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Hunters need financial plan to cover expenses

Spokesman-Review outdoors editor Rich Landers prepares for grouse hunting with his English Setter, Dickens. (Torsten Kjellstrand)
Rich Landers, Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review, follows his English setter Scout during a frosty pheasant hunting trip. (Torsten Kjellstrand)

The worst thing about the end of hunting season is that it marks the beginning of tax season.

It’s the time of reckoning, especially for sportsmen as we gather receipts and face the blank spaces on the Form 1040.

Sometimes I break into a sweat as I rework the books, shuffle money and dream up creative explanations for, shall I say, a little hocus-pocus with the numbers.

Don’t get me wrong. I play it straight with the IRS. No fudging there. But going to prison might not be a bad alternative to telling your wife the truth.

“Isn’t that venison delicious, honey? It cost about $100 a pound.”

Actually, I’m lying already. It’s probably closer to $200 a pound.

My wife might skin me like a bear if she sees how much I spent on hunting this year.

The tab for the Washington hunting-fishing licenses I bought in a bundle in March was $232.10. Of course, I bought the big-game permit drawing applications separately to avoid having all the costs show at once.

Neither you nor your wife wants to see all the costs at once.

And there will be no mention of the nonresident licenses for Montana. Note to hunting buddies: Keep your mouths SHUT.

I must point out that I didn’t hunt Idaho this year. Saved big money there. She’ll appreciate that.

I haven’t bought a new rifle in years, although I bought a used shotgun recently, just in case. You never know. It was a deal.

My wife loves deals.

I’m depreciating the 4x4 pickup over a number of years, but $30,000 is $30,000.

Oops: the fuel receipts. Dang it. Gas prices didn’t drop until most of the seasons were over. Add up the scouting trips, the spring turkey season, the grouse hunts – absolutely necessary for getting in shape for the rest of the seasons – elk camp, late buck season, trying to find the last pheasants in the Palouse, the 200-mile round-trip quail hunts, trying to find the last ducks to show any interest in Lincoln County …

It all adds up.

I can downplay the cost of the pickup by showing how major expenses are depreciated over time.

But the fuel? Not so easy to justify. Impossible. So I’ll shred all the gas receipts. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

I think I can score points by noting that the camouflage Beretta Urika doubles as a duck and turkey gun. She understands value.

I filled my elk tag with one shot, and it was a poor year for bird numbers, so I saved on ammunition. That’s a point in my favor.

But the incidentals add up faster than cell phone costs. Game bags, a new cooler, Gore-Tex boots, tarps, a new GPS – had to have it. The rangefinder was on sale! It cost only $350.

I’ve learned a few things about how to justify hunting trips over the years. One is a good dog. When time’s short and money’s tight, a dog that wants to go hunting can justify the expense.

If you’re married, get a hyperactive dog and give it to your wife. “Looks like tracks on the walls,” you can point out. “I’d better get your dog out and let him blow off some steam.”

Works every time.

Just don’t show her the veterinary bills. My English setter went in four times this season for cheat grass issues and twice for stitches after hitting barbed wire fences at full speed. That’s a pretty low-budget year for Scout, who’s had worse years.

Our hunting dogs have put one vet’s child through college.

Like I said, make sure your wife LOVES the dog.

Of course, our family enjoys the meat I harvest during the hunting seasons. I butcher virtually all of it at home, so we save a lot of money there.

The New York Times and other publications in recent years have glamorized hunting as part of the locavore movement. Hunters have always enjoyed the meat we bring home, but you’re a loco-vore if you think of hunting as a way to save money on the food bill.

Unless you can pop a buck near home, hunting doesn’t pencil out cheaper than the supermarket meat counter.

Serious hunters hunt because we get so much more out of the experience than a freezer full of meat. We get all the nature observation of a bird watcher, all the fitness of a gym membership, all the camaraderie of a book club – and we bring home dinner, too.

I did my wife a big favor and took Scout out of the house last weekend for the last gasp of Washington’s partridge hunting season. We hiked from the Snake River to the fog-shrouded rim, along the basalt outcroppings, through the carpets of cacti, across the scree, and down through the cheatgrass for five hours.

Scout found one covey of chukars. I got one shot and bagged one bird.

When I breasted out the sweet, lovely golden-white meat and removed thighs at home, I estimated the cost at about $150 a pound. The numbers would look a little better if I’d have left in the bones instead of breasting out the bird, but no matter.

I pointed out to my wife that she could walk down the street all day and she probably couldn’t find one other household that was eating chukar tonight.

“This is a very rare treat,” I said. “A billionaire can’t just walk to the best market in town and buy this. It’s harder to obtain than caviar.”

That’s the bottom line. Hunter’s may be broke at the end of the season, but we’re living like kings.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email

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