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Simple Steps To Save Money & Heartache While Traveling on Hunts

The pre-hunt checklist you didn't know you needed.

Simple Steps To Save Money & Heartache While Traveling on Hunts

“You hear that noise?” he asked.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound good,” I replied. We’re northwest of Tok, Alaska on our way back to Fairbanks. My hunting partner and I spent 10 days hunting caribou then moose near the 40 Mile River. We headed to town to regroup before heading to the southcentral coast for the last leg of our journey. Now, we’re pulled over along one of Alaska’s few highways figuring, out what’s wrong with his van.

The trip started at his house in Fairbanks. We loaded all of our gear, his inflatable boat, and 35-horsepower outboard jet into the back of the old work van he bought for hunting trips. The van was in decent shape, but it was old, and we’d piled the equivalent of a full-grown grizzly plus a moose into the back of that sucker. We’d driven hundreds of miles over pothole-ridden, unforgiving roads with all that weight in the back.

“I think we’ll make it back to town, but we’ll have to get it into the shop when we get there,” he said as we stood, looking off into interior Alaska’s rolling pines. I nodded in understanding and climbed into the passenger seat.

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We made it back to Fairbanks without issue, and the van went straight to the garage. Then we got bad news; it would be in the shop for a while. We’d have to rent a vehicle to carry on with the trip. It was an unforeseen expense for both of us, but we carried on.

It was a long drive from Fairbanks to Whittier where we caught the ferry to Cordova. But we broke the drive up by stopping at a friend’s house just outside of Denali National Park. My partner and I had some great moments on the trip, incredible times that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. But a tension also built between us. I won’t go into detail, but mismanaged expectations and communication issues festered into an untenable situation.

On a sunny September day, I walked around Cordova to clear my head. It seemed silly to leave such a beautiful place on such a perfect day. But I sat outside the post office, brought up the Alaska air app on my phone, and booked a flight back to Anchorage later that afternoon. The best thing to do was for me to go home.

I don’t know if you’ve ever booked a last-minute flight from a remote Alaskan town back to the east coast, but I’ll tell you, it ain’t cheap. Another unaccounted-for expense brought on by an interpersonal mess that potentially could have been avoided.

I left Alaska thousands of dollars poorer than expected and without a friend I’d grown close to and spent many days with in the field.

The trip—it’s successes and failures, my failures—inspired a lot of thought. The thought led to a new hunting trip process and a new set of non-negotiables that must be met before I step foot on an airplane or put my truck into drive. I’ve compiled it into the following list in the hopes that it helps you get organized, saves you trouble, and gives you a planning framework for many great hunting trips.

Let’s start with the guiding element of any endeavor, knowing what you want from it.

Set Secondary Goals for the Trip

You say, “Well, my goal is to kill the critter I’m hunting.” That’s true for all of us. But it’s easy for any trip to fail if killing is the only defined outcome for success. Too many things are out of our control to make notching a tag the only important metric. Plus, that’s a fantastic way to have a miserable time. You hyperfocus on the outcome while building an unnecessary tension in yourself. Then you go home feeling like hell.

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Before shipping off to Alaska last year, I sat at the island in my kitchen and jotted down a few things I’d like to accomplish. I decided to focus on improving my photography skills and get some great pictures. I also chose to improve my bushcraft; my hunting partner was an Eagle Scout and had many skills that I didn’t. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to learn from him? Having these secondary focuses enriched the trip and, in some ways, saved it for me.

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Think about your trip. If it’s similar to one you’ve already done, what can you improve this time around? Is there something you want to learn? Is there something you want to make sure you see or notice? It’s amazing how much more fun you have when you focus on learning and taking it all in instead of driving yourself nuts trying to kill something. It’s also amazing how much that shift in focus helps you hunt hard.

Hunt like hell and keep the main goal to kill the critter, but set some secondary goals. You’ll set yourself up for multiple kinds of success and a better time.

Set Expectations with Your Hunting Partner(s)

What do you want from this?

It’s such an easy question to ask, but it often goes unasked. The result is often a murky in-the-field relationship. Now, I’m sure you don’t just choose hunting partners willy-nilly. You pick folks you trust. But things get weird even with people that you trust if you don’t set clear expectations.

Start by laying out your goals for the trip, listen to their goals, and set some shared objectives. Knowing what you each want from the trip gives you a North star and a conversation to fall back on when things get tough or tensions rise.

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Have a conversation about skills. Where do your skills overlap and determine if there any skill gaps between you. This encompasses everything from shooting to camping to bushcraft to stalking—everything necessary for a successful trip. Once you’ve got skills out on the table, determine who should lead some aspects of the trip and who should be in charge of others. Decide on what, if anything, each of you must learn. Then, get clear on hunting strategy based on shooting and stalking skills.

Cover equipment. What do you need, and who is bringing what? Make a detailed list that notes who brings each item.

Agree on indicators for moving camp or moving hunting areas. Come to an understanding on how you’ll manage camp and how you’ll spend your time. It will save you a lot of internal strife and interpersonal trouble.

Then discuss the biggest bugaboo of all, money. How will you cover expenses? How will you determine what’s shared and what’s individual? Get this out in the daylight for every party to see, understand, and sign off on.

Remember, this process begins with you getting clear on what you want and you taking responsibility for communicating it to your hunting partners.

Create a Next Level Scouting Report

I’m not using this section to give tips on e-scouting to find critters, but to illuminate a big part of scouting that goes ignored and one that got us into trouble late in the day on the side of a mountain in dense vegetation in brown bear country.

After a cursory map study, we loaded up the boat, headed into Nelson Bay, and traveled up a river I won’t name. We’d located a ridge that appeared walkable to the high country where we he hoped to find a Billy goat and I sought a shooter black bear.

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We found spot where a creek drained into the river that seemed a reasonable access point and a good place to store the boat. After organizing our packs in anticipation of a couple days on the mountain, we headed into the bush, hopeful for a straightforward hike to the high country.

The hike was anything but straightforward. It turned into a trudge that included climbing up steep sides on loose moss and soil. At one point, I clung to roots and moss and looked back down the mountain. If I made one misstep, I could tumble hundreds of feet with my 60-pound pack on my back. My partner would have had a real mess of a time getting my corpse back to the boat.

Eventually, we cliffed out with nowhere to camp. There was nothing to do but go back down, which we did just as dusk settled in. We’d seen more than a handful of bears during the boat ride in and as we were prepping to go up the mountain. And since we had no batteries for the bear fence my partner brought, we figured we’d spend the night dug in against the bears instead of sleeping. In the dark and without lights, we boated out of the river and back across Nelson Bay into town. Luckily, there was one Air BnB available that evening. I booked it for us at the boat launch.

I’m all for adventure. But it must be tempered with reason and information. Had we dialed in our scouting report, we would have had an accurate appraisal of how long the climb would take. We would have known the likelihood of cliffing out based on our chosen route. We would have had a better contingency plan. Instead, we put ourselves into a precarious situation in gnarly terrain in a brown bear heavy area as darkness fell.

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So, as you make your scouting report, don’t just look at bedding and feeding areas; don’t just look for travel corridors. Take a good look at the terrain and the vegetation, use that information to determine accurate travel times. Once you determine travel time, add a buffer of 20 to 50 percent.

Then sort out your contingency plan. Does it look like there’s a place to camp if you don’t make it all the way? If not, reconsider your route and make a new plan.

Your scouting report isn’t just for finding animals, it’s for locking in your travel and ensuring you do it safely and with contingency plans. Spending a little time on this could save you from an injury or unnecessarily spending money.

Budget Extra Cash

I sat in the passenger seat of our rented truck with my gear loaded in the bed as my partner drove me to the Cordova airport. I was grateful to be going home. I’m still a little sad that I felt that way.

Searching my bank accounts and pounding away on my cell phone calculator, I divided the unexpected expenses evenly between us. He shot me cash via Venmo just before I hopped out of the truck. We shook hands after I unloaded my gear and told each other good luck. I lugged my gear and my regrets inside to start the first leg of my journey home.

I had a cash buffer before I left on the trip, but I didn’t have a budget with a hard line. And, even with splitting the unforeseen expenses, I spent far above that buffer. Poor planning led to booking Air BnBs and extra food costs. Beating an old van that needed more maintenance than it was given led to a truck rental.

Had I set a budget instead of giving myself a negotiable buffer, I would have saved a lot of money by saying no to things that didn’t fit in the budget. I likely would have focused more and planned better.

Sometimes it’s best to throw some money down to get yourself out of a bad situation. You can’t always account for that. But a little more expectation and relationship management could have saved that money for me.

You will have extra costs. Set a budget you’re comfortable with, get intimate with the numbers and spend within them. Then, set aside just a little more in case you need money to change your situation.

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The Check List You Didn’t Know You Needed

Truth be told, I hope you don’t need this checklist. I hope your hunting trips go well and end with great friendships reinforced and with lots of meat, hide, and bone going home with you. But there’s always a chance that things could go wrong, so why not be prepared. This checklist is your safeguard against unnecessary spending and strained relationships. Use it.




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