Congratulations! You made the shot, your game is down, you’ve taken your photos, filled out your tag, and your adrenaline is just now starting to subside. Everything has led up to this moment, hopefully you planned appropriately because now the real work begins. Start rolling those sleeves up.
There are all kinds of factors to consider when making decisions on field processing game. Experienced hunters and guides can make decisions quickly, but to anyone new to the game there are a few key points to understand.
Processing the kill
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, or anything for that matter. The key is to know your process and stick to it. Timeliness will be of the essence. Even in the event of an early morning harvest, the amount of time and manpower it takes to process big game is no small task. Especially when you factor in packing out the meat. The more dialed, practiced, and confident you are will greatly help your overall efficiency. The faster you can process game, the faster you can pack out and get out. This is especially important in predator country. It’s helpful to carry a kill kit with everything you need to perform this task. Such a kit should include:
- Skinning knife
- Knife Sharpener
- Game bags of the right size and quantity
- Electrical tape for attaching tag
- Small Tarp or contractor bag to process meat on
- A coil of 550 cord to help hang things and old back legs if you are by yourself
Meat has to cool
There is nothing worse than losing meat and it is a disgrace to the animal that was harvested; it would be better to return home with no kill. There are a lot of things that go well with meat. Mashed potatoes is one of them, warm temperatures, moisture, and bugs are not. Before ever leaving home for a hunt it’s important to know your location and the weather during your hunt. If the temperatures are expected to not get above 70 during the day and stay below 40 at night you’re in a much better standing to hang meat out to cool even for several days.
Meat that can’t cool will spoil. Your location will be an important factor in your decision making process. If you have front country access it may be possible to transport the meat to a local butcher, but deep backcountry locations don’t offer many amenities. In warmer climates, consider boning out quarters to allow as much heat to escape as possible and hang in the shade with plenty of ventilation. Moisture contributes to bacteria breeding, it is important to allow meat to dry. If you’re processing game in the rain, be sure to hang it under a tarp to allow ventilation to remove excess moisture. Flies and other bugs can cause meat to spoil as well. Don’t skimp when it comes to proper game bags. Be sure to tie off or cinch all openings and use quality material to keep flies out. When meat is cooled at the right temperature you’ll notice flies will be less attracted to it.
For the road home it’s best to pack meat into coolers. Dry ice is best if the meat has not been able to cool naturally and it can stay cold for over 10 hours. Make sure the dry ice doesn’t touch the meat directly as it’s 65 degrees below zero and will burn your meat. Remember moisture breeds bacteria so ice isn’t a great choice for long distances. If it’s not too long of a road home often times cooled quarters can be put in empty coolers. For a shorter road and meat that still needs cooling, ice blocks are best for less melting and shorter travel times.
If you’ve made it this far you’re almost there, but you’re still not out of the woods. The field butchering is done, but the meat isn’t going to pack itself back to camp much less into your freezer. Many variables can be in play but it’s important to factor things in. What’s the nearest vehicle/ATV access? How many are in your hunting party? How much weight and volume can you pack out per trip? How far are you from camp or your vehicle? What kind of terrain or obstacles are along your path? Are you in predator country? Will you need to take multiple trips? What is the weather and climate? What time of day is it? Will you need to leave some overnight and return in the morning? Can you keep meat cool while transporting it? Don’t forget area laws for providing proof of sex.
Ultimately, your packout plan will be different almost every time depending on these variables.
Nothing beats filling the freezer and providing fresh, pure game for the family. Especially having put in the effort for the hunt and the process. Before leaving for your hunt, having your systems dialed, proper cooling strategy, and a plan for packout will pay off when it comes to getting the most out of your game and onto your table.
Would you like to join Marc on a hunt for elk, bear, moose, or any of his other guided hunts?
Use this handy contact form to get in touch, or give Marc a call at 208-867-6675.