Packing Out: What You Need to Know
Bowhunting’s best spots are often far from any road or parking lot. Although hiking over a mile to a favorite treestand is rare among whitetail hunters, elk or bear hunters regularly trek even deeper into the backcountry.
So what happens when bowhunters arrow their quarry, and need to pack it out of remote locations alone? That seems like a daunting task, but if you divide your animal into parts — a system called “quartering” — it isn’t an overwhelming task.
But first, you must have the right tools to do the job quickly and efficiently. Quartering an animal requires far more cutting than basic field dressing, which makes your knife the most important tool in your pack. A sharp knife helps you work faster and make precise cuts to ensure you don’t waste meat. Knives with replaceable blades work great because when the blade dulls you simply replace it with a new blade and resume cutting.
If your favorite knife has a fixed blade, keep a sharpener in your pack. As you dull your blade by removing the hide, scraping bones and slicing meat, you don’t want to be without a sharpener or replaceable blades, especially when far from your vehicle.
Keep it Clean
After deboning the meat, you must keep it clean. Game bags take up little space in your pack, and save you lots of time by keeping leaves and debris off your meat before preparing it for the grill or freezer.
Heavy-duty garbage bags also help because you can pack them with meat and cool everything in a stream or lake without exposing the meat to water and bacteria. If you use a garbage bag, however, do not use scented varieties designed for garbage cans. Use regular bags that are not treated with chemicals that could ruin the meat’s flavor.
Carry a Quality Pack
You’ll also need a quality frame pack before hunting the backcountry. You’ll find countless models on the market, but keep weight and quality in mind when bowhunting remote locations. Every ounce adds up, so look for a lightweight pack with a stiff frame and lots of buckle straps. Strong pack straps attach your gear and animal parts for the pack-out.
Get to Work
With your tools in order, you need to know basic butchering skills to quarter your kill. After field dressing your animal, start removing its hide by separating its legs at the knee. Simply cut the hide around the joint and separate the tendons that hold everything together. Next, run your knife toward the animal’s midsection and begin working the hide off its chest, shoulders, sides and hindquarters. If you plan to mount your animal, leave plenty of extra hide on the cape to make the taxidermist’s work a bit easier.
After removing the hide and head, begin disassembling the animal into parts. The sections holding the most meat are the rump, rear legs, and front legs and shoulders. But before working on those sections, remove the backstraps, which are perhaps the animal’s most delectable parts. They parallel both sides of the spine.
To remove the backstraps, make a cut perpendicular to the spine just behind the shoulders and another just above the hips. Starting at the top, run your knife parallel to the spine down to the lower perpendicular cut. Next, move your knife about 4 to 6 inches over and parallel your first cut, removing the backstrap as you go from the upper bones of the rib cage and short ribs.
Now work on the shoulders. Lift the lower leg high with one hand or braced atop your shoulder, and cut the connective tissues and muscles between the upper leg/shoulder and the body. No joints connect the front shoulder to the body. All deboning work can be done with a knife. You won’t need a saw to cut through bone.
After removing the shoulders and upper legs, wrap them individually in a game bag to keep the meat clean. Unless it’s an elk or moose and you’re a long ways in, don’t worry about removing meat from the shoulders and rear legs. That can wait till you’re home.
To remove the rump and rear legs, start cutting just above the hips and work your knife down to the ball joint. Rear legs require more cutting because they carry more meat than the shoulders. Take your time and follow the hip bone’s contour to the ball joint, where you’ll slice through the tendons connecting the joint to the inner hip. Each leg will eventually separate from the carcass. Wrap them individually in game bags.
At this point the carcass holds only ribs, neck meat and the spinal cord. You’re almost done, but be sure to take that rib meat! It’s easily removed by cutting around the ribs’ contours, similar to filleting a fish. And don’t forsake the tenderloins, which lie behind the rib cage, paralleling the spinal cord from beneath on both sides. They’re quickly removed by cutting behind them and pulling them away from the carcass. Although small compared to the rest of the animal, rib meat and tenderloins make exquisite grilled meals.
You’re now ready to attach those quarters, hide and bagged meat to your pack for a triumphant hike back to your vehicle. It’s true that the real work begins after you release your arrow, but a long walk with a heavy pack is a small price to pay for a freezer full of healthy, delicious, organic meat.