One of the biggest questions when it comes to guided hunting trips is “how much does it cost?” While that question is important, it’s much more important to know what goes into the cost of a fully guided hunt. The simple answer to “how much” is: it depends. Prices of guided hunting experiences vary between ranches and across different states. It also varies between the type of game.
The overall price of a guided hunt sounds expensive upfront, but that’s because many hunters don’t have the full picture. To get some context, we’ve compared the cost of a fully guided hunt to a DIY and self-guided hunt. Then we’ve broken down the cost of a fully guided hunt for additional clarity. If you’d like to learn more about hunting prices, keep reading.
DIY vs. Self-Guided vs. Fully Guided Hunting
A DIY hunt is just that – completely do-it-yourself. DIY hunts are non-guided, non-outfitted, and generally take place on public lands. During a DIY hunt, the hunter relies wholly on his or her own knowledge and experience to find and shoot their animal. While DIY hunting may cost less money upfront, it costs a lot in time, gear, and miscellaneous expenses.
The biggest expense in DIY hunting is time. From planning to scouting to packing an animal out after the hunt, a DIY trip can take as long as 10-14 days. During each day of the hunt, precious time is often spent driving and hiking rather than calling and hunting.
Additionally, DIY hunting requires specific gear that doesn’t come cheap. Some hunters choose to stay in hotels, which puts them far away from their game of choice. For those that camp out, gear includes a quality wall tent, sleeping bag, dual burner stove, tables, a cot, and a personal propane heater. Hunters often have to clean and cook, as well as spend time splitting firewood. Field dressing an elk after the kill requires additional gear: knives, a bone saw, whetstone, gloves, a tarp, a cooler, replacement blades, and game bags. Miscellaneous expenses include food and fuel.
Starting from scratch, the above gear and expenses associated with a DIY hunt can get quite expensive. We’re talking thousands of dollars expensive. Not just that, with a DIY hunt, there’s no guarantee you’ll shoot an impressive bull or even one at all. Some hunters spend days out in the wilderness on a DIY hunt and come across one or two small bulls. While a DIY hunt can be expensive, it can also be discouraging.
Some hunting trips are self-guided. The outfitter only takes the hunter into the wilderness (often private property), advises them on a general area to hunt, then it’s up to the hunter. Hunters purchase their own meals, supply their own transportation and their own stands/blinds. Additionally, hunters take care of their own lodging and other personal gear. The outfitter on a self-guided hunt is merely there to show them the property.
Fully Guided Hunting
A fully guided hunt is an experience where an outfitter provides all hunting-related services for their guests. Not only does a private guided hunt include the place to hunt and guide services, it often includes lodging, meals, and travel. Some fully guided hunts don’t include licenses, which can be quite pricy for a non-resident tag.
Unlike DIY or self-guided hunts, a fully guided hunt requires minimal equipment. There’s no need to buy a tent, cot, tables, a stove, or a sleeping bag because fully guided hunts have it all covered with upscale lodging. Also, many fully guided hunts take care of field dressing the animals, eliminating the need for additional equipment.
Fully guided hunts cater to those on a time schedule. Many hunts are only 3-5 days with the guarantee of an excellent shot opportunity. Rather than wandering the wilderness for a week or more without shooting an animal, hunters can scout, shoot, and ship their animal back home within a few days on a fully guided hunt.
Whether DIYing a hunt or going somewhere guided, every hunter needs their own personal gear. This includes good boots for hiking, a light but dependable backpack, warm and high-quality clothing, weapon of choice, ammunition, and calls (optional).
How Much Does a Fully Guided Hunt Actually Cost?
Fully guided hunts can cost anywhere from $2,000-$15,000. The wide price range is largely dependent on the type of animal you hunt and where you choose to hunt at. Big game hunts, like trophy bison or bull elk hunts, cost more than turkey hunts. Additionally, various states have different quantities or types of animals available, both of which will have an impact on price.
Regardless of the animal you choose to hunt, a fully guided hunt includes a variety of expenses in the final cost. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the costs generally associated with a fully guided hunting experience:
When you go on a guided hunt, you aren’t just paying for a trophy elk or bison. You’re paying for everything that goes into an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. More than anything, you are paying for the expertise and competence of a guide whose devotion to hunting is second to none. A guide is an expert on any of the animals they will be leading hunts for. They spend years developing a comprehensive knowledge of the land, relevant local laws and regulations, and even outdoor survival techniques. Not only that, a guide needs to be trained and prepared for all emergency situations. Guides have countless years of hunting experience and use their knowledge to perfect each guest’s hunt. It’s no wonder that a competent guide doesn’t come cheap – you’re paying for much more than someone who drives you around the property. Considering everything they bring to the table, a hunting guide is absolutely priceless.
Transportation to and from an airport can get pricy, particularly because hunting ranches aren’t right next to the airport (they shouldn’t be, anyway). Additionally, it is stressful to find a ride from the airport — especially one that can fit all of your bulky gear— after a long flight. Fully guided hunts that include airport transportation take away the stress and the extra price that would be spent on an otherwise long, uncomfortable cab ride.
Field dressing is a dirty, time-consuming job no matter who you are. For a straightforward, easy lying elk, field dressing on your own can easily take 2-2.5 hours. More often than not, conditions aren’t that straightforward, Darkness, inclement weather, and the size of the animal can rack up additional hours. Not to mention if you’re less experienced. As mentioned above, field dressing also requires specific tools and the expertise to wield them.
Not just that, hunting on your own means packing the animal out. Elk hindquarters alone can weigh 85-90 pounds; packed for 3-5 miles, that weight really takes a toll.
A fully guided hunt removes the mess, hassle, and countless hours spent quartering, field dressing, and packing out a big game animal. Your time is much better spent relaxing by a fire than cutting open your game.
With a fully guided hunt, lodging is usually included in the overall price, and there are many advantages to it. Not only are the accommodations much nicer than your grandfather’s old tent or the nearest grimy motel, but lodging on your outfitter’s property also puts you right next to your game. Gone are the days of driving and hiking for hours on end; you are only minutes away from your trophy bull. And let’s face it: the last thing you want to do after an exhausting day of hunting is spend a restless night on a bed of rocks and dirt. While lodging on your own may save you a few hundred dollars, it will cost a lot more in gas and time.
Meals, Drinks, and Snacks
Hunting requires a lot of energy. Most people can expect to burn between 6,000 and 9,000 calories per day on the average elk hunt. In order to keep up, hunters need to be properly fueled. However, buying meals and snacks on your own to maintain energy can be expensive, costing hundreds of dollars during a full week of hunting. If you’re not prepared for a guided elk hunt, an exciting hunting trip can take a turn for the worst. When you’re hunting on your own, chances are that your spot is a couple hours away from the nearest gas station or restaurant, costing precious hunting time to grab food.
A fully guided hunt includes the price of excellent food. Forget the corn chips and trail mix, choose steak and potatoes instead. Some places even have private chefs that prepare each meal, keeping you totally fueled for your hunt of a lifetime.
Licenses can be incredibly expensive if you are trying to get one on your own. Many elk tags are distributed by random draw, but there are options to buy elk tags over the counter. Nonresident tags can cost at or around $1,000, and there’s still no guarantee you’ll come out with a prize-winning bull. Fully guided hunts include the high cost (or years of waiting) for a license, and many hunts often guarantee a solid shot opportunity. Nature just can’t do that.
Whether you’re going on a DIY hunt or a fully guided hunt, if you don’t anticipate all of your costs beforehand, it can get expensive. Be sure to take into account all personal expenses — gear, flights, etc. Additionally, some “fully guided” experiences may not include everything. It’s all too common for less-reputable outfitters to leave out the cost of licenses, airport transportation, or even lodging in their advertisements.
The best way to mitigate the risk of price gouging is to choose an all-inclusive experience for your fully guided hunt. That way you’re never taken by surprise and you can fully anticipate your costs in advance. Additionally, an all-inclusive experience takes away the uncertainty and worry — there’s no need to fret about where you should purchase a license or how to get to the nearest restaurant because it’s already taken care of. All-inclusive hunts are more expensive for good reason. Not only are all of your essential costs covered, you have valuable peace of mind throughout your hunt.
Adding It All Up
Is an all-inclusive, fully guided hunt cheap? No. Is the price worth it? Absolutely. A guided hunting trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that most people just won’t ever have. Saving a few hundred dollars upfront might not pay off in the end. In fact, you could spend nearly as much money on a DIY hunt if you have to buy all-new gear, quality lodging, licenses, and food.
When it comes to guided hunts, the cost is always associated with value; skimping the price means a lower-quality animal, lower-quality accommodations, and a dissatisfying overall experience. Like we said before, you’re not just paying for an elk or deer on a fully guided hunting trip. You’re paying for an unforgettable experience led by professionals of their craft. You’re paying for first-class private hunting accommodations, upscale cuisine, and the peace of mind in knowing that everything has been accounted for.
No matter the type of hunting you choose, make sure to do your research beforehand. Choose an outfitter that is dedicated to you and making your experience second to none. At West Canyon Ranch, we pride ourselves on doing just that. If you’d like to learn more about the pricing of our all-inclusive hunting programs, contact us today.
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