August 23, 2023
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but prices have gone up. Food, travel, fuel, everything. We all have different budgets. So, a hunt that’s inexpensive to you or me may be unaffordable to many. The challenge: Find a hunt that is a sound, if comparative, bargain. A good value, offering genuine adventure – the stuff memories are made of. Plus, excellent chances for success.
We American hunters are fortunate. There are about 840 million acres of public land in the US, 30 million in Montana alone. Much of this land is available for hunting. Today, many tags are by drawing, but some are still over-the-counter. So, we can do our research and plan a DIY hunt for elk, mule deer, or pronghorn in the West or for caribou or moose in Alaska. Odds for success depend greatly on you: Quality of your research, preparation and the time and effort you expend. Great hunts all.
Here, I want you to think outside of the box, outside your comfort zone. None of these hunts are “free.” If there is such a thing. Instead, these are hunts I consider solid value at acceptable cost (by today’s standards). Above all, they offer a great experience.
AFRICAN PLAINS GAME
A short African safari for various antelope species (and others) is the best bang for your buck in the entire hunting world. Most hunters dream of Africa, but I’m always amazed at how many of us are reluctant to take the plunge.
Last year, I joined a group in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, five of seven on their first African hunt. All approaching middle age, all successful, all with considerable North American experience. After a couple of days, all said, “I can’t believe I waited this long!”
In seven hunting days, everyone took several great animals. Kudu for everyone, plus a selection of eight or ten other species. The magic of Africa is you never know what you might encounter on a given hunting day. And there’s nothing better than gathering around a campfire under Africa’s starry sky. At about the same cost as a guided mule deer or a very medium-priced elk hunt.
Want to go sheep hunting? Have you priced sheep hunts lately? Put in for the drawings and stay in them, but if you want to experience a real sheep hunt, consider free-range aoudad in western Texas. It’s magnificent country, straight out of a John Ford Western. Native to North Africa, aoudad were introduced in the 1950s. Although arid and rugged, Far West Texas is less harsh than the fringes of the Sahara. Aoudad made themselves right at home and are plentiful throughout the mountains and badlands.
The experience is a genuine sheep hunt, climbing and glassing. Much like a desert sheep hunt except it’s readily available, at a fraction the cost, with near-certainty of seeing many more animals. Prices have increased—because all sheep hunts have inflated—but there are numerous outfitters, so do your homework and shop around.
There’s something about bears that captures our imagination. I’ve done DIY black bear hunting in Alaska and Western states. However, costs for guided black bear hunts have not kept pace with, say, elk and mule deer hunts. Success on guided black bear hunts is exponentially higher than DIY, especially absent first-hand knowledge of bears and their country.
Depending on local regulations (and terrain and conditions), guided bear hunts may be with dogs, over bait or spot-and-stalk. The latter requires terrain that allows glassing, and a high bear population, but in good areas—with good outfitters—all three methods are highly successful.
Where practiced, if you really want a bear rug, my vote would be for a spring hunt over bait. My daughter Brittany, her husband Brad, and I just returned from a baited hunt in northern Alberta. The cost was $4,000 for a week’s hunt, including a great camp and the bonus opportunity for two bears each. Brittany and I took our two bears each. Brad killed just one, a monster with his bow. We all saw several bears on our baits. As with everything, prices vary, so shop around.
IBEX IN ASIA
Sound outlandish? Today, Central Asia is the mountain hunter’s mecca, offering a wide selection of wild sheep and goats, the latter including the magnificent knobby-horned ibexes. As with all wild sheep today, Asian sheep are pricey. Most of the wild goats are not, and I consider a long-horned ibex the equal of any sheep. The mid-Asian ibex of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are plentiful and reasonably priced. Just be aware that these are tough hunts, remembering that goat country starts where sheep country stops.
So, take a look at Siberian (Altai) or Gobi ibex in Mongolia. Land of Genghis Khan and the vast Gobi Steppe, Mongolia is magnificent, one of the least-populated countries on Earth. Hunting is often by horseback and much Mongolian ibex country is neither as high nor as steep as other ibex hunting I’ve done elsewhere. Foreign hunters have been welcomed for 50 years, hosted by Asia’s most experienced mountain guides. Ibex hunting is comparatively inexpensive and successful, conducted in the same mountains, from the same camps, with the same guides, as the costlier hunts for Mongolia’s big sheep.
RED STAG IN ARGENTINA
Check the AAA and AARP ratings. Argentina is always near the top of “where does the American dollar go the farthest” among potential vacation spots. Argentina is also the largest single destination in the world for foreign hunters, annually hosting some 20,000 sportsmen and women. The big business is the high-volume bird shooting Argentina is famous for. My purpose here is to focus on big game.
First introduced a century ago, red deer are plentiful in west-central Argentina’s Patagonia and La Pampa regions. In my view, Argentina offers the world’s best free-range red stag hunting. In the Southern Hemisphere, seasons are reversed, so red deer rut in our spring, March through May, with the hills filled with their guttural roaring. Like bugling elk, a matchless experience.
As almost everywhere, free-range stags are not giants, but quality is good, with prices line with very medium guided elk hunts. Add to this: A friendly and beautiful country, where English is widely spoken, food and accommodations excellent. Argentina is a traditional horse culture, so much stag hunting is done on good horses. What’s not to like?
EUROPEAN ROE DEER
Demographics as they are, most people reading this are whitetail hunters. The petite, classy roe deer is Europe’s whitetail: Widespread, plentiful, crafty, cover-loving. After the wild boar, the roebuck is Europe’s most available and inexpensive game animal.
Unlike most Northern Hemisphere deer, roe deer have a unique schedule. They come into hard antler in late spring, rut in July and August, and drop their antlers around late October. Matching this, seasons tend to be long, often spring through autumn. The rut is important, but because of good management, any time through the season is a good time.
In Europe, it is common for animals to be priced by size, so “medal-class” roe deer are costly. Most Americans could care less about bronze, silver, or gold, and that’s good news: Attractive, typical roe bucks are plentiful and inexpensive. And, since game meat typically goes to market (and wild game is a managed harvest) multiple bucks may often be taken. My experience is that roe deer hunting in England and Scotland is most affordable, but roe deer are available almost continent-wide. Hunting may be by stand or stalking, depending on terrain, or calling during the rut. Always in the best of European hunting tradition.
SITKA BLACKTAIL IN ALASKA
Because of weather hazards, distances, and complex logistics, I hesitate to recommend DIY Alaska hunting. It’s not for the inexperienced. Sitka blacktail in southeast Alaska in an exception. It still requires detailed planning, but is practical. The long season starts in August, so guide/outfitters in the region often offer less expensive deer hunts as “fillers” before and after bear seasons. There are also numerous “transporters” (for deer, usually by boat). By law, they cannot guide or participate in the hunt or recovery of game; their job is strictly to get you in and out of good country. Uniquely in the region, Kodiak has a good road system and, in good years, the densest population and the best antler quality.
Early, deer will be high, up in the brush, tougher hunting but better weather. Late, deer move down toward the beaches, but weather can be tough. Although the season lasts longer, bucks start to drop their antlers in mid-November, so later hunts are primarily meat hunts for residents.
Due to periodic tough winters, populations go up and down. The secret is to do your homework; try to plan a hunt when the herd is approaching a peak. Catch it right, and Alaska’s Sitka blacktail offers the best deer hunting in the whole world.