Most waterfowl hunters have a connection to the places they hunt. Some guys hunt in the same blind(s) all season long. Some hunt the same one or two refuges or management areas via reservation or walk-on. Some hunt public lands across their state.
Then there are the travelers. Some hunt regionally, within a familiar quadrant, say 1,000 square miles of a state or province they’ve become familiar with over many years (sounds like a lot but it’s only 40 miles by 25 miles). Some hunters only hunt with outfitters, but they may hunt multiple states or Canada in a single season.
Do people that travel the most shoot the most birds? Sometimes. How about guys who go only with outfitters? They do pretty well. Some guys are incredibly successful on the same old public lands or waters, right? Yes, because they’ve learned all the ins and outs. How about guys who strictly travel and freelance on public or private lands? Boom or bust, is their code. Duck club members or owners? They have good years and bad, but most hunters would trade for a good club’s bad year in a heartbeat.
One of the hidden costs to many hunters is time, and I’ve noticed that most hunters don’t consider it, but perhaps they should. I once traveled two full days to get to and from eastern Montana for a three-day hunt.
Consider the travel time of a trip to Canada. Consider all the travel and windshield time freelancers put in. Now compare that to a guy who hunts public close to home. You don’t get to count having your behind glued to a car or airplane seat as “hunting time.”
There are realities to deal with in all of the hunting scenarios previously mentioned. The first reality is money (you know, that root of all evil stuff). Owning a duck club can be costly. Being a member also has its costs. Hunting with outfitters isn’t cheap either. Cost per bird? It gets lower as the shooting increases, depending on limits.
Freelancing also has its costs. The mobile aspect can be huge. Capable trucks, big trailers and all the gear inside them amounts to huge dollars. Then there is the fuel, motels and meals. Same for freelancers with boats. Floatin’ ain’t free and the best waters aren’t always near home. Don’t forget that freelancers probably have the worst hours traveling versus hours hunting ratio.
Hunting with outfitters could be considered a cost control measure—you know your costs before you go. But do you really? Don’t forget the travel, the tips, the meals and the motels. If you stay at a lodge, it’s a different story. Lodging and meals included.
Of course, all this is highly personal. Some guys just prefer one sort of hunting strategy, others have a different take.
The guy who probably has it best is that hunter who hunts public lands or waters, or private land with permission, close to home. Cost per bird here is as low as it can get. Travel costs are low and time afield versus time traveling has the best ratio. Here’s to that guy! He may not be swatting away ducks in a faraway wheat field, but he also doesn’t have a calloused behind and a wallet full of receipts.