“I would hunt, but it’s just too expensive.” Last fall a guy at my gym rattled off that phrase. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say this, and I have to admit I’ve always taken it as a lame attempt at defending one’s manliness after they’ve been outed as a non-hunter. Hearing it this time I began to wonder if I’ve been too judgmental all these years. My introduction to hunting happened back in the mid-90s. What could that first hunting season cost with today’s ammunition shortages and complicated licensing systems? I left the gym, but the thought stuck with me. It rolled around in my head for four months before I finally decided I had to put it to rest. Early in the year I locked up all my hunting gear and started planning my 2021 Idaho Spring Bear season as if I was a new hunter. The goal was to start with zero gear and take an animal on the tightest budget possible—the hunt for the bargain bear began.

My home base was Boise, Idaho and I wanted to avoid long trips, the extra gas, big coolers, and overnight equipment that came with them. If I truly was a rookie, I also figured coming home each night would give a good opportunity to dry out wet boots and spend some time on Google maps finding new routes that weren’t blocked by washouts and snow. Early planning involved some time chatting with a hunter friend of mine named Zach, and I still don’t consider his assistance cheating. In the centuries before internet forums, hunting was learned by way of conversations with experienced hunters, and I needed his help as I recently moved to Idaho and had only hunted in the eastern parts of the state. Talking through some of his old haunts we settled on an area where he’d seen bear only an hour north of Boise, not far from the Payette River. Bear season in that Game Management Unit (GMU) ran from April 15 to June 7, though mountain snowpack wouldn’t allow my truck on the forest roads until May.

Location set, next order of business was getting a rifle and I quickly found 2021 was not a good year for gun shopping. This spring in Idaho a lot of sporting goods stores were out of low-priced rifles and the rest were quite proud of the few they managed to hang on to. A stroke of luck came one morning at the local Cabela’s which received a shipment of new Savage’s Axis models with mounted Weaver scope. I quickly purchased one in 30-06 ($359) before they sold out. Sighting in the scope at the desert the next day went well. Once I manned-up for the hefty trigger pull I managed 3/4-inch groups at 200 yards ($52 in ammunition).

Boots came next and for that I splurged. I picked up a pair of Bridger Mid Hiking Boots made by Oboz ($233). I considered cheaper boots, but the destruction done to my feet by previous hunting and hiking trips in inadequate footwear overcame my inner tightwad. The Oboz were the perfect mix of comfort and durability for the price. These boots held up to the mud and snow of my bear hunt and have done well through a follow-on backpacking trip in Wyoming, and my 2021 Montana and Idaho elk hunting trips.

The last decade has brought the hunting community all manner of fancy, moisture wicking, chemically coated, triple gusseted apparel, but for my day trips to a ground blind I decided I could do without most of it. Temperatures vary in early May in the mountains of Idaho from the 30s to the 70s, which is mild compared to what your average Boise resident is outfitted to deal with in the heart of winter. After picking up a Cabela’s Signature Space Rain Jacket ($89) and a long sleeve camouflage shirt ($17) for outer layers I pulled a stocking cap ($0), multiple fleece layers ($0), wool socks ($0), and last year’s pair of khaki jeans ($0) from my own closet.

A new hunter would need a good knife and Outdoor Edge’s Trailblaze ($17) was quite impressive for the price. A trip to Home Depot brought a little jab saw ($8) for working through any bone. I raided my own cabinets for a headlamp, first aid kit, rope, and a duffle bag ($0). For packing bait and gear in and out I used a hand-me-down external pack frame ($15-$30 at your local used sporting goods store).

My gear finally set, once enough of the snow cleared from the forest roads, I made my first trip north. A quarter mile from my truck I confirmed Zach’s rockstar status with two different sizes of muddy bear prints in snow. After a morning of hiking, I found a shooting lane that allowed for a hill top ground blind and small pit bait site. The GPS in my cellphone measured the blind to bait site distance at 110 yards. After building the blind and filling the pit with donuts ($0 local donut shop leftovers) I went home and burned through a few more cartridges ($26) centering my scope crosshairs for 110 yards.

A week later, the second Saturday in May, I returned with another load of donuts ($0) and took my first sit in the blind. Something had cleaned out last week’s bait and bear prints left in the surrounding snow pointed to the culprit. Early afternoon turned to late dusk with no activity. I will admit, during that sit the temperatures dropped into the low 30s and I spent the last couple hours shivering, thinking about the warm down jacket I’d left at home in my gear closet. On the drive home I decided a midweek drop of treats was needed to hold activity at my bait until the weekend. After work that Thursday I made a cannonball-run to the mountains, and as I suspected, the bait was cleaned out again. Luckily, I brought a double helping to ensure it lasted to Saturday.

Saturday number three I drove to the mountains, topped off my bait, and was sitting in my blind by 1pm. The wind stayed in my face most of the day and temperatures bumped up ten degrees from the week before. I surprised myself at how relaxing and enjoyable the long sit was. Pit against a week of fighting my normal work struggles the simple peace of nature was a welcome reset.

Just before eight-o-clock a fuzzy pair of ears came into view in the brush next to my bait. A black bear with a hint of cinnamon in his hind quarters trotted up and started clearing out the few sticks I’d placed on top of today’s bait. Slowly I raised my rifle and put him in the crosshairs. I noted a slight shake in my sights. A little excitement from a guy who’d never shot a bear before. I gave it a few seconds to let myself calm and the bruin decided to lay flat in the grass beside the bait. I lost my shot. Patiently I waited. I kept what I could in my scope. Five minutes passed before he was up again and started working through the bait. Right broadside, looking away slightly. I set my crosshairs just behind his middle and slowly pulled at the trigger.

The crack of the rifle. He darted around a tree. I saw paws flail in the air as he took a tumble behind a large mass of underbrush.

Bear down.

I waited thirty minutes before walking over to find him ten yards from where he’d been when I took the shot. I was all smiles as I cut my very first notches out of a bear tag. Of course, then the real work started. The knife was exceptional, and the jab saw did surprisingly well. My first-time gutting, skinning, quartering, and packing out a bear, it was just before midnight before I finally had him loaded into my truck and ready for the trip back to Boise.

When you add in the costs of license, tags, and fuel for the trips north I had a total of $977 put into getting my 2021 Idaho Spring Bear. I kept it simple and have to say that with its season’s milder weather, fewer hunters, and the ability to use bait to set up shots there’s an honest case to be made for someone easing into hunting via a bear tag. I do see how the budget-minded’s view of the sport can get marred by our UTVs, performance hunting clothing, and all the popular hunting television series featuring their backcountry hunting trips to exotic destinations. The simplicity of how most of us got our start in hunting can easily be missed. Overall, I considered my experiment a success. The next time I hear high costs discouraging someone hunting I have a little more to add to the discussion, and after reading this article you do too.















Yearly Expenses

License, Tag, Bear bait permit

 $         37

Fuel for 140-mile round trip x4

 $       114

.30-06 Springfield 180 gr. Federal Powershock (3 boxes)

 $         78


 $       229

One Time Expense

Savage Axis 30-06

 $       359

Oboz Bridger Mid Hiking

 $       233

Cabela’s Space rain jacket

 $         89

Cabela's Long Sleeve Shirt

 $         17

Outdoor Edge’s Trailblaze

 $         17


 $           8

External Frame Pack

 $         20

Camo Facepaint

 $           5

Total One Time

 $       748

Total Cost

 $       977