We've all said it, 'the real work doesn’t begin until after the animal is on the ground'. But that work can be made a little easier if you follow some of our tips below; train, get a quality pack, keep the meat clean.
TRAIN. One of the best decisions you can make is to train preseason. Training will enhance your strength, endurance, health, and state of mind resulting in a more comfortable pack out and recovery.
Most individuals are not physically prepared specifically for a heavy pack. Preparing yourself for the task of packing out an elk is different than moving weight in the gym. A focused training program such as MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab will prepare you for a better hunting season and pack out experience.
“Training allows an individual to operate at a sub maximal level. Meaning you are not overexerting yourself. This is important as it will help prevent injury. You have the ability to catch yourself if you lose balance or stumble”, says Dustin Diefenderfer, the creator of MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab. Dustin says “alot of people get hurt because they are under trained for packing out elk. Those who don’t train typically run at redline which reduces their reaction time resulting in injury. With a heavy load they physically are not able to respond or react quickly enough to prevent injury.”
Training also improves your mental toughness. Negative thoughts compound themselves. If you have a rough go through your first round of several trips, it becomes exponentially more difficult to find the motivation to head back in for another lap.
One should begin training 12 to 16 weeks before the season opens. There are several resources out there but we encourage you to check out Mountain Tough.
GET A QUALITY PACK. Too many of us have grown up under the impression that packing out meat has to be uncomfortable. That’s not really the case. Getting a load carrying specific pack is step one. Not all packs are created equal and this is where you get what you pay for. We suggest a pack with a load carrying shelf such as Stone Glacier or Mystery Ranch. The load carrying shelf combined with a sturdy frame/suspension system will greatly reduce the pain points that are left from less technical Back Packs.
Step two is fitting the pack to your back. This is more than just tightening up straps. Everyone is different. Make sure to understand your Torso measurement (Measurement between your iliac crest and C7 vertebra) to ensure you get the correct size. Most high quality packs allow you to adjust the Torso measurement. Once you have the shoulder strap placement correct, load it with about 50lbs of weight at home. Play around by loosening or tightening the shoulder straps, load stabilizing straps (located above your shoulders), and adjusting where the hip belt sits on your waist. You will notice the weight shifting from your hips to your shoulders as you make adjustments. Find the spot that evenly distributes the weight between your hips and shoulders the way you prefer it. For me, my hips can bear the burden better so I typically loosen my load stabilizer straps slightly which puts more weight on my hips. If they get sore, I tighten them up and go. Find what works best for you and the next pack out will be far more comfortable.
Below is a great video provided by our Partners at Stone Glacier that will walk you through how to properly fit a pack.
KEEP IT CLEAN. The objective is ultimately meat in the freezer so keeping it clean and dry should be something you focus on. Conditions in the field are typically less than ideal but here are a few ways to make sure you keep your meat clean and dry.
Keep the hide on. Due to heat or distance keeping the hide on isn't always a possibility but as often as I can, I try to leave the hide on the quarters. This ultimately keeps your meat clean and dry from rain or snow. Yes, leaving the hide on is more weight to pack but strategically a better decision if you plan to process the meat yourself. It gives you some time to work the meat and prevents any ‘bark’ from developing on the outside of aging meat. There is a lot of waste when you have to cut off that bark. So leaving the hide on will protect the meat, save you time processing, and put more meat in your freezer.
Bag it. You should always have the right size and quantity of Game Bags with you. There are many on the market and range from re-usable to antimicrobial. Pick which works best for you. Keep in mind that just because it’s in a bag you still need to keep the meat from water. And while thinking about keeping it dry, you do not want to store you meat in a stuff sack or dry bag. The meat needs some air circulation or it will spoil. The best way to keep it dry is to use a pack tarp or an emergency blanket tossed over the hanging quarters.
Be strategic. A great way to protect your meat while quartering or deboning it is to create basically a floor mat out of the hide. Work one side at a time skinning the hide back from the belly to the backstrap. I prefer to half the hide between the front quarter and the hind quarter if I am utilizing this technique. Makes handling easier. With the hide flat on the ground you can remove the quarters with minimal hair or debris contamination. Get the backstrap last and move onto the other side.
These principles will save you time, energy, and meat after the harvest of an animal in the back country.