When the subject of big game hunting comes up, you always hear, “The work does not begin until you get one on the ground”. While this is a very true statement, you can take steps to make the meat handling process a little less daunting. Unfortunately, I can’t give you many tips to lighten the load of those heavy packs, but I do want to remind you to stop in the moment, give thanks and be grateful you are coming out heavy. In most areas, with archery anyway, this achievement puts you in the top 10%.
A Big Game Kill Kit sounds simple enough, and for the most part it is. But doing it right is not as easy as throwing your meat in some cheese cloth or old pillow cases. With that said, I have to admit, that’s exactly how I hauled out my first elk. Yes, it got the job done, but barely. So many great improvements have been made to this process, and you should take advantage of them. To me, it comes down to one simple fact. I want to bring out as much pure organic meat as possible. Being prepared with a comprehensive kill kit will make your life much easier during the exciting time after the kill.
If you don’t wear cotton when you hunt, why would you trust your meat wrapped or worse yet, hung in it? Cotton stays wet, it stretches and leaves gaps for flies to get in your meat. This spells doom for your hard earned meat. For time’s sake, let’s forgo the science and testing and call it “No” to using cotton or cheese cloth type bags for your meat.
I’m not going to get into actual game bag reviews with this specific article, but you do want to look for a synthetic, fast drying, light weight, tightly woven game bag that is tough and hang proven. When you find bags that meet those requirements you are a long way towards the goal. Personally, I use both T.A.G and Caribou Game Bags. I find T.A.G bags are better for boned out meat. I end up doing a lot of solo hunting, so this usually means I’m deboning my big game animals in the field. I like Caribou Game Bags for bone-in full size quarter pack outs. The Caribou Bags are much softer, and I have been known to use a Caribou bag stuffed with some extra clothes as my pillow at night. Dual purpose backcountry items go a long way with me. Both of these bags, however, clean up like new and are ready for the next trip. I packed three elk and a deer in my game bag sets this year, and they both look as good as new.
Ten Must Have Items In Your Kill Kit
To start with, I like to keep most of my kill kit items in a light weight drawstring stuff sack. I’ve also used one of the small game bags that comes as part of most bag sets. I will say this up front. I’m super picky when it comes to meat handling. I process my own meat and my family loves wild game. I want to do everything possible to maximize and protect the meat I harvest during my hunting adventures. I take a lot of pride in the wild game meat I serve to my family and friends
1. Cotton versus Synthetic Bags -If you don’t wear cotton when you hunt, why would you trust your meat wrapped or worse yet, hung in it? Cotton stays wet, it stretches and leaves gaps for flies to get in your meat. This spells doom for your hard earned meat. For time’s sake, let’s forgo the science and testing and call it “No” to using cotton or cheese cloth type bags for your meat.
I’m not going to get into actual game bag reviews with this specific article, but you do want to look for a synthetic, fast drying, light weight, tightly woven game bag that is tough and hang proven. When you find bags that meet those requirements you are a long way towards the goal. Personally, I use both T.A.G Bomb and Caribou Game Bags. I find T.A.G bags are better for boned out meat. I end up doing a lot of solo hunting, so this usually means I’m deboning my big game animals in the field. I like Caribou Game Bags for bone-in full size quarter pack outs. The Caribou Bags are much softer, and I have been known to use a Caribou bag stuffed with some extra clothes as my pillow at night. Dual purpose backcountry items go a long way with me. Both of these bags, however, clean up like new and are ready for the next trip. I packed three elk and a deer in my game bag sets this year, and they both look as good as new.
2. Ground Cloth – I can’t say enough about this often overlooked item. Unless you’re better than most hunters, you can’t choose where your elk will expire. In my experience, it’s rarely in the perfect spot. Dirt, sand, pine needles and hair can be a real problem. You have worked your butt off to get this animal on the ground. Surely, you want your meat to come out in the best shape possible?
Dirty meat usually ends up as wasted meat when you have it processed or even if you process it yourself. A ground cloth gives you a large clean working space where you can organize and place your quarters and meat sections before deboning and placing them into game bags. I prefer to use the gutless method when I’m working up big game animals. If you are unfamiliar with this process, you need to learn how to do it. It’s not that tough, and there are several great YouTube videos available. Jay Scott, Corey Jacobson and Randy Newberg all have good gutless method videos available.
Personally, I like to complete the entire skinning, quartering and hide handling process before I begin to debone or clean up the quarters and meat sections. I think this tactic dramatically reduces hair and contamination issues. To accomplish this, you need a place to organize your meat. It always seems tough to find a clean place in the field. Yes, if you’re a minimalist, you can use a cut open trash bag. I have done that, but I’ve found I like a tougher and larger space to spread out and work.
I prefer a cheap, lightweight tarp. I use my Kifaru Sheep Tarp that I carry almost all the time. On my Wyoming hunt this year, one of our guys brought some white construction Tyvek. It was noisy for sure, but it worked great. It was packable, crazy light, and we could cut it to fit our needs. At the kill site, I try hard to find an old, dry, and debarked log to process or debone meat on. We used a section of Tyvek to cover the log and that gave us an even cleaner cutting area. This may sound like overkill, but it makes a big difference when you get home and start processing.
3. Knife and Knife Blades – This year, I made the switch to interchangeable blades. I won’t be going back anytime soon. A sharp knife is an efficient and fast working knife. I know they can be dangerous and you certainly have to be extremely careful. Personally, I think a dull knife, when you are working hard and pushing it through, can be equally or even more dangerous.
I’m using the Outdoor Edge Razor-Lite knife. I like it for a lot of reasons, but ultimately it seems to be more robust and beefier than many of the other options. The blades are also easy to replace in the field, and I have yet to break one under any circumstance. I use this knife for everything while hunting. I do recommend getting the bright orange version. About 50% of the time you will end up working an elk up in the dark and the orange does help. This can be especially true when solo hunting. When solo, I highly recommend carrying two knives for meat processing and for safety. My first hunt this year was a solo trip in Montana. I put my knife down while working on my elk and simply could not find it again. (It wasn’t orange!) If you are processing an elk solo, you will have to put your knife down a lot. Luckily, I had a backup knife of the same brand, and I was back in business.
Losing or misplacing your knife could lead to spoiled meat or an extra trip to the truck. Neither scenario is worth the weight of carrying a spare. When hunting with a partners, I don’t worry as much about a backup knife. I never keep my main knife in my kill kit. I do keep extra blades (at least three) and my backup knife in the kit. I also keep an extra blade or two in my emergency kit. If you’re working hard to get all the meat possible off the bone, you will dull a knife blade much quicker than you might think.
4. Lightweight Trash Bags – You need the heavy duty construction type bags. They are actually quite heavy and only serve to weigh down your kill kit and ultimately your backpack. I put in two of the lightest large bags I can find. Remember, you will have your meat in game bags, the trash bags are simply to keep blood off you and your pack. You NEVER want to store or hang you meat in trash bags. The meat needs as much air as possible. Meat in trash bags will spoil at a very rapid rate. I use the bags strictly to transport my game bags as a protection from the blood. This can be vitally important if you’re hunting in bear, especially grizzly, country. The last thing you want is a bloody pack, and worse yet, bloody clothes hanging around camp. Bloody clothes may seem like a badge of honor, but you might as well be ringing the dinner bell in griz country. I know lots of guys don’t worry much about bears. The attack incidents are rare enough that sometimes is seems like it could never happen to you. But, if it does, it can get very ugly, very fast.
5. Small Towel or Wash Cloth – I actually tuck this cloth in my front pocket or in my underwear waist band. I use this cloth to wipe hair off my gloves and knife as needed. It helps to keep my clothes cleaner for the same reasons mentioned above. I live in Montana now and it seems I’m always hunting in grizzly areas. This is going to sound strange at first, but if the weather permits, I will actually strip down to my underwear shorts and boots before I start to work on my big game. I’m not doing this to show off my 50 year-old hunting physique, but to keep my hunting clothes free from as much blood and smell as possible. Even with the gutless method, you can end up with a lot of blood, fluids and meat smell on you. On my trip to Wyoming this year, I saw three grizzlies in the first 24 hours of a 8-day hunt. It’s a real issue these days and worth paying attention to.
6. Wet Wipes – I know they add a little weight, but again in bear country you should be taking all the precautions you can. Since most of the time I’m practically naked while working up big game animals, I use wet wipes to clean up after. Plus, they just make you feel better. It’s all positive and I reduce my worries about sleeping in a tent completely covered in blood. Notice I said reduce. Bears have an amazing sense of smell. You can’t totally eliminate the threat.
7. Nitrile Gloves – Nitrile or Latex gloves are pretty standard and obvious. I usually include a couple pairs. They always seem to get ripped and the second pair always seems to come in handy.
8. Pack Saw or No Saw – I ran into this problem on my third hunt this past season. I killed a 5-point bull and I wanted to keep the horns, but was not planning to mount the skull. There were only two of us and we had a 4+ mile pack out on day one of our trip. We had a heck of a time sawing the skull plate off with the tiny pack saw I was carrying. I have since upgraded to a decent, but still lightweight foldable saw. Those skull plates are tough business. This saw will makes the work much easier. A folding saw is worth the extra ounces. It seems I’m always using mine in the backcountry.
9. 550 Paracord – I almost always carry 75+ feet. When you start hanging game bags, high enough to keep bears off your meat, you may be surprised how much cord it takes. I think anything less and you could be asking for trouble. Again, this is especially the case while solo hunting. You will have to leave and hang more meat. It seems you need paracord for everything, so I don’t skimp here. A couple zip ties can go a long way when hanging meat too. I keep some cord in my pack and some cord in my kill kit.
10. Marking Tape – I don’t carry much. I like to use extra toilet paper when tracking. I don’t like leaving that orange stuff around. I always try to get it all down before I pack out. I hate seeing that stuff in the woods. GPS units are so accurate these days that I think marking tape is pretty useless.
I do not put my tags/licenses or my main knife in my kill kit. I know a lot of guys who do. I prefer to keep all my tags in a ziplock, in a special pocket in my backpack or bino harness. I could end up using my kill kit to help someone else in my group or I may not take my kill kit if my partner has his. I know I will always have my backpack or bino harness with me at all times.
When I’m hunting with partners and we’re going to be hunting and working together we usually carry one large kill kit between us. Even if we do, by miracle, kill two animals on the same day, we can usually make one kill kit work until we can get back to the truck and return for the next load. We take this same sharing approach when we split up and carry in our Tipi and stove. It makes the hunting so much more comfortable and no more weight per person. In the end, when it’s all done, and you are home with your family enjoying the fruit of your labor, you will be glad you took the few extra steps to bring out the best and most meat possible.
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