12 Most Affordable Bucket List Hunts in North America
As booking agents for Bowhunting Safari Consultants, we work with a lot of clients on a variety of goals. The most talked about goal of course is the Super Slam, which is harvesting all 29 free-range North American big game species.
We have 14 clients who have completed this extremely difficult and challenging goal, and a couple dozen others who have 20 or more species. We had an international client who had not hunted any free-range animals in North America contact us to discuss what it would take in time and money to accomplish this.
To put this in perspective, if you harvested every species the first time you hunted them (which isn’t going to happen to the best of hunters), theoretically you could schedule all 29 hunts over a five-year period. The costs of the hunts alone without licenses, taxes, tags, and travel would exceed $400,000 if you went to the absolute best places.
So now back to reality for the majority of the bowhunters in the world.
While hunting in general continues to get more and more expensive, just like everything else, there are still many neat adventures that are within the reach of most bowhunters. Many of our clients are everyday workers who have harvested some whitetails in their home state, and perhaps a couple of neighboring states, who simply want to expand their bowhunting horizons with some new adventures that are within their reach.
Here is a gradual progression that we have seen with the thousands of clients we have worked with over the years.
Once they have a few whitetails under their belt, elk are usually the first game animal bowhunters ask about. The truth is, if everyone is being honest, elk have the lowest success rate of any of the North American species. The TV shows make it look a lot easier than it is, but elk hunts can be tough. Many bowhunters simply lack the physical conditioning to hunt at high elevations.
Most of us get pretty excited when we see an animal two or three times the size of a whitetail, with antlers that take our breath away. Throw in the vocalizations that elk make, and a lot of bowhunters simply come unglued.
Our advice? Start with some other species and develop additional skills and confidence before tackling elk.
Pronghorns are a great species to hunt, and they are affordable with extremely high success rates — if it doesn’t rain! Hunts will range from $2,000 up to $4,500 depending on where you hunt, trophy quality, accommodations, etc.
Tags will cost about $250 on average, and you can keep travel expenses to a minimum if you drive.
Even flights to Western locations are normally in the $300 — $400 range.
Spring black bear is another great species to expand your horizons on. You can do spot-and-stalk or treestand hunts over bait, and success rates in good camps will run 90% — 100% and shot opportunities as close to 100% as you can get. Spot-and-stalk hunting depends on much more than your ability to hit a paper plate at 20 yards, but black bears are a great species to hone those skills, and ALL bear hunting is exciting!
There are bear hunts in eastern Canada with good results for under $2,000, and hunts in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Alaska (all baited locations) will run in the $3,000 — $5,000 range.
Spot-and-stalk hunts in British Columbia, as well as Alaska, will generally run a bit more because of the guide ratio normally being 2×1, but still, $5,000 — $5,500 can get you on a great hunt.
Doing a coastal spot-and-stalk black bear hunt is also a great learning experience if you ever intend to do a spot-and-stalk grizzly or brown bear hunt.
Another request that has become more popular is the “Deer Slam.” There are five species of deer recognized by Pope and Young: whitetail, mule deer, Columbian blacktail, Sitka blacktail, and Coues deer.
The whitetail, being the most diverse species, is found in most areas of North America. Whitetail hunts range from inexpensive ($1,850) up to $6,000 in your Midwestern trophy states and southern Canada.
Mule deer hunt prices vary greatly by the trophy quality you are expecting. While most mule deer hunts are spot and stalk, there are treestand and ground blind hunts available in a few areas that produce good results.
When someone calls and wants a mule deer in the 180 to 200-inch range, it really narrows the field as opposed to someone who says they’d be happy with a 140 to 160-inch mule deer. It often depends too if you would rather see quantity of deer over quality of deer.
There are great mule deer hunts in the $3,500 to $4,000 range, and if you want to hunt locations where trophy quality is considerably higher, the majority of the hunts are in the $5,500 to $6,500 range.
Coues deer are a really fun species to hunt, and you can expect to spend $4,000 — $4,500 on these hunts. Or you can do your research and plan a DIY hunt in Arizona in January for a fraction of the cost of a guided hunt, and you’ll learn a lot.
Success rates in general on DIY hunts are considerably lower than outfitted hunts. But the first year is a learning experience, and you go back the next year and you’ll have a lot more going for you.
Columbian blacktails on the West Coast will run you $3,000 — $5,000, depending on who you hunt with. Some hunts are from treestands and ground blinds, and others are all spot and stalk.
Some outfitters have a $2,500 hunt fee and a $2,500 trophy fee, which makes the hunt more desirable. The Sitka blacktails in Alaska can be hunted on your own, but you’ll still have $1,000 in travel and a lot of homework and gear to buy.
A guided hunt in Alaska will cost you $4,000 — $5,000, plus your travel expenses.
There are four subspecies of turkeys in the U.S., plus two in Mexico. You can find numerous hunts for Easterns, Rio’s and Merriam’s for around $1,000. The Osceola is native to Florida, with a hunt price of around $2,000.
The Gould’s species are mainly found in northern Mexico and along the southern border of Arizona. The Oscillated turkey is found on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and those hunts range from $2,500 — $3,500.
There are alligator hunts in the South that can be found for $1,500 up to $4,500 for trophy gator hunts, and there may be an option to hunt hogs during the day, since the gator hunts are normally done at night.
These hunts are offered year-round, but September and October are the best months for taking a larger gator.
The interest in caribou is constant. There are five species of caribou in North America, with four of them found in Canada, which means you’re required to book your hunt through an outfitter.
Right now, guided caribou hunts including travel, tags, tax, etc. add up to $10,000 pretty quick — the mountain caribou more like $13,000 when you add it all up. However, if you have caribou on your bucket list, you can do a DIY drop hunt in Alaska with some proper planning for under $6,000 all in.
There are drop hunts available on the North Slope for around $2,000, and you can expect to have $1,000+ in your travel and easily another $1,000 to $2,000 for proper gear, license, and tags.
You should have experience in wilderness DIY-type hunting, and if you don’t own quality gear, you will need a good tent, sleeping bag, bedroll, stove, freeze-dried food, fuel, etc. DIY hunts are often the most rewarding because of the amount of planning involved and the sense of accomplishment that you get when it all comes together.
Success rates on DIY hunts are normally considerably lower than on fully guided hunts, but if a caribou is on your bucket list and outfitted hunts simply break your budget, get planning and get going!
Moose are another species that we get a tremendous amount of requests on. Most moose hunts will not fall into this article’s price-range parameters of “affordable,” as we have noted hunts topping out around $6,000.
However, if you look at hunts in Newfoundland, consider driving (which makes bringing 600 pounds of meat home a lot more affordable), or look for hunts that don’t require bush flights into camp.
If an outfitter offers a 2×1 guide ratio option, you can put together an “affordable” hunt. Some outfitters have drive-in camps where their overhead isn’t as much as camps where everything is flown in by helicopter or floatplane. We know of one operation that is $3,900 plus 13% tax (license included) for a six-day 1×1 hunt, and shot opportunity has been around 50% on bulls.
While these camps don’t always have as high a success rate as more remote camps, and in some cases offer smaller overall trophy quality, if you have someone sharing fuel costs with you for the drive to Newfoundland, for example, you can put a hunt together for under $6,000 including guide tip, fuel, ferry crossing, etc.
Ok, now back to elk — provided we haven’t convinced you to try some other species first. You can hunt elk for a reasonable amount of money, but elk hunts vary greatly in price and type. There are treestand/blind hunts over water or travel routes that normally have a 2×1 guide ratio, which saves you money over 1×1 bugling, run-and-gun hunts.
Some guided hunts will take place from wilderness wall tents, some from a ranch house, and on others you stay in a hotel. Hunts range from $4,000 — $15,000 depending on where you are hunting, tag costs, and your trophy expectations.
There are several states where you can execute a DIY elk hunt. Thousands of bowhunters head west on these types of hunts every year. With a lot of research, networking, planning and conditioning, these hunts can be successful and exceptionally rewarding.
Oftentimes the first year is a learning experience, and the second year you start to have things figured out. If you have never hunted elk before, we suggest not getting too hung up on the score.
A lot of clients who have never hunted elk, let alone killed one, call and say they want to hunt where they have a chance at a 350-class bull. We send them a picture of a nice 270 bull (with no mention of score) and ask if they would be happy with a bull like “this,” and they respond, “heck yeah.” When you stipulate a certain trophy size on elk, as well as many other species, you really limit your options.
There are 2×1 hunts available for under $4,000, and 1×1 hunts start around the $4,500 mark, plus your tag. If elk are on your bucket list, and your budget is around $6,000, there are hunts available where you have an excellent chance of drawing a tag or tags are available over the counter. Some areas will produce on average 250 to 300-inch bulls, other areas 275 to 325-class bulls.
When you narrow down your options by putting a 350-inch stipulation on the area you want to hunt, these hunts normally will require years of drawing preference or bonus points, or in states like New Mexico, expect to pay $5,000 minimum for a Landowner Permit in areas that produce elk of that caliber on a regular basis.
Yes, hunting big game with a bow and arrow is an expensive undertaking that requires personal commitment in more ways than one. In the final analysis, it’s up to you to make your bucket list hunts a reality. The old saying holds true. “Whether you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way you’ll be right!”
Get after it.