An elk hunt begins with anticipation and culminates with an unreal sense of anxiety and anticipation, as the bull comes in your sight while you are at full-draw. Then, in an instant, the arrow is gone. And so is the bull.
The silence of the mountains erupts as the bull flees, then crashes. After a moment it hits you – you just arrowed an elk. You wait a while, and then retrieve your arrow. The shaft is covered in bright blood, and you easily follow the bright, red trail. There he is, just 60 yards down the hillside!
Your scouting, practicing, and training have paid off. The “hunt” may be over now, but the real work is just beginning.
The bull is lying there, lifeless – 700 pounds of dead weight. How exactly do you get the meat to your freezer when you are 5 miles away from your truck, and your truck is 1,500 away from your freezer?
Maybe this is where your hunting guide takes over – he quarters the bull, brings in the horses, and gets everything back to camp for you. But if you are like me, a do-it-yourself hunter, then this job is also something that must be done on your own.
One of the most important logistical decisions that must be made in planning a backcountry, wilderness elk hunt, is how you are going to get the elk’s meat cooled and back to your freezer. There’s a myriad of factors to consider…
Are you hunting early season? How warm is it?
Are you hunting solo? How many loads will it take you to get the elk packed to your vehicle?
How far away is your vehicle? What is the terrain like?
How much can you handle? Are you really prepared to hike several, maybe dozens of mountain miles with 80-100lb loads?
Most importantly, can you get all of this done before the meat spoils?
Rotten meat doesn’t just ruin future dinners; it disgraces the majestic animal that deserves every ounce of respect.
Don’t wait to ask these questions after you’ve killed an elk. Don’t even wait until your hunt begins. These questions, every one of them (and likely more), need to be answered before you leave your home for the hunt.
The answers to these questions have many implications, and will determine how far away from the truck you can hunt, what time of day you should be willing to shoot an elk, and whether or not you need to have a packer lined up to get your bull safely out of the backcountry. (And if you do need a packer, how are you going to call him? Are you sure that cell service will be available?)
Do the Math
Realistically, you’ll need at least 3 trips to get an elk out of the backcountry. (Four loads are much more realistic if you’re packing your camp out, and you have a bull’s rack to carry as well.) Now, let’s say you’re backpack hunting and you shoot the bull four miles from your vehicle.
Load #1 – 100lbs, four miles to the truck, then back.
Load #2 – 100lbs, four miles to the truck, then back.
Load #3 – 100lbs, from the kill site to camp, break down and pack your camp, then back to the truck – at least four miles.
You’ll have to hike over 20 miles, much of which is with a 100lb pack. And don’t forget that all of this is in slow-going, mountainous terrain, with hundreds (if not thousands) of feet of elevation change.
What happens if you shoot an elk in the evening? Are you going to pack him out overnight? Will the meat cool quickly enough, and stay cool enough to wait until morning?
It goes without saying that packing an elk out of the backcountry is a physical feat. So, of course, training is important. But physical conditioning aside, I believe that preparing to haul an elk out requires acquiring the right gear, understanding proper technique, and a knowledge of what to do with the meat for certain conditions.
In the next few posts we’ll look at…
Proper Technique – How To Debone An Elk Using The Gutless Method
Proper Gear – Assembling a “Kill Kit” that contains everything you need to process an elk in the backcountry
Understanding the Variables – Meat care strategies for a variety of conditions.
I’m finalizing these posts, but please let me know if you have specific questions and I’ll try to cover them in this series.