Huntingâ€™s popularity keeps growing. More than 11 million Americans went hunting with a rifle in 2015, according to the Outdoor Foundation. And nearly 9 million people went hunting with a shotgun, while nearly 4 million went bowhunting during that same period. Hunting can be a lot of fun, but the real work begins when itâ€™s time to pack out your game. Here are some tips and tools to help you with packing your big game trophy and getting your kill from the field to the butcher.
Packing Principle: Pack Light
A hunter whoâ€™s in good shape can carry between 50 and 70 pounds of dead weight, according to Petersenâ€™s Hunting. A large, fully-grown bull elk may yield as much of 300 pounds of meat, and depending on how far you are from your vehicle, you may have to haul your kill several miles over multiple trips. This makes packing light one of the most important principles for packing out game. In other words, donâ€™t bring along more than you need.
This includes not packing out parts of an animal that youâ€™re not going to use or eat. For instance, if you don’t plan to mount your game, you can remove hide and meat from the skull. And, if you only want to mount the antlers, you can cut the skull plate in half below them.
Following the principle of packing light, you’ll normally want to avoid carrying a huge knife or heavy saw. Fixed blades are more rugged and easier to clean, but can be less safe to carry than folding knives. So if you pack a fixed blade, make sure it has a good sheath. A safe knife should also have a finger stop or contour. A reasonably-sized, sharp, qualify knife with an all-weather sheath, like the Behring Made Pro LT, is a good choice. Make sure you also bring along a reliable knife sharpener, such as an ARC Carbide Sharpener.
Packs and Game Bags
Your backpack must be rugged enough to handle the load of meat youâ€™ll be carrying, plus whatever supplies youâ€™re already carrying. If youâ€™re camping while hunting and you need to carry a sleeping bag or tent, this means youâ€™ll need a bigger pack, such as a 4,700 cubic inch Badlands Summit backpack with AirTrack suspension and a polycarbonate frame.
Alternatively, if you want to carry a smaller or separate pack â€” and you donâ€™t mind making an extra hike back to your vehicle â€” you can store an external frame meat pack in your vehicle and retrieve it after youâ€™ve processed your animal and hung it to cool.
How you pack your backpack is important for comfort and safety. When filling your pack, keep your meat as close to your back as possible, but off the bottom of your pack so that you don’t feel unbalanced. Extra clothes and sleeping bags can go in the bottom of the pack, with smaller items in the outside pockets so you have room for your meat. To avoid getting blood in your pack, you can place meat in garbage bags. You should also carry quality game bags from a reputable brand like Caribou Gear. Game bags should be durable yet breathable, so that your game can cool off.
At this point, unless youâ€™re lucky enough to have pack horses or an ATV nearby, itâ€™s time to load your backpack and start hiking. You’ll probably need to take several trips if you’ve caught larger animals. Between trips, leave meat hanging at least 100 yards away from the carcass and out of any bearsâ€™ reach. Carry bear spray on your belt as a precaution.
When you get back to your vehicle, keep your meat cool by packing it in a cooler with some ice. A few pounds of dry ice, blocks of ice and some bags of crushed ice will provide ice for up to a week of camping. Last but not least, make sure your vehicle is equipped with good, quality tires that can handle the extra weight as you head home for your feast.