Packing Out an Elk
A good friend of mine, Rob Bean, and I have been talking about an early season elk hunt this year, and if things work out we will be going in two weeks. I am not sure if I will be able to make that trip yet, it is dependent upon some other things going on in my life, but I really hope I can make that trip. It is doubtful for me at this time because before I take any trips into the wilderness I need to go back to Kansas to see my Dad, and there are some other factors that I am trying to figure out.
Regardless, Rob and I have been talking about the trip, and I have been giving him some information on the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area where I hunted for 15 years before I started going to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. I did go to Sarvis Creek a couple of years ago, you can read about that by clicking here. I really hope things work out so that I can go back there again this year, but at this point there are too many things up in the air, and I don’t know how it is going to turn out.
One of the things Rob asked me about was packing out an elk, and I realized that I have not written an article specifically about that topic. The Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area is where I packed out my first elk, and many others, on my back. I remember one of the first trips I took to that area with some fellow airmen when I was in the Air Force. The place we camped was a six mile hike in, up some monster steep inclines, and we took everything we needed for a week or more on our backs. Luckily where we camped there was a natural water spring, so we didn’t have to pack water, but everything else we needed was put into a back pack and carried up the mountain. That also meant that everything we harvested had to be taken out on our backs.
One year on the first day of hunting, two guys harvested elk; one a mile away from camp, and the other about a half mile away from camp and in a very deep ravine, and both were farther away from the trail head, not towards it. So we spent the next two days doing nothing but packing out elk meat, and while it is not a fun chore, it is part of the hunt. Here are some tips for packing out an elk from the wilderness.
Most important is to be prepared while you are hunting; that means having game bags, para cord, and the necessary cutting tools with you at all times. It also means having trail tape and a GPS or compass and map with you to mark the blood trail and the final resting place of the animal. In addition, you should always have the food and shelter that you may need in case you have to spend the night out.
The thrill of harvesting an elk is beyond description, especially if you do it on your own during the archery season in a remote wilderness area. But once you have the animal down, the real work begins. If you have access to an outfitter with horses to bring the animal out, that helps, but the steps to prepare an elk to pack out are basically the same. The main difference is if you have horses, you can quarter the elk without boning it. But if you are carrying the elk out, you will want to remove all of the meat from the bones, which takes quite a bit more effort. You don’t have to do this if you are willing to haul the extra weight, because it is going to take you multiple trips whether you bone the meat or not. If you bone the meat, you can reduce your trips by two, but you will also spend a lot of time boning the meat. I prefer to pack out the animal in quarters.
Either way, once you process the animal, it is important to get the meat that you are not able to pack out hung high in a tree. You need to put the meat into a game bag to protect it from flies, secure the game bag opening with para cord, and hang the meat as high as you can to keep bears, coyotes, and other animals from getting to your harvest. Find a tall pine tree in a shaded area, (that will be in the shade all day) and roll over a tree stump, log, or something else that can give you a few more feet of elevation to hang the meat. Then tie the game bags as high from the ground as you can, and put a few strips of trail tape on the tree branches so that you can locate them on your return trips.
Assuming you are alone, for a typical elk, you can expect to take four trips with a back pack; one for each quarter and an extra heavy load when you carry the back straps and rib meat. If you want to take the hide and rack, add an extra trip. I highly recommend that you utilize the hide and skin the elk accordingly, so plan on five trips with your back pack to get an elk out of the woods. This is really something to take into consideration on your trip planning; sometimes it can take two days to pack out an elk, depending on where you harvest it and where your camp is located. If you get an elk close to camp, obviously it will not take as long, but I have never harvested an elk close to camp.
The main ingredient to this situation is the pack you hunt with, and I wrote a very good article about this topic, which you can read by clicking here. The basic point of that article is to select a pack that feels like a day pack when you are hunting, but performs as a meat pack once you have harvested an animal. I highly recommend the Blacks Creek Answer Pack, or the Badlands Sacrifice Pack. I have both of them and I have used them in wilderness hunting situations. They both work very well as a pack that performs like a day pack, yet allows you to pack out an elk quarter when needed. I can’t stress this point enough; the last thing you want to do is process your elk and then have to walk back to camp to get a pack to take the meat out, that’s an extra trip for you. You have to be able to take a load of meat at the time of the harvest. Of course if you have pre-arranged with an outfitter to pack your elk out, that doesn’t matter, but you still have to get the meat high off the ground at the time of harvest, so be prepared for that.
For experienced elk hunters, you know what I am talking about with the “extra trip,” sometimes that trip can be miles over brutal terrain. On one elk hunt, before I learned that concept, I was two miles away from camp when I got an elk down in a very nasty blow down area on a steep slope. I had a day pack with me with the supplies to process the elk and spend the night there, but no capability to carry any of the elk back to the base camp the next day. It was a miserable hike back to camp that day just to get a frame pack so that I could begin the process of getting that elk off of the mountain.
So now I hunt with a pack that not only allows me to have the survival items that I need, a pack that is light and agile, but is also able to haul a load of meat when needed. Yes, the pack might weigh a little more, but not much, and it allows me to have all that I need, as well as the ability to bring some meat back to camp.
One week until archery season!