Subsistence Hunting

| Last Updated September 3, 2020

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With the economy being what it is, more and more people are trying to find new ways to save money. For hunters, it's an easy choice: subsistence hunt. When I lived on a lake in the middle of a national forest in far northwestern Wisconsin for 15 years, I saw a number of people opting to fill their larders with the bounty that nature provides. They learned that you don't have to spend lots of money in a grocery store on meat (which is a major outlay for most families), when there are plenty of edibles roaming the forests.

Interestingly, one of my late dear friends, a doctor from Texas, never purchased an ounce of meat at the store. He was able to get all he needed, and more, by hunting. And this is a man who had a lot of money! So it's not restricted to those of us who perhaps can't afford the price of a pound of filet mignon… maybe even a pound of hamburger and that's no kidding.

I might say right off, that subsistence hunting is not for everyone. If you're a neophyte, you're not going to be able to just head out and get yourself what you need in short order. It's a year-round venture. The right seasons. The right game. The right equipment. And the right experience are all essentials. I am blessed by having a number of dear friends who are expert hunters and guides. My husband and I are always fully supplied with some of the finest that nature has to offer, ranging from venison to grouse and wild turkey, and just about everything else in between.

After speaking with a couple of folks whom I know, who subsistence hunt, I've come up with at some ideas which will give you thoughts on what can be done.

Thoughts Surrounding Subsistence Hunting

Let's start with bear and deer. I don't care for bear meat. My husband who has eaten it often, describes it as a "sweet pork" flavor (that of course may have to do with the "bait" the bear ate at bait stations before the season… such as pie, cake, donuts, cookies etc.). And in addition, at least in Wisconsin, it's tough to get a license. There are relatively few issued, and then it's the "luck of the draw." I'd probably not count on bear as one of the staples for subsistence hunting.

Deer is another story. And yes, I am aware that the deer herd is supposedly down in Wisconsin, but there are all kinds of arguments from hunters and groups on the "proper way" to count the herd in Wisconsin. Let's just say that even if the herd is down, it's not that bad.

One friend, a well known hunting guide, says "get as many deer as you're allowed - -and don't be overly picky. You're going to want to eat, it -- not hang it on a wall." That means bow season, gun season, and muzzleloader season. There are all kinds of different regulations depending on the zone you're hunting, and the like, but you and your family can really do well if you know how to hunt.

And of course each family member is entitled to "x number of deer." I won't go into numbers, because the regulations change so often, and I can't lay out one rule of thumb for all the various hunting zones. Just know that you can more than overfill your larder with venison and other items made from the deer. I'm talking about sausage, brats, hot dogs, steaks, roasts, hamburger ­ the list is nearly endless, and it's good. The meat is lean, and can hold a family for an entire year.


The only negatives I can see to the deer hunt is expense. I'm talking about equipment (that can be a one time expense however, except for things like ammunition), licenses, and of course processing the animal. The guide I spoke to told me that he processes his own deer quite well (I wrote an article a few months ago on how to process a deer, which is still available on the Foremost Hunting website), and only uses a deer processing facility to make sausage, brats and hot dogs.

Deer processors can be expensive. But even with all the costs, the value of what you've got in your freezer far surpasses the cost for the same amount of meat at any store. And frankly, it's probably healthier for you, and you know it's clean and fresh.

Other Animals to Hunt

There are so many other things you can hunt. I'm talking wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel, grouse, and pheasant, as well as waterfowl and geese. Licenses, and knowledge of how to hunt is essential. You may not have the knowledge or ability to hunt everything or you may even live in an area that doesn't have sufficient populations of a particular game animal or bird that would make it worthwhile for you to hunt. If you're like most of us, the cost to go to an area to hunt that does have certain game may not be an expense you can afford, or would end up costing you more than if you'd go to a store.

Consider How Much Meat You Have and What To Do With it

It's OK to restrict your subsistence hunting. Not everyone likes everything. I know I don't. The other consideration is that unlike the amount of meat provided by large game, such as deer, there are bag limits for small game and birds that while able to provide a welcome menu change, and excellent food for the table, could not provide a long-term supply for a family. Of course if you have "friends' who hunt the items you don't, you can always exchange or graciously accept a gift.

Please remember there are strict restrictions on the sale of game between parties. There are regulations regarding the donation of game to registered groups. Game hunting by private citizens is not a commercial enterprise, at least in Wisconsin. There are registered game farms that raise game for sale but if you're going to do that, it would defeat your purpose in subsistence hunting.


Bottom-line: You can, if you're willing, able and have the knowledge to do so, save a ton of money on a yearly basis by subsistence hunting. More and more of us are doing just that, and enjoying the entire experience, to-boot! Remember hunting is not a chore… it's a lot of fun!

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.