Elk hunting is supposed to be fun right? But let’s be honest, when was the last time you put 80-100 pounds on your back and hiked off-trail over a mountain?
It’s not fun; it’s tough even if you’re smiling through the pain.
Here’s a look at five things you must do to avoid making the job of packing out elk any tougher than it needs to be.
Keeping the meat clean and dry is priority number one in any weather. Use a light weight emergency blanket or tarp on the ground to lay meat on as you’re cutting. During cold months keeping meat elevated and separated on a pole or laying them across sticks to allow airflow around the meat will be sufficient.
Warm weather hunts where flies and bacteria can be a concern hunters should carry dry packets of citric acid like Game Saver®. The acidity of citric acid will safely fight bacteria and repel flies without affecting the taste of game. Just add water and spray or rub the solution on the meat as you peel the hide away. This is cheap insurance to keep meat fresh.
Always carry four game bags, one for each quarter and 50 feet of parachute cord for hanging. The bags with front shoulders also get a back strap, neck meat and a loin or two for weight distribution. If it’s hot you’ll need to remove the bones and even if it isn’t you still might want to because bones are heavy.
Now you can take that emergency blanket the meat was laying on and throw it over the meat pole to keep precipitation off overnight. The crinkling sound of e-blankets or tarps also scares scavengers away and contrasting colors makes it easy to spot when you return.
The type of pack elk hunters carry is top five on the list of things to talk about at elk camp. But when it comes down to hauling over 200 pounds of meat talk is cheap. Traditional meat packs with a shelf on the bottom work great for a stable load. But beware: some frame packs can weight over ten pounds empty.
New compact pack designs weighing less than three pounds are finding a place for backcountry hunters but they still come with bulk. Although innovative design ideas allow hunters to incorporate accessories into day packs like Kuiu’s Icon Pro Frame and Suspension ®.
When a long trip back to camp or vehicle to get a frame pack is out of the question Pack Out Bags® may be the best option. These packs were made specifically for packing elk by an elk hunting family in Idaho. The design is a simple shoulder strap with large meat pouches on the front and back allowing for hands free hauling. Because of the design, these packs distribute weight differently than traditional frame packs and they are packable.
No matter the pack style, the unquestionable winner is any pack that can be carried by four legged haulers. If you’ve got mules and packs to go with them it’s a no-brainer.
Those Damn Crows
“How far is it?” That’s a question that gets asked a lot. If the answer starts with something like “Well as the crow flies it’s about…” stop the conversation right there. Just because the LCD screen on your GPS shows the elk meat is hanging 2.36 miles away does not mean that it’s the best route especially in elk country. Two miles straight through thick, rough terrain that leads over steep mountains creates unnecessary danger especially with meat laden packs.
Get as close as you can using a trail or road and pick a route that follows a ridge top or creek bottom if at all possible to avoid the knee twisting effects of side-hilling. A longer route over easier terrain is almost always the best option. If there is a trail, use it and forget the crows.
Ivory teeth are a fascinating feature on an elk skull and they should be removed and used to make cool jewelry like rings and necklaces. At the very least keep them in a container to show off at work. It’s tradition after all.
Tradition also holds that the hunter who killed the elk carries the antlers out. A fresh elk head and antlers can weigh over 40 pounds so make sure you remember that when divvying up the meat.
Good gear will make the grueling task of packing out elk less painful and good decisions will put an exclamation point to your story. Can you pass the ketchup?