DIY Elk Hunt: Trip Cost For A First Timer

Thinking about doing a DIY Elk hunt? If it will be the first elk hunt you have been on I hate to tell you but your wallet is about to get thinner. Here is the good news though…this article will give you a cost breakdown of what you can expect. With this information you can plan ahead and purchase items a little at a time instead of all at once.

Now that you know what to expect, make a plan, set a budget, and make it happen. You are not going to tell your grand kids about the time you spent all weekend on the couch are you? A trip like this will last a lifetime. I promise it will be worth every penny.

That being said you don’t need the latest and greatest gear to enjoy a trip like this. Borrow gear from a friend or family member, purchase it 2nd hand, or wait for end of season sales. For this article I want to cover the total costs I incurred for my first elk hunt in the Fall of 2018. I’ll break it down into the following sections.

DIY Elk Hunt: Cost Breakdown

  • License and Tag
  • Gear
  • Logistics
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • What I Borrowed

License and Tag

This cost can fluctuate from state to state and from year to year. For my situation though I hunted in Idaho (rifle) and paid the following. Where I hunted the tags were OTC but there was a limited number of tags available. In 2018 and 2019 all OTC tags for elk were purchased so keep this in mind if you are looking at Idaho

Because of Idaho’s popularity for non-resident hunters the Idaho Fish and Game Department is considering increasing the price of tags and also limiting tags for non-residents. Nothing has been set in stone yet but here is an article on what has been proposed.

License: $154.75 plus a $10 access/depredation fee for a total of $164.75. Honestly, that’s not to bad in my opinion. Many states especially in the Midwest will be in that ballpark for a non-resident annual hunting license.

Tag: $416.75 for an elk tag. Again compared to the other western states that isn’t a bad price. A tip on saving money for a tag is to go for the antlerless or cow only tags. In some states a bull tag is more money.


Idaho Tag


Also, some states offer reduced price tags at a much cheaper price. Keep in mind to read all the rules regarding these tags before purchasing. Usually they can only be used in a specific area and time period.

$581.50 for license and tag is a good bit of money. The money from your purchase goes toward each state’s game and fish/department of natural resources to pay for habitat improvement, conservation efforts, wildlife officers, etc.

Not just for game animals but for all animals. Your money is helping preserve wildlife and these beautiful landscapes for future generations. When you think about it in that context this money is more of an investment in your passion, hunting heritage, and wildlife. The North American Wildlife Conservation Model is by far the best process to preserve and protect wildlife and their habitat.

License and Tag Total Cost: $581.50


Thankfully I had acquired some gear already that I used for hiking and camping trips. This is a plus as the majority of the gear you need for a hunting trip can be used for other trips. No matter what type of trip it is – you will need something to carry your gear, cook your food, sleep in, provide light and first aid.

For the gear topic I wanted to break it down into what I needed and what I purchased to make my life a little easier.


Pack: $125 For the trip I purchased an Alpz Outdoors Commander. It’s an external frame pack that can easily be used as a meat hauler as well. It’s a basic pack with no bells and whistles but it gets the job done and that’s all I was looking for.

Boots: $160 Danner Vitals were my boot of choice. I really like these boots. Well made, durable, and at a decent price these boots are hard to beat. I have worn these boots on whitetail and turkey hunts here in the Midwest, elk hunting, and have put many miles on them hiking around multiple national parks in the West and Canada. They have yet to let me down and am blister free.


Danner Vitals


Gun: $500 to $800 Fortunately I have an uncle who hunted out West previously and let me borrow his rifle for this trip. It was a semi-auto Remington chambered in .270. No matter what caliber you have .270, 300 Win Mag, 30-06, 30-30, 308, 6.5 Creedmor, etc make sure you are comfortable with the gun and accurate. Hit the gun range multiple times before your hunt. Any of these calibers will do the job. What it comes down to it it’s a well-placed shot that matters most.

Ammunition: $20 to $30 Cost will depend on the caliber and grade of ammunition.

Tent: $250 MSR Elixir 2 Person. Borrowed this tent from a friend for the trip and liked it a lot. Kept me dry from multiple days of rain and plenty of room in the tent and vestibule to store all my gear at night. Set up was quick and easy due to the poles, clips, webbing, and grommets all color coded.

Sleeping Pad: $80 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture. I’ve had this pad for a couple years now and it has served me well. Offers great support, very compact, and easy to inflate. It does the job and I have had no complaints.

Sleeping Bag: $50 Slumberjack Boundary 20. Just like the sleeping pad I’ve had this bag for multiple years. Keeps me warm and doesn’t break the bank. No issues so far!

First Aid Kit: $20 to $35 Any basic kit will do. I would confirm it has anti-diarrhea pills in the event you catch a bug or a couple days of freeze-dried food diet doesn’t sit well with you.

Game Bags: $15 to 25 Unfortunately we weren’t able to fill our tags and didn’t put our game bags to use. Game bags are a great way to help your meat cool and keep it away from dirt and flies.

Knives: $50 CRKT RSK MK6, $15 Cold Steel Pendleton Lite Hunter. I always keep 2 knives in my pack and this trip was no different. I have a small CRKT (Columbia River Knife and Tool). This knife is very sharp and fits well in my hand. As a back up I have a Cold Steel Pendleton Lite Hunter. It’s a cheaper knife but will get the job done and it’s a great plan B option.




Pocket Rocket/ Cup: $45 MSR pocket rocket, $10 Stainless Steel Cup. I’ve had my pocket rocket for years and it works great. Extremely lightweight and compact. Boils water quickly. With this setup you will need to purchase a cup separately. My cousin and uncle who joined me on the trip both had jet boils and I will admit they are nice and it’s a all in one package. It does cost a bit more though.

Isobutane/Propane Fuel: $4 One can will get you through a trip no problem.

Spork: $10 Sea to Summit Long Spork. I recommend the long handled spork. Makes reaching into a bag of mountain house easier and keeps your hands clean.

Headlamp: $20 to $50 I have an old primos headlight that has lasted me 10 years or so. What I like about it is it’s bright beam of light it emits. Makes it much easier to see down a trail. Something to keep in mind when you select a headlamp.

Batteries: $8 Always bring back-ups for your headlamps, GPS, etc

Binos: $230 Vortex Diamondback 10×42. My binos have served me well here in the Midwest and out West. We did a lot of glassing on this elk hunt and these binos really came in handy. Combine these binos with a tripod and your set!


Vortex Diamondback


Bino Harness: $30 to $120 For this trip I borrowed my brothers FHF gear bino harness. It’s an expensive harness but it makes up for it in comfort and functionality. You can always go with bino straps over the harness to save a couple bucks. There are a lot of harnesses out there but if your willing to spend the money I would recommend FHF.

BioDegradable Wet Wipes: $10 These come in handy for a lot of stuff around camp. Clean you hands, utensils, can be used to wipe down your face and body, and use as TP for when nature calls.

GPS: $150 to $400 Borrowed from my brother. I brought this along more as a back up in case my phone died. I used the OnX app 98% of the time.

Compass: $8 Again this was more of a backup if things went south.

Fire Starter: $5 to $10 There are plenty of options out there. I recommend having more than one option with you. A cheap way to make them is from cotton balls and Vaseline. Can store them in a small tin can and your good to go.

OnX App: $30 to $100 I bought the Idaho GPS chip and got the app for free. One state for a year membership is only $30 bucks and there are plenty of discount codes out there. The app is incredibly easy to use and I would recommend it for all your hunting trips as well.

Water Filtration System: $8 to $80 It’s good to have family. Borrowed my brothers Katadyn Hiker Pro water filtration system and I packed tablets. Ended up using the tablets as we camped right next to a creek. To me the tablets were much easier and I didn’t mind the taste

For the cost of the gear I am adding up the items listed above minus the items I borrowed (gun, tent, bino harness, GPS, water filter). Also, keep in mind if your going with someone else you can split the cost. You don’t need 2 first aid kits, water filters, wet wipes, etc. Plan ahead and see what you can share and split up the cost.

Do remember some of this gear I have had for a while so this wasn’t all upfront cost. You can ask for some of these items as birthday, Christmas, or anniversary gifts. Save up cash back bonuses on your credit card. Point is you can come up with ways to get this gear and decrease the burden on your wallet.

Total Essential Gear: $985

Additional Purchases:

Tri-Pod: $15 It is worth the extra space it will take up in your pack. I didn’t buy the nicest one in the world and it has been working well so far. It will make a huge difference on how much clearer you can see while glassing. Reminder you will need to get a bino adapter to connect it to the tripod.

Seat Cushion: $5 When you are glassing for multiple hours your butt will get cold and numb. Even a small piece of foam you may have lying around the house will do the trick. I also used mine as an extra pillow at night.

Trekking Poles: $40 Not only will these save your legs by taking some weight off but trekking poles also help with stability crossing creeks and hiking up and down the mountain. I went with a cheaper pair. I did have some issues with my set on the hunt. Reached out to the manufacture and they replaced them for free but something to keep in mind going the cheap route.


Trekking Poles


Sunglasses: $5 Not going for cool points here just something to block the sun.

Bear Spray: $12 Depending on what state and area you’re going to hunt bear spray is a good idea to keep on you at all times. When in bear country always follow all safety precautions like hanging your food and trash in a tree when your not using it.

Smoke in a Bottle: $5 Easy way to detect which way the wind is blowing. Handy to have but you could always use dirt or grass.

Total Cost of Additional Purchases: $82

Total Gear Cost: $1,067 ($985+ $82)


For food I am only going to focus on what I packed for the hunt. It was a week-long hunt so I packed each day in a gallon Ziploc bag. I did pack for an extra day just in case. Here is what I had inside.


  • Freeze Dried Breakfast (Berries and Granola or Breakfast Skillet). I recommend the breakfast skillet as it was more filling and tasted better in my opinion
  • Cost: $41.50 (7 Berries and Granola $5 x 7 and 1 Breakfast Skillet $6.50)


  • Tuna packet
  • Trailmix
  • Candy Bar (fun size)
  • Cost: $23.84 (Tuna Packet $1 x 8, Trailmix $1.70 x 8, Candy Bar $0.28 x8)


  • Tuna Packet
  • 3 Jerky Sticks
  • Candy Bar (fun size)
  • Cost: $30.64 (Tuna Packet $1 x 8, Jerky Sticks $0.85 x 24, Candy Bar $0.28 x 8)


  • Jar of Jif peanut butter
  • Cost: $5

Total cost of food: $100.98

If I did it over again I would pack 4 tuna packets per day or add a freeze-dried dinner. The first couple days I felt good but I quickly realized I didn’t pack enough food for my body to replenish what I was burning. Also, I wouldn’t mess with having everyday broken out into a bag.

My cousin and uncle had all their food in a compression bag and would take out what they wanted on a daily basis and leave the remaining food back at camp tied up in a tree.


For this trip I ran into a predicament. As mentioned above my pack is an external frame so it can only condense down to a certain size. As luck would have it my pack didn’t fit within the parameters of the luggage requirements for my airline. I called ahead and the airline would charge me an over sized bag charge to the tune of $200! This was on top of the normal checked bag fee.

I had planned to fly all my gear as a checked bag but due to the extreme additional charges I shipped the majority of my gear via UPS and fit the remainder into a carry on bag for my flight.

Shipping Gear

This process was easier than I thought it would be. I ended up using a bankers box to ship my pack and a lot of my gear. Here are some tips I learned.

  1. Make a list of everything you put in the box. This will make it easy to determine what has been lost if the box is damaged or stolen.
  2. Call ahead to the hotel where your staying at and confirm they will accept the drop off and pick up from the carrier when you leave to come back home.
  3. Tape the edges to provide additional support and write you name and address on the box.
  4. Let the hotel know when they can expect to receive the shipment.

My box weighed approx 35lbs and cost about $120 to ship it to Idaho and deliver it back to my house.

Total Shipping Cost: $120

Flying with Gear: As I mentioned earlier the remaining gear and clothes I was able to fit into a carry on and a book bag which was my “personal item” so I didn’t have additional costs there. Some airlines may charge for a carry on.

A tip is to pack very important gear and clothes in your carry on. I packed my tent, food, and clothes that way if something happened to my package that shipped at least I would have food, shelter, and warmth.

My plane ticket was $484 which flew from Ohio to Colorado then to Idaho.

Flying with Guns and Ammo:  $25 fee for a checked bag. You will need a hard case with the ability to lock it. The TSA agent at the airport in Idaho told me you are required to have at least 2 locks.

Also, you can fly with ammunition. It has to be in its original packaging and it can be placed inside the gun case.

Last thing to note is you have to pick up your gun at a checked bag drop off location. It won’t come out on the luggage carousal. This took a couple extra mins but nothing worth fussing over.

With today’s political environment I thought I would get at least some weird stares in the airport but it was a breeze. Very easy process.

Total Flying Cost: $534 ($484 ticket + $50 checked bag fee for gun)

Car Rental: $195 We rented an SUV for the week and split the cost 3 ways.

Gas: $16.50 3 way split

Hotel Stay: $115 Stayed 3 nights and split 3 ways.

Total Rental Car and Hotel: $326.5

Total Logistics Cost: $980.50


As for clothing I will break it down by layers.

Thermal Layers: I have been wearing merino wool for the past couple years and I am a fan for life. Merino is so versatile with its ability to keep you warm and cool. On this trip I brought my long sleeve shirt, leggings, underwear, and socks. The only time I wore my leggings was when I hit the sack for the night. I wore my long sleeve shirt basically 24/7 as well as my merino underwear.


Merino Wool Top


If you want to know more about merino wool, check out this article for an in depth look into why merino wool is so great.

I purchased the long sleeve shirt and leggings for $50 each, underwear for $25, and socks for $22

I also packed a synthetic long sleeve as back up. I wore it for one day I believe. My biggest hang up with synthetic thermal garments is the difficulty in getting the odor out. Thermal layers absorb so much sweat and I am a pretty smelly human being. After a while it is almost impossible to get the B.O. smell out. This synthetic layer was purchased on an end of season sale for $35.

Thermal Layer Cost: $183

As for an outer layer I wore Kuiu. Their garments served me well. I speak more about them in this article but I wanted to touch on which garments I bought for this trip. I did my best to wait for most of these garments to go on sale. Kuiu usually has sales and also an outlet department where you can get good deals as well.

Guide Pants: $170 The hip vents are great for dumping heat while hiking and with the inside of the pant being fleece lined they provide plenty of warmth while glassing.




Guide Jacket: $180 I only wore this jacket in camp when I didn’t have anything dry to wear when we got soaking wet mid trip. It’s a nice jacket but it just didn’t get cold enough to warrant carrying it in my pack.

Peloton 240 Hooded Jacket: $150 This is hands down my favorite jacket. Can be worn as a mid-layer or outer layer it blocks the wind and dissipates heat well while hiking. This jacket is by far my favorite Kuiu piece of clothing they offer. It is synthetic but since it is not a thermal layer I haven’t had any issues with odor.



Teton Rain Jacket: $50 I don’t think they produce it anymore. I purchased it on their outlet section. It works great. Does its job. I have not complaints.

Neck Gator: $20 I also bought a neck gator from Kuiu and it works great. It is merino wool and cuts the wind well keeping it off your neck. Also, can by pulled up to cover your face if need be.

Puffy Jacket: $50 For an insulation layer I brought my puffy jacket made by Eddie Bauer. This was the first hunting trip I wore a puffy on and it won’t be the last. It honestly is like wrapping yourself up in an oven. If you need to get warm quick break out the puffy. I have liked it so much I purchased a puffy vest to wear during deer season here in the Midwest.

Total Outer Layer Cost: $620

Neoprene Socks: $15 This was a spur of the moment purchase the day before the hunt. They worked great for stalking purposes and as camp shoes.

Total Clothing Cost: $818

I want to reiterate the hunting clothes you have now will work just fine. If you have garments that will block the wind, keep you warm, are somewhat breathable, and packable you will be fine. This can be a major cost saving area for you if you use what you already have.

After you go on a couple trips upgrade to better clothing if you want.

What I Borrowed

Know a friend who hunts? How about family members? Borrowing gear can drastically cut down on your costs. Here is a breakdown of what I saved from borrowing gear. For this example I am going off the price of the gear I borrowed.

Tent; $250

Rifle; $500

GPS: $180

Water Filtration Pump: $70

Bino Harness; $120

That’s a savings of $1,120! That’s 2 seasons of licenses and tags. It can make a huge difference borrowing gear. Borrowing gear is also a great way to test our a particular brand. Once you use and relay on a particular product for multiple days you will have a much better understanding of what you like and don’t like.

Wrapping It Up

Total Cost of the Trip: $3,547.98

Yes, that is a lot of money but let me put it into perspective. Let’s say you plan a trip 3 years out. Might not be a bad idea anyway to build up preference points for a particular unit if you don’t want to hunt OTC.

$3,500/36 months is $97 a month.

Now lets say you eat out for lunch 3 days a week and you spend $8 for lunch each time.

8 x 3 is 24 and multiple that by 4 weeks in a month and it comes to $96. That’s your trip right there.

It all comes down to what do you want to spend your money on. Heck…how much is your monthly car payment? $150, $200, or $250?

These are just a couple examples to get your wheels spinning. Trips like this are within reach for just about anyone.

For my example a couple ways to cut cost would be to use the clothing I already had. $818 is saved right there from my breakdown above. Instead of flying split the cost of gas and drive with your buddies. Between car rental, shipping gear, and plan ticket I spent $849.

That brings the total cost of the trip down to $1,880.98. Say you chip in $150 for gas and your just north of $2,000

This trip I will remember for the rest of my life. We had a bull moose at 15 yards, saw elk, mule deer, beautiful landscapes, and shared laughs with my family around the campfire out in the middle of nowhere.

Is that not what we all day dream about while back in civilization?


Idaho Backcountry


Well worth the money to me.

If you have any questions regarding your first trip please leave me a comment below. I would be glad to help anyway I can.

Have any tips after doing a trip like this? Share them below.


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