Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 3

One big part of sustainability (to me) is food.  What you eat, how often you eat it, what your food eats, where it comes from, how it gets to your fridge and so on.  There are so many variables to how your food comes to your plate that affect all of my favorite topics: finances (cost), sustainability (transportation/”food miles”, growing practices/feeding, inputs/fertilizers/hormones/etc) and health (what you eat/how much/how often).  In an effort to lower my own impact, I’ve been focusing on getting my own food – mostly meat, but hopefully next summer I can try my hand at gardening.  When I do go out and get my own food, I like to do a bit of cost/benefit analysis.  Was it worth it for me to get it, or should I just save the time/money and buy it at the store?  If you’re curious you can find part one (halibut) and part two (duck) on the site.

This time, the hunt was for elk.  Here’s what it cost:

  • Elk Tag: $52
  • Conservation Stamp for 2011:  $12.50  – This is something anyone in wyoming who is hunting or fishing has to purchase.  Usually they use the money for land conservation.  The stamp is good for 1 calendar year.
  • Conservation Stamp for 2012: $12.50 – Unfortunately, these stamps are good for a calendar year, not from year to date purchase.  Since I didnt get an elk in 2011, I had to buy a new one.  Feeling like I was buying these things all the time annoyed me (and I didnt want to forget), so I bought a lifetime conservation stamp for $180.50.  I just used the yearly cost here though.  If the price stays the same, I’ll be money ahead in 15 years, and sooner if the price goes up.
  • Gun/Ammo: Borrowed/given to me – but this will be an expense in the future.  Obviously the gun will be a 1 time expense, but not the ammo.
  • Gas: $200 – This area isn’t really close to my house at all and I’d guesstimate I used 3 tanks of gas I wouldn’t have used otherwise.  I went up a total of 5 times and I took my truck 2 of those times, using a full tank both times.  The third was for meeting the rest of my group.
  • Foil/Saran Wrap: $8 – Yes, even though I bought some in Alaska, I needed more to process my elk meat.
  • 750 mL of whiskey: $11 – Needed.
  • Grinding: Free – Usually I pay to have the tougher cuts ground into burger meat, but a co-worker has a grinder that she is willing to let me use, which is a huge score!

Obviously, that’s quite a long list, and the total is $297, which is about what I spent on the halibut (go figure) but  is still a whole slew of money.

Before I went out last Saturday, I was pretty pessimistic about the whole thing, figuring that I’d thrown all that cash down the drain and not gotten anything from it (for the second year in a row)!  Even after I ate my lunch on Saturday, and we had finished our loop and were headed back to the truck, I was ready to go home and had made the decision to give it up for the season.  Thankfully, we stumbled upon some tracks and I was able to bring one down after some stalking.  So once I drug the thing back to the truck (2 miles!) and went home, I had to get to work processing and weighing. After everything was deboned, I had 58 lbs of meat.  This is meat of all different grades and qualities, from things that need to be slow cooked or ground because they aren’t tender to things that are very, very tender and tasty.  (Pictures: Pre deboned meat from 1 rear leg, and a de-boned rear leg [pic1, pic2]).  I basically spent most everyday from Saturday to Thursday trimming the silver off, and spent about 3 hours last this Saturday wrapping everything up.  Obviously, it doesn’t end once you’re out of the field.

I had to cut all of the silver off so the meat wouldnt taste gamey, and I’m guessing that was about 5 pounds, leaving me with about 53 pounds of useable meat.  This puts my total cost per pound at $5.12, which I think is pretty good.  While not all of what I got is “steak” quality, it is all organic, grass fed, pasture raised, etc.  Overall, that’s a pretty cheap price per pound for meat like that – I’ve done the math on buying a side of beef and it comes out somewhere between 6 and 7 bucks a pound (at least around here).  I figure this is a pretty good comparison, so I’m happy with the results.

I also don’t think I’ll need to do this again next year.  H is a vegetarian, so I’ve got all of this to eat myself or give away.  I’ve already given some away  and will probably give away more. I’ll save the ground elk meat for my bachelor party this summer and probably keep the rest and hopefully find some good elk sausage recipes or elk chili recipes (shockingly, I had enough freezer room after my quest to eat freezer stuff).  The unfortunate thing about this is that I could have spent all of that money and came up with nothing, but that is just how it all works.  Buying a tag isnt like buying the meat off the carcass – it does take a considerable amount of time and effort, but to me it’s worth it.

Since this was my first elk hunt, I needed to do a lot of work to figure out what I needed to bring and everything else like that. There were a lot of great hunting websites around, and one of the best was at

Some thoughts on the cost: I try not to put a price on the time I spend outdoors in some gorgeous country (if you want to know what the area looks like, check my facebook picture) because that is subjective, and I could derive more value from it than others (or less).  I also don’t count the benefit of the workout I get, but I do count it towards my workout total for the month – it’s a lot of walking.

Readers: Do you hunt, or are you interested in it?  Are you lucky enough to have a friend that just gives you meat instead of you having to go get it yourself?  Have you ever considered hunting as a (long-term) strategy to save money and increase the quality of your food?

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23 thoughts on “Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 3”

  1. Interesting analysis. How does the meat taste?

    My dad was a hunter, but I think he liked watching the animals more than killing them. He killed a deer once, and he felt so bad he didn’t want to eat the meat. My mom had to sneak it into everything. There was a lot of meat to try to use up this way!

    Your price on the meat was a good one. I hope you enjoy!

    • Hi Melissa
      The taste is similar to ground beef, but it’s much leaner. Elk doesnt taste “gamey” at all (I think, anyway)

      I think a lot of people like to hunt in theory but when it comes time to practice they change their mind – which is totally a personal choice. I dont know how much I’d like it if it was forced upon me.

  2. I think it depends on what it is. In the case of an elk and that amount of meat you are getting it might have been cheaper in the long run. However for most to just have to spend that much on gas in the beginning would turn them away. Growing up in South Carolina I have had my fair share of hunts and kills. Its not for everyone even though you will save a lot of money.

    • Thomas –
      You make a good point – the upfront costs (gas) were pretty high, but I was able to “earn them back” once I was able to harvest an elk. Of course, I could have gotten one the first time out and my gas cost could have been $40, or on the other side I could have gotten nothing. Just the luck of the draw, right?

  3. Hunting is not something that interests m at all. I don’t like guns. But I’d love to find a friend who would hunt for me! I’m currently looking into purchasing a quarter of beef. In DE the average cost is 3.50/lb for grass fed and finished so I’m really looking forward to when the freezer i am still searching for is packed with beef

  4. I really respect you doing all this yourself. I am a vegetarian but put a lot more respect towards meat eaters how don’t cover their ears and shout “la la la” when you talk about where the stuff actually comes from. The experience is worth more than any savings.

    As for gardening, I am moving into a shared house on the weekend (after finally settling in New Zealand for 5 more months) and will be getting pots of quick growing herbs and veg as soon as I can.

  5. Grinding fee – use a crock pot instead. I make my venison into “beef stew”

    Mosin nagant rifle – $100 shipped .. $170 scoped

    PA license $20
    3 doe tags $12

    Home brewed hard cider – needed ($10 for yeast and sugar)

    70 pounds of meat for 1 day of work… priceless

    • thanks for the comment nick – do you just forgo grinding and make stew with all of your meat? I have a lot of that with antelope, but elk is too freaking big – I’d get tired of stew meat after a while. All of the other things though -you’re right on the money!

      • Thanks for the reply. Yes so far that is what i have done. You are right though… only so many variations of stewed meat. I did pick up a hand crank grinder at a yard sale for $10, but I’ve not tried it out yet

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