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Yes, You Can Afford That Road Trip Hunt!

Tips and tricks to not break the bank when it comes to your next upland road trip.

Yes, You Can Afford That Road Trip Hunt!

Let’s go somewhere fun to play with our dogs…without breaking the piggybank. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

We bird hunters are rich–okay, figuratively rich: In spirit, hopes, dog power, friends, and the prospect of hunting beautiful places. But even if your credit cards are platinum, there’s no point in squandering hard-earned cash while following your dog wandering the prairies and coverts in search of wild game birds. 

Whatever your credit card statement (or your spouse) says, there’s a good chance you can afford an epic road trip. It’s all in how you define “epic.” To heck with soft beds or ritzy brand names. 


Preparation and Planning

The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.” By its nature, bird hunting should be light on administrative chores, but going without planning is how shortcuts lead to long detours. The first part is easy: Clouds of pheasants; multi-flush grouse days. Pull your head from the puffy white clouds and focus on a state, region, town, or some kind of home base. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of those who did get more specific. Fields already dotted with blaze orange, motel rooms full, gasoline 164 miles behind you. All of those ramp up the price of your trip.

Take my first Montana trip: Vague idea of where to start, then a potluck with the equivalent of store-bought clam dip as the outcome. Now, I save money, time, and aggravation by arranging the basics well in advance. Book early and you’re less subject to “dynamic pricing” where room rates and airfares rise as availability plummets. Check travel-aggregator sites like Trivago for the best deal. Use credit card miles for rooms and air travel. Call hotels directly and ask for their best rate, including any discounts for seniors, auto clubs, military, etc.

Make a list, check it twice (more on that, later) and identify items you’ll seldom if ever use again. Borrow those from a friend.

two hunting dogs in camper
Part of a successful road trip starts and ends with keeping your dogs comfortable along the way. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Road Trip Travel

I’ve hobnobbed with governors in resorts where every room had a Jacuzzi and an ice bar. I’ve had just as much fun (maybe more) waking up in the back of my truck, cutting a dog loose and shooting sharptails on a National Grassland. Scrimp here, save there, but don’t let parsimony steal your hunting joy. Define what’s important to you and set your sights accordingly. I bet it includes limitless sky, the crunch of leaves underfoot, tinkling collar bell in the distance, adrenaline rush when wings beat and spaniels leap. Everything else is optional.

There is nothing worse than spending a week one night in Adel, Oregon, waiting for a tow truck.  That’s what happens when you don’t do a thorough workup on your rig. Repairs cost less at home, and you won’t have to make four hours of small talk with the tow truck driver who could have been an extra in a Mad Max movie. Critical automotive bits and pieces should be packed: A serpentine belt and DEF for your diesel engine.

America the Beautiful passes offer discounts in federal campgrounds and national parks, sometimes even state parks. RV affinity groups like Good Sam and Passport America put beer money in your pocket with each stay. 


Camp or RV enroute and save the cost of a motel room; pack groceries and picnic along the way, bring your own happy hour fixins’. Everyone knows about parking overnight at Cracker Barrel and some Wal-Marts, but many casinos, fraternal groups, fairgrounds, and city parks serve travelers too. Harvest Hosts gives RVers a free night at wineries, golf courses, and more if you’re a member. Stay with friends and relatives along the way, get caught up, and you’ll be money ahead. 

Finding cheap fuel has become a contact sport, so get a mobile app (Gas Buddy is one) that shows who’s got the lowest price; others offer a discount if you use their card. Indian Reservations usually share about half what they don’t pay in federal fuel taxes in their price-per-gallon. 

I will never forget (my wife won’t let me) an early trip where over the course of a hundred miles I realized I’d left at home my wallet, then sleeping bags, tent, and shotgun. At least I’d remembered the dog. I bought a lot of new gear I didn’t need. Now, I have a checklist (get it here) that has everything except the semi-truck you’ll need to carry it all. 

cafe at night
Shopping local will save you some coin and some hassle, and it's good for the local economy. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

This is not to say get everything at the big-box MegaloMart at home. Buying locally is good business…hunters are “economic development” in small towns. It’s nice, thoughtful, and may pay off in benefits from local intel to an invitation to hunt someone’s land.

But the number-one way to economize on the road is also one of the main reasons we go: To spend time with good friends and family. Take someone hunting and everything is half price but the dog–and he’s worth every ounce of high-priced kibble.

Road Trip Best Practices

Sometimes, the best way to economize is to spend some money, unless you don’t put any value in your time. Spend days wandering the countryside in search of access and good habitat, you’re pennywise and pound foolish. A pro guide could be the cheapest way to get into birds if time is of the essence. Ask questions, make notes, learn the lay of the land, watch where birds are. Tip well. Then, start exploring on your own. 

In many bird hunting towns, the chamber of commerce will maintain a list of local landowners who provide access, often for a very attractive price. Farm families operate bed-and-breakfasts, often including access to their land. I’ve stayed in former convents, yurts, plywood shacks, and RVs parked in tractor sheds, all less expensive than traditional lodging options. 

Find a local friend. Dog club or conservation group member, Elk, Moose, or Odd Fellow, friend-of-a-friend…the extent of their assistance varies, but they could save you time or money. Need I remind you to return the favor?

Hunting publicly-accessible ground, use a good map or mobile app to find other nearby public spots. Save gas and time by investigating, the others should be the first ones to fizzle, and you’ll still get back in time for sundowners…at sundown. 

“Hunter’s specials” abound, from free breakfast at your hotel to lodging discounts. There’s no shame in asking for one even if it’s not advertised. Ask for the “cash price.” Visitor bureaus often have piles of discount coupons, as do motels and restaurants, for everything from low-cost property access to car washes.

Once you’ve found your hunting home, stay put. Roaming from town-to-town siphons hunting time and piles on fuel expense. Book multi-night stays in RV parks—a weekly rate can save up to 30 percent over the nightly tariff. Bring enough friends and a hotel might comp you a room for doing all the marketing for them.

car and camper in desert
Many public lands offer the option to camp right where you plan to hunt. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Camping on most state and federal land is cheap or free, and some of it is in prime hunting territory. I’ve shut the door on my RV, walked 50 yards, and killed quail and chukars on Bureau of Land Management property. I spent the savings on better booze. Here’s a list of most public agencies that offer hunting access. Want to sleep off the ground, without an RV? Rent a U-Haul box van at your destination and “camp” inside. 

This one gets me one more trip each season when I explain to my spouse, I’d be wasting money otherwise. Some states sell non-resident annual licenses good for 365 days from date of purchase. I’ll hunt late season one year, then return early season the next, on the same license. Some even offer fishing–a three-fer! (Caution: She’ll counter with the one-more-pair-of-shoes-they-were-on-sale gambit.)

Confucius is rumored to have said “He who will not economize will have to agonize.” He’s usually right, but being a skinflint is a character flaw. Drink good local beer, tip the band, find a decent ribeye and share it with your dog. Enjoying a few of the finer things along the hunting road adds texture and richness (pun intended) to your life and while your dog might disagree, I think you’re worth it.

german wirehaired pointer head out of truck window
Take the trip. You'll be glad you did, and your dog will be too. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

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