IN THE BLACKHILLS National Forest along the western edge of South Dakota, I’ve chasedMerriam’s gobblers in some of the prettiest country east of the Rockies. Theyroost on pine-covered ridges, then hit the ground running at daybreak. And Ican follow them wherever they go in the BHNF’s 1.3 million acres.

Depending on howrough you want to go, the price ranges from inexpensive to dirt cheap. Camp inthe national forest for free, or rent a cabin with a buddy. Here’s a costbreakdown for the latter option based on five days, four nights.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

GROUND TRANSPORT Full-size car (you won’t need 4WD unless there’s aspring snowstorm) and unlimited miles from Thrifty Car Rental in Rapid City(800-847-4389; $200
LODGING Furnished cabin with kitchenette, bath, hot tub andsauna, and cable TV, plus advice on bird hangouts at Pine Rest Cabins near HillCity (800-333-5306; $235
FOOD & DRINK Buy groceries in town at Krull’s Market and cook foryourself (about $100). Splurge for a steak and a beer at the Alpine Inn onenight ($15 per plate, with a drink). $115
HUNTING FEES Nonresident tags are unlimited, but apply ahead oftime through South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (605-773-3485; $85
TOTAL Total cost (per hunter): $635