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Bird Hunting on a Budget

How to get the most bang for your buck immersed in the uplands and gun dogs.

Bird Hunting on a Budget

Be creative, imaginative, and you’ll enjoy the places you go bird hunting. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

New town, fledgling business, fresh mortgage and already a serious flyfishing addiction. Not a lot of “disposable income,” as economists describe that extra jingle in your pocket at the end of the month. But there I was, an earnest, quivering with a wirehair pointing his first bird. That performance threw me headlong into a new life and all the expenses associated with it.

I’ve been economizing ever since. Maybe you know what I mean. Even if you don’t know, saving a buck or two while chasing bird dogs has its benefits. There’s something left for better beer, longer hunting trips…and maybe even a “date night” with the long-suffering spouse.

That said, there are some things on which you should not cheap out: Boots, dogs, dog food, hunting buddies. Each will be with you for a long time and are worthy of significant investment. About that other stuff, though…

Transport

You know you’re going too deep when you return to a spot and find pieces of your rig that fell off on the last trip. Everywhere else, any sound motor vehicle will get you to your hunting locations. Allow room for dog crate, cooler, hunting buddy and you’re good to go. At some point, you’ll want to go bigger and add two more wheels of drive. Save $10,000 going with a gas rather than diesel engine. Buy used instead of new and get an extended warranty. Put a canopy on your new-to-you pick-up and you’ve got lodging as well as transportation.

Do the basic maintenance yourself: Oil change, fuel filter, etc., but know your limits. Tackling anything more technical might cost money when a pro has to re-do something you did. Rotate your tires regularly, keep them aired up and you’ll add 10,000 miles of life to them.

Christmas bonus money is well-spent on a used RV—travel trailers make the most sense as we can use our current rig to tow, disconnect at camp and continue higher, farther, deeper. You’ll save on restaurants, motels, time, and gas by camping where you hunt rather than 60 miles away in the nearest town.

And most of your costs are halved when you bring along a buddy.

Gear

I’ve come full circle. When I barely had two nickels to rub together, I pillaged my closet and garage. Then, pricey specialized stuff showed up on my doorstep and I used some on TV and gave away the rest. Now, I’ve curated a pile of clothing originally used for rodeo, rock climbing, mountaineering, fishing and work. From boots to pants to shirts and socks, I’ll bet you already have sturdy, technical gear that may not have the right label but functions as well as the stuff in the glossy catalogs.

Shop garage sales, farm and ranch stores, Craigslist, and social media. Search for coupon codes before you “go to cart,” ask around at club meetings and training days. Buy during the off-season, close-outs, and “bargain cave” one-offs.


Dogs & Dog Gear

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” is an axiom likely inspired by a bad dog purchase. Buy the best dog you can afford from a reputable breeder who hunts. Your money’s worth ought to include life-long advice on your dog’s training and development. Insist on a written guarantee of eyes, elbows, hips, thyroid. Honor both your investment and your commitment to the dog by training it to be the best it can be. Join a club, do some hunt tests, and your initial investment will be multiplied many times over in grand days afield with a four-legged partner that knows his job and performs it well.

young german wirehaired pointer sitting on whoa table
Don't be afraid to BIY (Build It Yourself) when it comes to saving some dollars on dog training gear. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Still on the fence? As with a shotgun, sometimes the best strategy is to have a friend with a dog. This strategy keeps many innocent bird dogs out of the shelters, sent there when first-time owners are overwhelmed by the expense and responsibility of dog ownership. It also allows time to ponder different breeds, temperaments, and styles, before making an investment you’ll be living with for ten or more years.

There is no new car smell in dog gear. Beg, borrow, steal, buy used. Nobody is going to run their hand admiringly over the crate like a Bond girl does his Aston Martin’s fender. Fellow club members have too much stuff and are glad to barter or sell it. Make your own check cords, tie-out stakes, tip-up cages. There are Facebook pages of dog gear for sale, even my more formal site, uplandnationdeals.com, where you can buy or sell second-hand e-collars, crates, apparel.

Make your own training table or use an old picnic bench. Re-purpose bowls, grooming tools, bedding. Your dog doesn’t judge, and neither will experienced hunting dog owners who probably still have their first clothesline-check cord hanging in the garage.


Guns & Ammo

Who doesn’t love a stylish Italian shotgun, elegantly poised in the ready position as a quivering pointer stands a covey of plantation bobwhites? Or at least, so I’m told. The rest of us have a mortgage and kids to feed. Almost any shotgun will go “bang” when you pull the trigger, the rest being window-dressing. I’ve hunted with scions of industry and governors who love their pump guns, getting off a second shot faster than me with my over-under.

Your shiny shotgun will soon be scratched, dented, drooled on, and spotted with blood (hopefully not yours). Someday it’s going to be dropped off a cliff and unless it lands on me, it will get bent or broke. There are some fine guns made in the U.S. for under $2,000 and in Turkey for under $700. They still go “bang,” though without that charming foreign accent. Start used (get a guarantee) with a classic, and upgrade when your spouse inherits the family gold mine.

bird hunter holding a double barrel over/under shotgun
Any shotgun will do, be it a brand-new or borrowed item. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

In an era where finding anything to put in the breech of your shotgun is cause for celebration, at times you do want to be picky. Hard-core clay target shooters will buy the good stuff for practice, but most of us aren’t that score-conscious. In the field, though, many one-pellet kills wouldn’t be, with cheap stuff.

Reloading is seldom a money-saving venture, but it is a good way to spend time in the garage with the game on the radio. If you’re a shooting-club member, you might be able to buy from it, and sometimes bulk purchase discounts are shared among club members.

Hunting Grounds

hunter access progam sign in oregon
Free is a very good price. We citizens own a lot of land, especially west of the Mississippi. Much of it is owned and sorta managed for recreation, including hunting. Some is pretty good. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Learn your way around public access programs, private-ground walk-in lands, and learn to knock on doors. Search out the skinny slivers Corps of Engineers real estate, find school-trust properties. (For starters, there is a list of public-access providers here; 99 cents with proceeds to NAVHDA). Inquire about timber and paper company lands, gas transmission and electricity rights-of-way.

If there’s a preserve or hunt club nearby, ask about “cleanup” hunts after the moguls miss their driven birds, or end-of-season hen hunts. If you’re far from home, ask the chamber of commerce if landowners offer low-cost access. Got a good dog? Preserves are sometimes on the lookout for guides.

Trade labor for access. I’ve moved cows, fixed fence, consulted, written for, and given away more booze than most Scottish distillers. It never hurts to ask. Put up a sign at the local post office or general store.

The ultimate cost-savings would be in your choice of quarry. After all, we’re talking about cultivating a lifestyle here, not simply a hobby. Start your odyssey by choosing a bird species that dwells close to you. Then, you can chase to the point of obsession and save a little gas money.

Travel

Here’s an entire article on travel savings. Briefly, a few tips: Use credit-card miles, hotel incentives, aggregator sites like Trivago. Picnic, don’t dine at restaurants. Park your RV at Wal-Marts and casinos enroute.

Be creative, imaginative, and you’ll enjoy your dog and the places you go, even if you’re wearing second-hand rock-climbing pants. Your dog won’t care that your gun is scratched, and your buddies may have some fun at your expense when you’re lacing up hiking boots, but at the end of the day, odds are you’ve all had the same kind of day: Eager dogs, cooperative birds, fine fellowship, beautiful habitat—and you’ve got enough left to buy the good beer.

young german wirehaired pointer sitting on whoa table
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. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

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