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Buying Outdoors Gear on a Budget

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Clearance Rack Camo

Gear is expensive. It can even be a barrier to entry for aspiring hunters and anglers with the daunting prospect of buying guns, ammo, fishing rods, tackle, and all the pricey clothing. On top of it all, it seems like some companies want to sell you gimmicky stuff by convincing you that you need it. But what about the basics needed to get started? Gear to keep you safe and comfortable when you’re out in the elements?

There are ways to outfit yourself on a budget if you’re willing to wear the mantle of a different kind of hunter: a bargain hunter. Aside from my standard firearms and ammunition, I have never bought a single piece of gear at full price. It’s entirely possible if you know where—and when—to look.

Number one: check the clearance racks first. If you want to shop at big chain outfitters and sporting goods stores, do it in the off-season! I’ve found a dirt-cheap, name-brand camo outfit at the tail end of turkey season, and deeply discounted winter gloves and other cold weather articles in late winter. Don’t overlook the hunting and outdoor sections of large retailers, either. You never know what you might find.

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Also, scour the web for sales and steals. Do your research. Sort by Price: Low to High, and always read reviews. One May, I managed to find an incredibly nice waterproof camouflage parka, infused with metal fibers for superior insulation, that normally retails for about $250. I ordered it online for $18. Not sure if it was a fluke or just a less-desired size the company wanted to jettison (Women’s small), but I’m grateful for it every deer season, when the chill cuts to the bone.

Next up: hand-me-downs. Gently-used stuff from friends and family that have outgrown or upgraded is always welcomed by the hunter on a budget. My muzzleloader was pre-owned. My best boots were gifted to me because they didn’t work out for the person who purchased them. As I write this, I’m about to be gifted arrows and broadheads to begin my bowhunting journey. Lucky me! Ask around—many mentors are happy to share more than their knowledge.

My absolute favorite place to find gear is at thrift stores. The first thing I always do at any secondhand store is walk the clothing aisles, combing the racks for camo and orange and checking out the shoe section for anything well-made, warm, and waterproof. Feel the fabrics, seeking quality craftsmanship and materials like wool and leather, and avoiding anything faded, damaged, worn out, or threadbare. I also seek out cast iron in housewares ever since I scored an antique Wagner skillet. It now has a new life cooking my first venison every year.

My other thrift store finds have included classic buffalo plaid items, branded beanies and baseball caps, my beloved fly-fishing hat, wading boots, shooting vests, thermal and wicking base layer shirts, a vintage camo button-down, a pink camo fleece pullover, a blaze orange logo sweatshirt, a lightweight down parka, a reversible down vest, and a small blanket embroidered with a whitetail buck. All of these were made by major brands and sported official hunting camouflage patterns. Every article cost less than $20, and most less than $10.

There’s also plenty of tactical camo clothing in thrift shops. I have a like-new army surplus flight suit I got for $7. While I would never wear military camouflage in public because I haven’t served, the suit is perfect for keeping in the car to pull on over my regular clothes when I hit the woods. I avoid any camo made for fashion purposes only, and any cotton camo—it’s useless and even dangerous when wet.

Pants, in my experience, are very hard to find—in the right size and fit or at all. I will sometimes buy hunting clothes as spares I can lend or give away to new hunters. But as a courtesy to other thrifty outdoors people, I never completely clear out a store. I enjoy the thrill of finding something awesome for a great deal, and it’s a feeling best shared. Of course, if you have the funds to shell out on top-of-the-line gear, do it—you want reliability and durability out there. But if your wallet’s looking lean, know that you can fatten up your outdoor wardrobe affordably—and dress accordingly.

Looking for more articles on hunting gear? Why not check out this article outlining essential gear for spring turkey hunting?

Heidi Chaya

Heidi Chaya is a food journalist, farmhand, and avid home cook. Her experiences living and working in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley provide her with many opportunities to expand her culinary horizons and continue to learn and grow through fishing, foraging, and hunting.

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