By Pat Lefemine, Founder of Bowsite.com
I picked the best period to start bowhunting. I went on my first big game adventure hunt in 1987. It was a Quebec caribou hunt and the cost was $1600 including meals, bush flight, plus meat and trophy care for two caribou. I spent the next 30 years hunting around the world: nine trips to Alaska, fifteen trips to Canada, six trips to Africa and one trip to Australia and Greenland. This does not include countless hunts all over the lower-48. I have hunted brown/grizzlies, mountain goat, elk, moose, african lion, cape buffalo, leopard, cougar, muskox, and many more. I have lived the dream.
For most, I fear that dream is no longer possible.
When I was shopping for a sheep hunt in 2000, it was $5500 for a Bighorn, today that Bighorn hunt is $50,000. When I hunted brown bear, the hunt cost was $6,000, that same hunt is now over $35k. My first goat hunt was $4000 including the bush flight, that same hunt today is $14,000 without the bush flight.
If you have been a longtime Bowsiter, you may have noticed that I’m doing less adventure hunts. The reason for this is simple: I had three kids to put through college over the last 12 years. During that period, the cost of big game adventure hunts skyrocketed and I began to question their value. I would love to bowhunt a sheep, or resume my quest for a brown bear, but at current prices I can literally buy a hunting property for the cost of a 10 day sheep hunt. Think about that?
My concern about hunt pricing isn’t about me at fifty seven years old. It’s about today’s thirty year old hunters who dream about an Alaskan moose or an Alberta Bighorn. While I didn’t make the income I do now, when I was 30 (during the ’90’s) I could afford most adventure hunts . If I was 30 today? I could likely afford a pronghorn, black bear, whitetail, maybe an OTC, low success rate elk hunt. Even when adjusted for inflation, hunt costs have increased five-fold or more. All but a small percentage of hunters are being priced out of the big game market.
So who’s to blame for this?
Nobody. It’s supply and demand. The supply of adventure hunts is decreasing, while the demand for these hunts are increasing.
But it may be more complicated, especially when you ask the question: why has supply decreased? A conversation I had with one of my former outfitters may provide insight:
Years ago, one of my guides called to inquire about resuming advertising on Bowsite. It had been ten years since our first hunt. My original hunt was $7,500. So I asked him about his current fee? He replied; $30k. Wait, what? He knew his increase was over the top, so he shared his pricing strategy with me:
He used to charge 10k for his hunt. To be profitable, he needed 10 clients a season, which was easy since the demand for the hunt was high. After they booked, he had to arrange travel, feed them, and care for their trophies. He began to wonder if he could instead sell (3) 30k hunts to more wealthy clients? So he gave that a shot. He dropped 7 hunts and was able to sell all 3 slots quickly. He ended that season with a higher profit. He adopted that strategy from that point on. According to this outfitter, booking the higher priced hunts was easier. The middle-income guys (who were struggling to pay 10k) had a lot more questions. Many were over-extending themselves and terrified of eating their tag. The wealthier guys were high-maintenance during the hunt too, but not as much before the hunt.
I should add that he has also dropped all but a couple of hand-picked archery clients. Bowhunting is harder, takes longer, and increases his expenses for food, guides, etc.
Do I blame him for his business strategy? No. It’s smart if you can make more and work less. And it appears that more outfitters may be taking this approach.
Inflation isn’t helping either. Prices for everything in 2022 have soared, and particularly the things that outfitters need; like fuel, food, and accommodations. Perhaps a bigger problem is finding help. With government handouts, and unreasonable compensation demands, outfitters are having a very difficult time hiring assistant guides, camp men and packers. They have to pay more, and many of them quit soon after they realize how much work is required.
None of this bodes well for hunting. Not only has it skyrocketed the cost of adventure hunts, but it’s also driving unprecedented demand for western DIY hunts. Game agencies want in on the action too – with ‘revenue generating’ lottery and tag fees. Add in point-creep, and crashing draw odds and that’s a recipe for rapidly diminishing opportunities for hunters. This is taking a toll on all DIY hunters, but particularly lower-middle income hunters who are being priced out of western hunts.
I’m grateful to have lived through hunting’s best years, but I can’t help but worry about future hunters. My kids are now out of college, with good jobs, and adequate disposable income. Still, a $10k elk hunt is out of the question for my boys – and almost everyone else in their mid-twenties and early thirties. While this article focused on big game adventure hunts, deer hunting costs are increasing too, with leasing, non-resident tag fees, etc.
I don’t have any answer to this. I wish I did. Every year hunt costs go up and I convince myself they have finally topped out. I am wrong every year. Maybe there will be a reversal at some point, but I honestly don’t see one in sight, especially if outfitters decrease their available supply of hunts. My advice to hunters who ask about timing has been consistent for the last ten years: if you have dreamed about a particular hunt (and can afford it) do it now.