In 2019, I was lucky enough to draw a mule deer tag. My dad and I covered many miles on horseback and hiking through remote country. Dressed in jeans and plain cloths, we saw and were within 100 yards of several hundred mule deer, turkey, coyotes, bighorn sheep, red fox, quail, numerous raptors and songbirds. On day nine of the hunt I was able to harvest this beautiful mule deer buck, getting within 70 yards before getting a good shot. Photo courtesy of Tristanna Bickford.

Can you afford to start hunting?

“I don’t hunt in camo. I just put it on for the picture.”

A good friend of mine said this last fall about his recent elk hunt. That statement got me thinking about my recent deer hunt. I spent most of the hunt horseback, riding several miles a day, getting off road ways and enjoying spots that are not visited by many, if any people.

I only own a few pieces of camo pull overs, both of which were given to me, and some camo hats. I don’t own camp pants, shirts, vests or jackets. I typically hunt big game, small game and birds wearing jeans, hiking boots, wool socks, several top layers and a ball cap. I choose colors for my top that are neutral, tan, brown, black, etc. I have a grey hat to cover my bold hair. I prefer to be comfortable and in my experience, it doesn’t seem to have any negative effects my hunt.

Hunting equipment, including camo, can cost several hundred dollars, and that’s just for the pants. This is especially true if you are just getting started, or trying to get your whole family in the field.

In 2019, I was lucky enough to draw a mule deer tag. My dad and I covered many miles on horseback and hiking through remote country. Dressed in jeans and plain cloths, we saw and were within 100 yards of several hundred mule deer, turkey, coyotes, bighorn sheep, red fox, quail, numerous raptors and songbirds. On day nine of the hunt I was able to harvest this beautiful mule deer buck, getting within 70 yards before getting a good shot. Photo courtesy of Tristanna Bickford.

Considering what my friend advised me that day, there are many ways to make hunting more affordable. Sure, licenses and tags can be more expensive. Spending time getting off the road and finding space from other hunters requires some hiking, often in step terrain. Dollars aren’t just at stake here. Time is currency. It can take days, or weeks, to prepare for a single hunt.

For those who already enjoy being outside or already take part in activities such as hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, driving off-highway vehicles or camping, however, you may already have some of the equipment at hand required for a successful hunt.

Let’s first review what you are legally required to carry for a typical hunt:

  • Licenses: Everyone needs a general hunting license. Better yet, you may want to purchase the combination hunting and fishing license. With a few exceptions, most hunters also need the Habitat Management and Access Validation and the Habitat Stamp to hunt on federal land.
  • Tag: The majority of New Mexico big game hunts are limited quota, meaning there are not enough of that species to allow everyone who is interested to harvest one. Please remember that in order to have an opportunity at gaining a limited quota tag in New Mexico, you must apply for the draw by 5:00 p.m. on March 18, 2020. The draw closes at 5 p.m. sharp and will kick you out of the system if you have not completed the process. The draw can be confusing, but you can always call the Department’s information center at 888-248-6866 for more information.
  • Gun and ammunition: Decide if you plan to hunt with a rifle, or other proper equipment, particularly if you draw a muzzleloader or archery tag. Your gun does not need to be worth several thousand dollars; it is more important to spend the time becoming familiar with your firearm.
  • Education requirements: Hunter education, or registration in the Mentored Youth program, is required for everyone under 18 to hunt with a firearm. While hunter education is not required for adults to hunt in New Mexico, it is strongly recommended.

There are many laws that hunters are required to know; downloading the 2020 Rules and Information Booklet is a great place to start.

Let’s now move on to hunting supplies. Here are a few things that I recommend and a few ways to cut the cost a bit:

  • GPS system: I don’t use the newest, top of the line GPS. Instead, on my last hunt I purchased the OnX Hunt app. It is $30 per state that you download. Some areas can be downloaded onto my phone and used without cell reception. If you don’t want to spend $30, get the BLM’s free Carry Maps app.
  • Survival supplies: Take a step back and think about what you really need if you were to become lost: food, water, shelter, signaling device, something to keep you warm and maybe your prescriptions. I like to load my pack up with quick, light weight snacks that are high in protein and can provide quick energy when needed. If you can’t carry multiple gallons of water on your back, purchase a light weight water purification system. Building a shelter can take time; therefore, I recommend getting a very large, heavy duty, brightly colored plastic bag to use in a pinch. I carry a referee’s whistle and a mirror to use as as signiling device.
  • Range finder and yardage chart: When I am hunting, I make it my personal goal to harvest an animal with a well-placed shot. A range finder is a great way to reduce the risk of over, or under, guessing how far away your quarrry is.
  • Field dressing supplies: A quick google search will show many tools that are must-have for field dressing an animal. Keep in mind you have to carry all of this in your pack. I like to have a few knifes and my Wyoming saw—sharp knives with good sheaths on them to ensure they don’t come open while traveling. My favorite knife is one that has been passed down from my grandfather, to my dad and eventually to me.
  • Oh, and camo: The point of camo is to help you blend into your surroundings. So, if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on camo, look for clothes that are neutral in color, maybe something that has a pattern that breaks up something that is perceived as a solid uncharacteristic block of fabric. Personally, I only own two pieces of camo, both are shirts and were given to me. Look in your closet…I bet that you already have cloths in your closet that are neutral, broken patterns, warm and are made of a quiet fabric. Unless you are hunting with more traditional equipment, you can choose these items and save a little bit of money.

In the end, being realistic will help you be frugal. Before heading out to your favorite outdoor store, stop and think about about how much you can carry and make educated decisions when reducing the weight of your pack.

About Tristanna Bickford

Tristanna Bickford
Tristanna Bickford is communications director at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.