochure and the average one week guided elk or mule deer hunt in Montana or Wyoming was about 10,000. That doesn’t include tags. So if you toss in tags and transportation, a week hunt will cost around 12,000. How many working stiffs can even come close to affording this? And a lot of these hunts are on public land. The Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona has several super-trophy elk hunts every year [2 day guided hunt] and the tags are now around 25,000, if I recall, and there is a long waiting list.

    When I was a kid, I knew lots of hunters. Lots. Today I know very few hunters. I know a lot of shooters, but very, very few hunters. When I was a kid, most shooters were also hunters. Not today. In Hawaii, the number of active youth hunters is way down. A lot of the kids shoot, but very, very few hunt, and the hunting opportunities here are abundant and virtually free. I spoke with wildlife officer Joey Mello about this trend and it is his opinion, after speaking with young shooters, that there are two main reasons for the decline in young hunters. First, it requires too much physical effort. And second, they don’t want to get up early in the morning.

    I think the trend in hunting is this—a lot fewer hunters and a lot more expensive to hunt. If you’re a diehard hunter, you’ll find ways to adapt. If not, you’ll put your guns in a safe and that’s where they’ll stay, with the exception of an occasional trip to the target range.

    I moved to Hawaii largely because of the hunting opportunities here. I’ll go mouflon sheep hunting on Thursday and have about a 50% chance of getting a sheep, and that’s on public land and I won’t see another person. Next Saturday I’ll go to Laupahoehoe and try for a hog or two. Odds there are about 75% for one hog and 50% for two hogs, depending upon how much effort I put in. Again, public property and I won’t see a soul. In the months ahead, I’ll hunt wild bulls a couple of times, hogs 4 or 5 times, sheep 3 or 4 times, Spanish goats once, and the bearded turkey season starts March 1 and I’ll get my limit of 2 the first week. All on public property and the annual license costs $10.

    And back to people wanting me to take them hunting, a guy I used to hunt with here is now an ex-hunting buddy. He told me, as we were driving home from hunting in my truck, that it didn’t make any sense economically for him to buy a truck since it was so much cheaper to use my truck and pay for half the gas. He made the same comment when we last went out fishing in my boat.

    A lot of people want something for nothing, or more accurately stated, they want something that somebody else will ultimately pay for. I’ve been suckered too often. Phillip has a wide open invitation to visit me here and go on some hunts and fishing trips, and so does one other guy on the mainland who visited me and paid for all the gas and supplies and then returned 6 months later with 30 pounds of cut and wrapped venison for me. But I’m no longer taking anybody hunting or fishing and at the end of a long day, have them hand me a $20 bill for gas and then drive off to their $400 a night hotel.

  10. Phillip on January 27th, 2013 21:09

    Interesting conversation, and I thank you all for keeping it that way.

    Bruce, I remember a couple of your tales about invited guests and I must say I’ve got nothing to compare to that. But something like that would definitely sour me on the whole idea. So with that in mind, your standing offer is pretty damned generous, and I hope if I ever do get to take you up on it that you won’t be sorry.

    As far as the cost of hunting and its impact on the future, I think there’s a lot of truth to what Bruce’s game warden friend was saying. Hunting is not well-suited to the short attention span, instant gratification generation. While I know that several youth hunting organizations and recruitment programs are running strong, I also know from experience that it’s a tough row to hoe when something that takes the patience and commitment of hunting is up against video games, television, and the opposite sex.

    Time will tell. It always does.

  11. JAC on January 27th, 2013 22:13

    The expense of hunting is pretty clearly a complicated topic. The externalities associated with increasing the population of invasive species, especially hogs, doesn’t seem to have been appreciated. For instance, a farmer who husbands the pigs in his area by metering hunting, directly and deleteriously affects his neighbors by allowing the population to increase. But, then the neighbors have an incentive to drive down the price of hunting or elsewise greatly increase hunting traffic. So far, at least as Phillip and Bruce describe, only the first phase, increasing the population by maximizing profit, has occurred. But the economic interests of the landowners being negatively affected won’t let that be the permanent case, I don’t think.

  12. Brian Carnes on February 19th, 2013 21:03

    Phillip – I retired to DFW for the same reasons. I’ve always been a fisherman, but never a hunter. I thought I’d move here, hook up with others and be the schooling I should of got from my old man, but didn’t. Long story–won’t repeat it. Anyway, I retired after 27 years in the Navy as a Corpsman. I know human anatomy like a doctor. I’ve seen all kinds of blood/guts. Usually, I’m the one sewing them up, but I figured I’d take to hunting easy. I’m an outstanding shot with pistol, pick a cal. And great with my rifles. I have 2 compound bows and a recurve take-down that I’m also very accurate (at targets)… I don’t have a lot of money, but can carry my load. I’m outfitted and ready to camp. If you, or someone you know, would like to get together for a hunt I’m interested. Of course, I’m not stupid–so we’d have to meet-N-greet somewhere convenient for us both. Please email me if interested.

  13. Phillip on February 20th, 2013 10:50

    Brian, I can’t promise you’ll get too many offers here, you might keep an eye on the comments just in case. While the DFW area isn’t loaded with public hunting opportunities, there are a bunch of hunters up that way.

    Hunters are pretty good folks, and often generous. But not too many will extend an invitation outright to a total stranger, especially on the strength of a single comment. You might want to start posting on forums like Texas Hunt and Fish. Rather than asking for an outright invitation, try getting to know some of the other members and talk about the possibility of finding a hunting partner to share an outing. Consider a paid hunt as well (they can be pretty economical, especially hogs or exotics), and see if you can find someone to join you on a trip. The trick is becoming part of the community, even virtually, and building relationships that way. I’ve met a lot of folks through forums, and through the blog, and some of them have become long-term hunting partners and friends.

    For my own part, if I had the facility and hunting opportunities to support it, I’d love to start inviting new hunters out and helping them get started. It’s one of the things I always enjoyed about hunting at Tejon Ranch in CA, and it was the very best part of professional guiding. But as it is, I’m still in the process of forming my own new networks of friends and hunters in order to expand some opportunities for myself.