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Budgeting For An Elk Hunt

Budgeting For An Elk Hunt

Here's how much it will cost you to go on a non-resident elk hunt

Over the next couple of months, thousands of hunters will be booking out of state elk hunts for the first time while many more will start preparing for “do it yourself” (DIY) elk hunts across the country. Elk hunting is an expensive sport if you are a non-resident. In today's world, it's much more than buying a license and going hunting.

The Tags

If you've never priced out-of-state elk licenses before, you may want to have a trash can close by. Some guys have been known to get sick at the sight of the prices! Listed below are the cost of licenses for five western elk hunting states.

Either sex tag: $636
Antlerless: $476

Either sex tag: $572
Antlerless: $372

Either sex tag: $851
Antlerless: $273
Big game combo (elk & deer tag): $996

New Mexico
Either sex tag: $548
Mature bull tag: $548
Quality or high demand tag: $773
*New Mexico allows landowners to sell their tags. Some of these fetch upwards of $10,000.

Either sex tag: $577
Antlerless: $288
Non-resident special- 40% of non-resident tags get allotted for this draw, with the assumption that less people would put in for the higher price tag, therefore increasing draw odds. Not always the case.
Bull tag: $1,057

There's a lot to digest with each state's licensing procedures but this gives you a good place to start budgeting. If you want to hunt hard to draw units, you will have to start obtaining preference points. That will add several hundred dollars to the cost of the license. A state like New Mexico works off of a lottery system so no matter if you have been applying for 10 years or if this is your first year applying, you have the same chance of a successful draw. Other states like Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming work off of a preference point system. The more preference points you have, the better your chances are to draw a tag in a heavily desired unit. There are six western elk hunting states that also offer over the counter tags if you aren’t interested in applying for preference points. These states include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Many of theses states give out a very limited number of tags in over the counter units. Researching your elk hunting destination well in advance is key. If you book with an outfitter, they will know what units to put you in for.

The Guided Hunt

Elk hunts are expensive. Did I mention that already? Paying the outfitter is where a huge chunk of your budget is going. How much does an elk hunt cost? Elk hunts go for as little as $2,000 to well over $10,000. The area, style of hunting, caliber of bulls and accommodations, all influence how much you will pay. Outfitters who lease private ground, hunt out of a lodge and drive clients around in trucks, charge more. Just like any business, higher overhead leads to higher pricing. Higher prices doesn't always mean better hunting. Every outfitter is different in terms of what the cost of the hunt gets you. Some supply meals and lodging, some don't. For arguments sake, let's say we are booking/buying a bull elk hunt in Wyoming for $6,500.

This hunt includes:
  • lodging
  • meals
  • place to hunt with a guide for 6 days
  • transportation is supplied once you reach the lodge
This hunt does not include:
  • elk hunting license
  • Transportation to destination
  • Personal gear
  • Butchering
  • Taxidermy
  • Tips

Filling In The Blanks

Elk hunting license is the easiest to figure. You drew a special draw tag that cost $1,057. The majority of elk hunters seem to jump on a plane and fly because it's faster. If you book your flights soon after booking your hunt, you can purchase a ticket for $500 or less. Add an additional $300 for baggage fees. Assuming you are driving and coming from the east coast, you can do the trip for the same amount of money if you only stop and grab a hotel one night during your travels. Flying seems more logical. Eight hours in an airport vs. the 30 some hour drive. But, driving will save you over $1,000.00 in shipping fees once you kill your bull and need to get him back home. For this example, you decided to fly because of time constraints. This means you need picked up at the airport and the outfitter charges $100.00 for airport pickup and drop off.

Once you pull the trigger, you will be spending another $350.00 to have your bull cut, wrapped and frozen. Leaving your bull with the outfitters taxidermist is the best bet because you flew. He's a pretty good 6pt, so you go with a full shoulder mount. That's gonna set you back another $1,400.00, mounting and shipping. Don't forget, because you flew, you have to get that 200 pounds of meat back home. Unless you know someone who's heading your way from hunting camp, it will cost you upwards of $800.00 to ship your meat home. If you aren’t interested in shipping the meat home, you can typically donate it to a local food bank. Not only is this a genuine thing to do, it can also save you money on the processing fees.

Personal gear is your preference but I'm going to recommend a few things for your elk hunt. Good boots are a must. My favorite are the Kenetrek Mountain Extremes. They have never let my feet get wet in the five years I've owned them. They're pricey but well worth it. Cost is $450. A good rangefinder is definitely worth the money. Zeiss and Leica are my two top picks. Cost is $800. If you are a rifle hunter, a good set of shooting sticks could make or break your hunt. Get a pair that will allow you to stand up and shoot, as well as adjust to a kneeling position. There are many companies with good shooting sticks. I don’t have a personal preference on a brand for these. The cost will be around $150.00. A final piece of gear you don’t want to be without is a good pack. I've used Badlands packs for over 15 years and still think they’re the best. I've used other packs that were good but I keep going back to my 2200 from Badlands. The Super Day pack will probably do you just fine but I prefer the larger 2200 series. My pack often doubles as a rest when rifle hunting. Cost $300.00.

Oh boy, that leaves us with tipping. How much should I tip my hunting guide? That is the question I get asked the most. That's the question outfitters and guides get asked the most. It's the question we like to answer the least. So, here it goes.

First and foremost, I do not guide for tips. I guide because I enjoy helping others fulfill lifelong dreams of killing such and such animal. I understand some guys save for many years just to be able to do the hunt that we have laid out above. Personally, I couldn't afford to do this hunt. I don't want a guy not to do a hunt because he can't afford to leave a good tip. That being said, guiding is not about being well off, we have plenty of bills to pay too. Our hunters enjoy success year after year because we use high end equipment. Tips allow us to buy these necessary tools. 10- 20% the cost of the hunt is what is considered fair for a tip. Those numbers come from several hunting organizations. A $6,500 hunt at 10% is $650. 20% of $6,500 is $1,300. Remember when tipping you also have to include people that helped you besides the guide. Packers, wranglers and cooks bust their butts for you as well. As the hunter, you should personally do the tip exchange. Don't ask the outfitter to do it for you. Many bad arguments have resulted from this. Back to our example. Your hunt was successful and you had a great time so you decide to tip at 20% or $1,300.

*This was just a guideline for tipping. Your bank account and happiness are the ultimate deciding factor.

Adding It All Up

This might hurt a little!
  1. Guided elk hunt: $6,500.00
  2. Elk license: $1,057.00
  3. Transportation : $900.00
  4. Processing & Taxidermy: $1,350.00
  5. Shipping fees: $1,200.00
  6. Gear upgrade: $1,700.00
  7. Tips: $1,300.00

Grand total: $14,007.00

Elk hunt budget

Yep that's a lot of money. Comes out to $70.00 per pound! Now, if you drive and already have the gear, you’ll knock $3,000.00 right off the top of our designed budget. It's a hard decision just booking a hunt, it's even harder when it involves these kind of numbers. That's why it's imperative to do your homework when checking out outfitters. It's part of the reason Guidefitter was created. It's one more tool to help you make the best decision before shelling out a wad of cash. You can find an extensive list of elk hunting outfitters at Here are some questions to ask your outfitter before booking.

The good news with booking a hunt with an outfitter is that the probable success goes up about 75% for the first time elk hunter. Yes, that's a big jump in kill percentage. Elk country is big and challenging. Most first timers are not prepared for what the mountains will throw at them. Elevation, weather, other hunters and the overall unpreparedness of such an adventure, leave many tags folded up in one's wallet. But, some folks still want to get after it on their own. It's a satisfaction that's second to none when all their hard work results in meat in the freezer.

I Can Do This On My Own (DIY)

If you are going after elk for the the first time on your own, the title of this section better be your mentality! Your physical ability and mental toughness can be the difference maker. We realize it's gonna be harder and the odds of killing something are extremely lower in most cases. If you do decide to go the DIY route, I would recommend you read 10 Mistakes Elk Hunters Make. Another thing to think about with this type of hunt is that you will probably be hunting the same elk that many other public land hunters have called to. It's important to understand how to kill call shy bulls if the elk have been pressured.

What Is The Cost Difference Compared To A Fully Guided Hunt?

To begin with, we can take away the outfitter fee of $6,500. We will also assume you will be driving instead of flying. You can subtract another $1,000 for shipping fees and $1,300 for tips. Our “luxury” priced outfitted hunt was $14,000. Our DIY hunt is already down to $5,200. That's about as low as we can take that number. Now, on the flip side we have to figure in added expense. A DIY hunt takes extra time, time to get to where you're hunting and then figuring out where to hunt. From my experience, you need at least 10 days, with 14 days being even better. Food, lodging, fuel and gear will add to your cost. I generally figure $75 per day per person, when staying in a hotel and eating out. Average cost $900.

Extra gear needed will depend on if you’re camping out or staying in town. If this is going to be a one time deal for you, staying in town will be cheaper. Camping out does allow you to be closer to the game you're hunting but also adds the chores of cleaning, cooking and splitting wood. Is a drop camp right for you? Let's say you decide to “camp out.” Without going into great detail, we’re coming up with a “camp” budget. This includes; wall tent, sleeping bag, dual burner stove, 2 tables, cot and a personal propane heater. You can buy this package for $1,500 if you don't go overboard on brand name items. Your DIY hunt total comes in at $6,700. If the DIY thing is your style, you will be able to fine tune what you actually need or want for your hunt. Everyone of us has our own comfort levels that need to be addressed and as we get older that will constantly be changing.

Whatever Makes You Happy

Whichever style of hunting you decide on is up to you. Nothing is more satisfying than making it all happen yourself, relying on your skill and instinct as a hunter. Guided hunts relieve you of the stress, worry and the blunt of the work. It also provides you a trained set of eyes that's working just for you. There's a reason that guided hunts are 75% more successful than DIY hunts.

There's no right or wrong way to go. It's about what you can afford, what your limitations are and what will make YOU happy. Great statistics don't mean crap if you're the one who's on the wrong side of the numbers. Unfortunately, someone always is.

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