If you're saving up money for a once-in-a-lifetime dream adventure, why not shoot for the moon?
If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy first? Most of us think for a few moments before answering. Some might go for a sports car. Others might tour Europe. How about a beachfront mansion with an elevator, movie theatre, pool, and private chef?
But others might spend the money on hunting. Where would you go and what would you hunt for if cost were no obstacle? African elephant? New Zealand red stag? Spanish Ibex?
Or, would you stick to North America, where we have more than two dozen big-game hunting opportunities? Some are very affordable and DIY friendly, but others require hunting with a guide and could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Yes, you read that correctly. Since we're dreaming here, let's look at the details.
I've been fortunate enough to hunt several different species across 16 states, but none of my trips have been all that expensive. That's why I enlisted some input from one of the world's most traveled hunters and longtime Realtree pro-staffer, Tom Miranda. Not only has Miranda taken the North American Super Slam — by the way, he's still the only bowhunter to do it entirely on video — but he's also traveled the globe from Alaska to Australia.
Miranda's story is inspirational, too. Despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on hunting, he wasn't born into millions. Instead, he worked hard from modest beginnings.
One may think that a hunter must be rich or win the lottery to do any of these hunts, Miranda said. The fact is, I came from a middle-class family, started my career as a trapper, and was fortunate to build a TV adventure series that was eventually picked up by mega-network ESPN. In my quest to do adventurous hunts, my goal was to hunt new and different animals in each episode. This is what eventually turned into my bowhunting Super Slam quest. I was able to finesse the costs of these adventures by saving for several years for the most expensive ones. I justified the expenses as an investment to my TV series and future revenues, as my goal was to make a DVD and write a book about the experiences. If fact, my investment paid off as I made many times the cost of these hunts with the marketing of my endorsements and DVD and book sales.
Knowing that Miranda wasn't born into millions, he's an excellent resource for this discussion. Here's what he said about North America's most expensive hunts.
1. Desert Bighorn Sheep
Desert bighorn sheep are the most expensive, Miranda said. They can be taken in Mexico, the southwestern U.S., or up in Nevada. Most desert bighorn tags must be drawn, and they're very difficult to get. There are also governor's tags, and they're very expensive.
Miranda shared some details regarding his desert bighorn sheep hunting experience.
I hunted desert bighorn sheep on Carmen Island in Mexico, he told. I paid $58,000 for the hunt. When I killed my ram, he completed my Super Slam and my Grand Slam of wild sheep. The desert bighorn is considered to be the easiest sheep subspecies to harvest of the four that make up the Grand Slam. Interestingly, it was the most difficult for me. It took me four hunts to get my ram — I did two hunts on Carmen Island and two hunts on the mainland of the Baja. I slept 19 days in a tent on my first hunt and never drew my bow.
As the name 'desert bighorn' suggests, Miranda continued, you're hunting in desert country. Even in the winter, it can be very hot and dry. You must have a lot of water and be in sheep shape so you can climb. A good guide obviously helps, too. In most areas, a ram must have a full curl in order to be legal. A knowledgeable guide can help you make that call.
Personally, I have points building in Nevada for desert bighorn, but I'm not holding my breath. I'll be incredibly lucky if I draw a tag in my lifetime. So, if I get the itch to hunt one, I'll have to gather up about $60,000.
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2. Stone Sheep
The stone sheep, primarily found in northern British Columbia and in southern Yukon, are next on the list. Miranda said that it's considered to be the premier sheep of the Wild Sheep Grand Slam.
Stone sheep have become very, very expensive to hunt, Miranda said. I think I paid in the upper $20,000 range when I did my hunt, but now stone sheep hunts go for about $45,000 and up.
Stone sheep are difficult to spot, and the terrain they inhabit is very difficult to traverse.
Their name reflects their coloration, Miranda shared. They blend in very well against the cliff faces. It's a mental game when you're spending hours behind glass. It's even more of a mental game when you're bowhunting because you must get close. Stalks can take up to four to five hours due to terrain and distance.
While stone sheep are considered to be the most difficult sheep in the Grand Slam to harvest, Miranda arrowed his ram on the first day of the hunt.
I was hunting in northern British Columbia with Chad 'Savage' Lenz with Gundahoo River Outfitters near Muncho Lake, he said. We rode in on horseback four days before the opener. We got our camp set up and then began scouting. We found the ram we wanted with about half a dozen ewes. They were on a face about half a day's walk from our camp. We watched that ram for three days.
On opening day, we hiked up the ridge above our camp, then looped around the backside to where the sheep were, Miranda told. We planned to come over the ridge above them. During our hike, we bumped some sheep, and two rams ran out ahead of us. They climbed a bluff and then bedded down. We sat down and glassed them. One had very nice curls.
After killing some time and drinking some water, Miranda and Lenz inched toward the two rams.
We eased up and started slipping toward them, he said. The rams saw us, but we'd move only a few yards and then hunker down. Eventually, we reached 35 yards. I nocked an arrow and got ready. We waited some time for the larger ram to stand up, and when he did, I shot him.
Should you embark on your own stone sheep hunt, block off a good portion of your calendar. Hunts are usually about 14 days, though Miranda said that some of those days are used for travel, riding on horseback to camp, setting up camp, and scouting. He said that you can expect about 10 full days of hunting.
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3. Polar Bear
With sheep out of the way, we turn to the ice dwellers up in the Arctic Circle. Not the docile, Coke-drinking, snuggly characters you've seen on TV and in magazine ads, polar bears are huge and very dangerous.
Alaskan brown bear and polar bear hunts are similar in cost, but flights make the polar bear more expensive, Miranda said. It takes six flights to reach Resolute Bay to hunt polar bears. Flights alone could run $7,000-8,000 today.
When you hunt polar bears, you get paired with some of the best Inuit hunters.
Inuit culture revolves around hunting and fishing, Miranda said. The companies that sell polar bear, walrus, arctic grizzly, and muskox hunts work with some of the best hunters in the Inuit world. Most of the guides speak pretty good English. In my experience, even the ones who don't still find ways to communicate well.
Miranda's polar bear hunt was in May 2007.
In May, the sun never set, he said. Hunting is legal around the clock as long as you can shoot without the aid of artificial light. I spent two nights in a hotel in Resolute Bay waiting for my guide. He advised me to get used to sleeping during the day and staying up at night. I ended up shooting my polar bear at around 4 a.m.
Polar bears don't live on Islands like muskoxen, Miranda continued. They live on the sea ice and eat seals. Our sled dogs pulled us across the ice. We were constantly mushing, looking for tracks and scanning the horizon for bears.
During the first few days of Miranda's hunt, the team had no luck.
My guide said not to worry and to be patient, Miranda said. He assured me there were a lot of places to keep looking and plenty of bears. Then, by the appearance of the sky, he knew a storm was coming in. He got on the radio and called back to town, and those on the other end confirmed his suspicions. We set up camp, and then we were stuck in a tent for two days. The winds blew at up to 80 mph, and the temperatures dipped to -70°F. We actually lost one of the sled dogs; it had frozen to death.
Once the storm subsided, Miranda continued, we located a bear track, and then we found the bear. The time-tested Inuit way to get within bow range of a polar bear is to turn the lead dog loose. The bear will run for some distance, but eventually it will stop to face the dog. Other dogs are also turned loose. When the bear stops, it usually does so by an ice jam. That allows the hunter to get close and positioned to shoot. That's how I got my polar bear.
In case you didn't know, the downside to a polar bear hunt is that you aren't allowed to import your trophy back into the U.S.
Because you can't bring polar bears into the U.S., most guys won't go and hunt them, Miranda explained. In ways, it's wrecking Inuit culture. Most of the $30,000 USD that's spent on a polar bear hunt stays in the Inuit village. With fewer folks doing the hunt, it definitely impacts the Inuit people.
A polar bear hunt is expensive, but it's a fantastic adventure, Miranda concluded.
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Most hunters will never traverse steep sheep country or mush across the Arctic ice. Reaching these places is a feat in itself, and then when you add up the costs to hunt sheep or polar bears, you'll find that each hunt costs more than a really nice vehicle. But your God-given life only lasts so long. If you're somewhat young and start stashing cash now, you could eventually have enough to pull off one of these hunts.
Editor's Note: Tom Miranda's full Super Slam is available on a 3 DVD set, as is his book, Adventure Bowhunter, Quest for the Super Slam. Tom's book also lists the hunting areas, outfitters and cost of each of the 29 Super Slam hunts, along with other pertinent information. All are available at www.tommiranda.com.