Now that you’re properly geared up to pack out meat, we need to discuss strategy. First off, everyone develops their own approach to packing out meat, and factors like temperature, terrain and type of game can impact how they tackle it. Don’t be afraid to hone your approach based upon what you know and the lessons you learn along the way. At the end of the day if you pack out the meat successfully without injury or unnecessary fatigue, you’ve won. Will packing out meat in your backpack ever be easy? No probably not, but it’s part of the hunting process, and you should embrace it by streamlining and improving the task the best you can.
First and foremost you have to decide if you’re going to mount the animal before you do anything else. This decision will impact how you address the rest of the packing out process. You’ll need to cape the animal to get it ready for the taxidermist. In essence this involves starting with the front shoulders and skinning your way up around the neck. Depending on the animal, you can either take the full head to the taxidermist, or if weight is an issue, like in an elk for example, you can pull the entire cape off, cut a cap of the antlers, and pack it out that way. You should take extreme care to keep the hide you’re saving clean as you cape the animal. This will ensure a clean, good looking mount down the line. Once home, make sure to keep the cape as dry as possible and get it to the taxidermist quickly.
The next choice you’re presented with after the animal is down is whether to quarter or debone. This will depend on the distance you have to travel and whether or not you have help with you.
Quartering game requires separating the front shoulders and hind quarters from the body and packing the meat out while it is still on the bone. There is meat on the body as well, and it is either deboned and added to a game bag or packed out separately in addition to the quarters. Most find it is better to debone the ribcage, backstraps and tenderloin vs. packing it out. You’ll either do this after saving the cape, or get right to it if you’re not planning on mounting the game. A key difference in quartering involves the initial step of field dressing the game. Field dressing is the process of removing the internal organs of the animal, and this can help cool the meat before you quarter the animal.
The biggest drawback in quartering comes in the added weight of bone you have to pack out. If you’re packing out smaller game, this is less of an issue. But many hunters find that quartering and packing out larger game like elk and moose is backbreaking and simply impractical if you have any substantial distance to travel. Instead they prefer to debone the meat there on the spot.
It has become popular for hunters to debone larger game right on the spot instead of bothering to field dress it and quarter it. The advantage here is time, and instead of devoting precious minutes to field dressing, you can get right to taking the meat off the animal. You’ll essentially debone one side of the animal at a time, starting at either the front shoulders or the hind quarters. It is also possible to retrieve meat from the ribs of the animal and the back straps. The trickiest part is cutting out the tenderloin, which involves careful cutting as not to cut into the internal cavity / intestines.
Aside from the difficulty with the tenderloin, the biggest drawback to this method is the initial intimidation that comes with simply deboning from the start. Most of us are used to the method of field dressing first, and it takes some time to adapt. However several round trips with heavy quarters in your pack will convince you that this is the only practical way to pack out larger animals. You can pack out the deboned meat in game bags, and a quick and full deboning of the game will help the meat cool faster.
Whether you choose to quarter or debone the meat, you’ll want to hang it to cool before you make your first trip to the vehicle. Select a place that is in the shade and an area that has a decent breeze. Place the meat in a game bag to keep the insects off it, and hang it high enough so animals won’t tamper with it. Don’t forget to take note of your trail on the way out so you can find your way back to the meat on the return trip.
Hunting in bear country can complicate the packing process, especially since you need to keep a keen eye out all through the process. However, there are some steps you can take to ready yourself for an unwanted bear encounter.
It is extremely difficult to describe the full quartering or deboning process in words. We suggest you do some additional research and check out a few videos on the topic. If you’re a beginner, it never hurts to tag along with an experienced hunter to see the process first hand if you have the option. One last tip comes in hoisting your pack up. You’re going to have a bad time if you try to dead lift it off the ground onto your shoulders, especially if you have to do it 4-5 times. Instead find a launching point, be it a large tree, exposed rock, etc. Pack your meat into the pack on this launching point, and then turn around and strap your pack on this way. You’ll already be half way there when you stand up, making it far less stressful on your body and shoulders.
You’ll learn as you go when you pack your first animal out, but there’s no doubt the meat will taste that much better when you finally get it home.
Image one courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.