For the past 5 years, venison has been our main meat source. As we’ve put time and money into hunting and equipment, we’ve had to ask ourselves, “Is hunting for meat more cost-effective than buying it?” In this post, we’ll break down the costs and whether hunting for meat is financially worth it.
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Is hunting for meat more cost-effective than buying it?
The answer is: sometimes. There are a lot of variables that go into deciding whether hunting for meat is cheaper than going to the grocery store. You’ll need to take into account training and licenses, your equipment, gas, time and processing expenses.
Let’s break it down and look at the costs that go into hunting for your meat.
Cost #1: Hunter Safety
Most areas of the U.S. require some type of hunter safety course for first-time hunters. You can usually find options for these courses either online or in-person, and most take 1-2 days to complete.
The exact requirements vary by location. Here are the hunter education requirements for the U.S. and Canada from the American Hunting Lease Association.
In Michigan, a hunter safety course typically costs between $10-$30. I (Garrett) took an online course, and Marissa took an in-person course – there are pros and cons to both.
Take note that the requirements for hunting can vary slightly from state to state. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be giving you the details about what it takes to hunt here in Michigan. Most states have similar requirements and prices for your license and tags.
Cost #2: Yearly license and tags
After you pass your hunter safety course, you can officially purchase your base license and tags. In Michigan, you will need to buy a base license every year, which allows you to hunt large and small game. There are different price options depending on whether you are a junior, adult resident, non-resident, or senior. You can also purchase combo hunting and fishing licenses.
For adult residents in Michigan, the cost is $11 for an annual base license.
Once you have your base license, you can purchase your tags for the specific animal you are hunting. Check your state to find the exact rates for each animal.
Here in Michigan, a deer tag costs $20. Another option is to buy a combo tag (for 2 bucks) for $40.
Cost #3: Hunting equipment
A lot of people simply think of a firearm or bow when it comes to hunting equipment. The reality is that there is a lot more equipment involved. There’s also a huge range of prices when you’re choosing the equipment you need.
Besides your firearm or bow, you’ll need ammo, hunting clothes, and gutting/skinning knives.
Depending on where you hunt, you may also need a tree stand or ground blind, scent control products, deer calls, binoculars, and processing equipment (if you’re processing your deer yourself).
Let’s take a closer look at the equipment involved in hunting for your own meat.
The cost here can range from $200 – $1000+. If you’re starting out and just looking to put meat in the freezer, you’re probably best off searching for a gun rather than a bow. Guns are generally more accurate and give more opportunity for longer shots.
While the prices for guns are all over the map, used guns can often be found on the less expensive end of the spectrum from local gun shops or pawn shops.
Other factors that contribute to the price of a gun include whether it has a scope or iron sites. For example, a Mossberg 500 12Ga Shotgun is a decent gun for getting started and currently runs about $550. However, if you’re looking to take longer shots, you may want to invest in something with a scope rather than iron sites. Be sure to check on local regulations for what you’re allowed to shoot in your area.
Next, you’ll need hunting ammunition for your actual hunt as well as extra ammo for the time at the range becoming proficient with shooting your firearm. Rounds for my .450 Bushmaster currently cost about $2 per shot. As another example, rifled slugs for a 12-gauge are around $1.60/shot.
Do not neglect spending the time and money it takes to be comfortable shooting your firearm or bow accurately. Being a good sportsman means taking game ethically by being confident that the shots you take will kill the animal quickly with the least amount of suffering possible. Bad shots can lead to prolonged, unnecessary suffering of the animal or even injuring the animal without being able to harvest it.
If you’re thinking of getting into hunting, start searching for hunting clothes at garage sales, thrift stores, secondhand shops, or Facebook Marketplace. We’ve acquired much of our hunting equipment and tools secondhand, which has saved us a ton and brought down our average cost for a pound of meat.
You’ll need a good knife to gut your deer in the woods. If you plan to process your deer on your own at home, you’ll likely need a set of processing knives. Here is the knife set I have, which has done a great job of processing multiple deer.
Tree stand or ground blind
It is possible to make a ground blind out of materials you can find in the woods, such as logs and fallen branches. However, if you want a sturdier ground blind or one you can use year after year, this is another cost. An entry-level ground blind usually costs between $50-$200+. Ground blinds work great for beginners and young hunters because you can hide a lot of movement inside the blind if used correctly. They are best suited for gun and crossbow hunters.
Tree stands are also a great option, especially for bow hunters that need to get closer to game deep in the woods.
With tree stands, however, it is *very* important that you use a harness and lifeline to tether yourself to the tree while you’re in the stand. Being negligent to use the necessary safety equipment in a tree stand can lead to serious injury or death.
There are lots of other tools, toys, and gimmicks that are marketed to hunters. Some are genuinely helpful, others are niceties, and some are just gimmicks.
The goal of this post is to provide the basics that will aid in the sole purpose of putting meat in the freezer. But consider other equipment in the future if you’re able to afford it.
There is no little controversy over the efficacy of scent control products (spray, clothes washing detergent, soap); but deer calls, binoculars, and bipods or tripods are often genuinely beneficial depending on what type of environment you’re hunting in.
As with clothing, you can save a lot of money by searching for your equipment secondhand at garage sales, thrift stores, or on Facebook Marketplace.
Cost #4: Time hunting and traveling
Besides the cost of your actual supplies, licenses, and tags, don’t forget to take into account the time that it takes to hunt and travel to your hunting destinations.
If you have state land nearby, take advantage of it. Go deeper into the harder parts of the woods to get to get to where the deer are.
As another option, consider knocking on some doors nearby and asking permission to hunt on their property. If you do this, make sure to be presentable, competent, and let them know that you’re a safe, responsible hunter.
Once you’ve secured your hunting spot, you can calculate the expense of gas. Keep in mind that it may take many hours of hunting in order to harvest some game. There is always the risk of striking out in the season, especially if you’re just learning how to hunt; but be persistent! There’s a reason it’s called “hunting” and not “collecting”.
Cost #5: Time and processing materials or processing expense
After the initial investment of your equipment on your first year, the cost of processing is often what really makes or breaks the cost-effectiveness of hunting for meat.
If you invest in some good knives and become proficient in processing your deer at home, hunting can really be quite cost-effective.
Besides your processing knives, a vacuum sealer and bags (click the link to see the one we have) are also incredibly helpful for storing your meat. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can use regular freezer bags or butcher paper. Your meat just won’t keep for quite as long.
A meat grinder is another purchase you may want to make if you’re serious about processing your own meat. Ours was only $85 and we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how smoothly and effectively it works.
We tend to process some deer ourselves and take others to a local processor, depending on how much time we have.
Feel free to pin the list below to save this post and keep a list of hunting costs for when you need them.
Alright, now let’s break down the actual cost of meat per pound.
Breakdown of the costs of hunting for your own meat
Okay, here’s the information you really want – a breakdown of the costs of hunting for your own meat.
In the two tables below, I’ll break down the necessary costs for a hunter who simply wants to get meat in the freezer. In these tables, I’ve listed only the tools that are needed – no special gadgets.
Additionally, the costs below reflect what you’d need to pay to purchase entry-level or intermediate-level equipment new. Nearly all of my tools and equipment were either gifted to me over the years or purchased secondhand. This, of course, has significantly brought the cost down for our family.
Lastly, these numbers are based on the assumption that you could get two, average-sized deer (55lbs) per year.
Table #1: The average cost of hunting equipment over 10 years
As you’ll notice in this table, the first year of hunting can be quite costly if you purchase everything new. In this year, if you get two deer, you’ll be paying an average of $10.78 per pound. Yikes.
However, in subsequent years, the only items you’ll need to purchase on this list are your license and tags, ammo, and freezer bags. Therefore, after the initial startup costs, hunting is much less costly.
If you can find your supplies secondhand, your costs can be reduced significantly.
Table #2: Average cost of meat per pound for hunters over 10 years
In this table, I’ve divided the total cost of your equipment (including recurring costs, like tags, ammo, and freezer bags) over the years by the total pounds of meat harvested. Again, this table assumes two, average-sized (55#) deer per year.
As you can see, though the first-year cost of meat is extremely high, the cost per pound drops significantly in the second year, and every year after that. By your third year of hunting, you’ll be getting an excellent deal on high-quality meat.
Again, keep in mind that these tables only take into account the necessary costs of equipment. Don’t forget to consider the time involved in hunting and any other costs that may be unique to your situation (for example, processing fees if you choose to go to a processor, gas, etc.).
How much money can you save by hunting for meat?
After 10 years of hunting, the average cost of venison is approximately $1.90 per pound. Since grass fed ground beef is generally around $5 per pound, hunting for meat can be extremely cost-effective. Moreover, consider that you will be getting more than just ground venison, but also different types of steaks and roasts. Even in your third year of hunting, venison averages about $4.21 per pound, making it cost-effective long before the 10-year mark. (See the chart above for the full breakdown.)
Still, keep in mind that a deer is never guaranteed. These numbers assume an average of two deer per year. Some hunters are not able to harvest a deer every year. Other years, it may be possible to harvest many more than two.
Is hunting for meat worth the experience?
On a strictly numbers basis, hunting for meat isn’t worth the cost in the first couple of years. However, if the experience and the quality meat is worth it to you, the cost can certainly pay off in following years.
We’ve chosen to hunt for our meat because it’s an experience that I enjoy and we appreciate the quality of meat.
Consider other types of hunting
Pound for pound, venison is definitely the most valuable and plentiful game here in Michigan. However, it’s not the only kind of hunting that can be cost-effective for your family. If you’re looking to get meat in the freezer or on the table, consider also squirrel and rabbit hunting where there (in our state) aren’t specific tags you need to buy (but there are daily limits and possession limits). In Michigan, all you need to hunt these animals is the base license (which you bought already to harvest your deer).
FAQ about the cost-effectiveness of hunting for meat
What is the best equipment for deer hunting?
Over the years, I’ve searched for quality, affordable equipment for hunting. I’ve been able to find a number of products that have significantly improved my hunting experience at reasonable prices.
While many of these products are shared within this post, I’ve also created a list of my favorite affordable hunting gear if you’re interested in checking out some products I’ve loved.
Should I hunt with a firearm or a bow?
There are pros and cons to both firearm and bow hunting. Guns are much more accurate, which provide more opportunities to take game, as they allow for longer-distance shots. For someone who’s just looking to put meat in the freezer, a gun is usually the best option.
In most places, bowhunting offers a longer season than the firearm season. Many people also like bow hunting because it presents more of a challenge.
If you do choose to hunt with a bow, crossbows are much more accurate than compound bows and are easier to shoot. A compound bow is great for someone who enjoys the challenge of mastering a skill and has the time to commit to learning.
Is venison healthier than beef?
In general, venison is healthier than the average pound of ground beef you’d find at the grocery store. It is much leaner than beef. However, the health of your venison depends on the environment of the deer. Many deer fill up on GMO corn, but on the plus side, they aren’t getting pumped with hormones like factory-farmed meat.
Is hunting for meat cheaper than buying it?
After just a few years of hunting for meat, and buying only the essentials for hunting, you’ll be spending less per pound than if you bought your meat at the store. After 3 years of hunting, a pound of ground venison costs about $4.21 per pound. Currently, the least expensive beef at Walmart costs $4.34 per pound, and is not as healthy as venison.
Additionally, keep in mind that our calculated costs were strictly by pound. If you take into account the quality of cuts you receive from your deer (steaks, roasts, and fajita meat, in addition to ground meat), you’re actually saving a significant amount.
Lastly, the average cost of venison goes down year after year after the initial purchase of your equipment.