By Mike Willis
Last week, we covered the items needed for an elk hunting day pack. The day pack provides you with all of the necessary gear to hunt elk. However, once that elk is on the ground, the mission changes. After field dressing the elk, it’s time to ditch that day pack back at the truck and exchange it for the pack frame (AKA meat pack).
Your meat pack should have a quality, rigid frame. Pack frames can be purchased separately or with an actual backpack that attaches to the frame. I only use the backpack portion when on expedition hunts. During these hunts, there is no returning to the truck; these are fly-in or float-in hunts. For most other hunting circumstances, the frame alone will serve you well and can be purchased for $50-$100.
To carry your gear, just put it all in a trash bag and store it on the meat shelf (bottom part of the meat pack that your elk quarters rest on). Another way to transport your gear on the pack frame is to attach a small pouch containing everything but the game bags. The game bags just get stored on the meat shelf.
While there are soft packs and internal-frame packs available, I dislike using these as I feel they don’t hold quarters as securely. I also don’t like putting stuff that is bleeding in an actual backpack — it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Now that you know what kind of meat pack to get, start making your gear list. Having a list of items beforehand will save you from forgetting important supplies on game day. Before leaving your truck, toss the following gear in your meat pack:
You will need a good knife to finish quartering the elk when you return with the pack frame and game bags. I like to carry a couple of knives. I keep one that is razor-sharp and another for the dirty work, such as splitting the rib cage or separating bones at the joints.
Havalon Hunting Knives are excellent knives. I use my Havalon for any “detail work.” These knives are EXTREMELY sharp, so toss a couple of Band-Aids or a tourniquet in your pack along with your knife.
Paracord is an awesome universal tool. It is always a great idea to keep some of this cord in your pack. I use paracord for hanging elk quarters in game bags, tying an elk leg back while attempting to quarter it alone, and lashing meat or antlers to my pack frame. Other cool uses for
paracord in a survival situation include stringing food up out of reach of bears, replacing a broken bootlace, emergency clothesline, making shelter, starting a fire, survival bowstring, and an emergency trapping snare.
Unless you plan on eating your elk on the mountain, toss some game bags in your meat pack. Game bags will keep your meat clean and dry. The game bags breathe, which aids in the cooling process. There are some considerations for which game bags to use for your hunt. For more information on game bags, check out the following GAW article.
Don’t forget to take your GPS out of your day pack. In the excitement of getting an elk and phoning for help, it can be easy to forget things. The GPS is going to help communicate coordinates to friends to help pack meat. The GPS is also very important for keeping you from losing your elk or truck.
Packing an elk out of the woods is rewarding and exhausting. Make sure to toss a water bottle in your pack. Having a means of getting more water in the field is also a good idea. Lightweight filters ensure that you maintain access to safe drinking water as you pack meat all day and into the night.
The flashlight is easy to forget when you head into the woods during daylight hours. Make sure that this item makes it on your gear list so that you don’t ruin some volunteer search and rescue guys’ Saturday night.
Most of the time, there is no need to continue lugging your rifle around. A good sidearm will be sufficient for packing meat. It is much easier to bust brush and slide down steep hillsides without your longarm. Many hunters insist on carrying their rifles, “just in case they see something.” If you want to ensure that no one ever shows up to help you pack an elk again, shoot a doe in the middle of them helping you.
Now that you have your day pack and meat pack dialed in, you’re ready to go get that elk!