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Are You Ready for Success?

by Ed Migale

Everything has finally gelled.

You drew a reservation for a favorite property and secured a perfect campsite.

Come daybreak, the stalk is on. Suddenly, that large-racked buck or heavy-hammed hog is in view and -- after so many months of waiting – you make the shot. Now it is all over; the hunt has culminated in success.

Or has it?

The answer to that question will depend on how prepared you are for the minutes, hours, and – perhaps – days after making that decisive shot. That is because the full cycle of the hunt – stalking, killing, eating – cannot truly be completed until the animal is processed for consumption.

So how can you be prepared to cope with a downed big-game animal that may weigh as much – or more—than you? Following is the gear I’ve found to be essential when on a big-game hunting trip.

Day Pack Items

To start with, a razor sharp knife is essential. I carry two: one with a 4 ½” blade that does double duty for field dressing and as a survival knife and one with a shorter 3” blade and slip resistant handle with a pronounced finger guard which I use to cut away the animal’s innards from inside the abdominal cavity. The smaller blade is much more manoeuvrable in this delicate area.

Before starting to cut, I don a pair of thin, disposable latex gloves. The gloves keep my hands clean, and keep me from depositing any dirt inside the animal. (Remember to remove these from the field after use!) If hunting in warm weather I will carry a good quality cheese cloth game bag to discourage flies and bees should I have to leave an eviscerated animal for any length of time.

Should you knock down an animal at dusk, a small head lamp can be worth its weight in gold, as is a bright flashlight, compass and topographic map. Another invaluable item to carry in one’s pack are reflective trail markers. Marking a trail on the way back to the vehicle or camp with these makes re-locating the carcass much easier. Again, remember to remove these after use.

Last, but not least, are my hunting license, carcass tag with string or wire for attaching it to the animal for transport and a pen or pencil for filling out the tag.

Game Retrieval Gear

Yes, there are times when you can drive a vehicle right to your prize, but not often. In the overwhelming majority of cases, getting the carcass to the vehicle or back to camp requires physically moving all that dead weight overland. If you are not prepared, this strenuous task can be a real challenge at best, or downright dangerous at worst.

To make this part of the hunt easier, I have in my truck a wheeled game cart, a sled accompanied with a drag harness and a pack frame.

The cart I take on most trips is a two-wheeled, collapsible model that will take up to 250 lbs of dead weight and is easily maneuvered over modest terrain by one person. This is an excellent item for use over grazed land or on ranch roads that are off limits to motor vehicles. It is not, however, the best choice for brushy terrain, as one wheel always seem to catch low branches. A better choice in this scenario is a cart with just one wheel. Although highly maneuverable, the trade-off is that these are better suited to two person use.

An inexpensive child’s snow sled can be a real back saver, as they excel in dragging game across terrain that is impractical for cart use. I got mine at a yard sale for $1; it is about 48” L X 12” W X 4” D. One trick with these sleds is to modify them by rigging “laces” along the sides. Simply drill ¼” holes along the side rim every 4 to 6 inches, then run cord though the holes just like a shoe’s lace. The lacing will secure your prize.

The other trick with theses sleds is to use a drag harness for pulling power. These are available commercially and consist of shoulder straps and a tow rope that the hunter ties to the animal’s neck or base of the antlers, not to the sled. Last – and least desirable – is the pack frame. This is back-breaking work, but because it is sometimes the only way to get meat out, I always have my pack frame and meat bags in the truck.

Meat Handling

Once back at the truck and/or in camp, it is time to skin, cool and perhaps break-down the carcass. Here’s what I have on hand:

  • 100 quart ice chest with several blocks of ice. (I like to freeze one gallon water jugs filled about ¾ full of water to allow for expansion.)
  • Hoist, gambrel and rope for lifting the carcass off the ground.
  • Latex gloves; bone saw, skinning and boning knives.
  • Both canvas and good quality cheese cloth game bags. The canvas bags are for storing the meat while in transit from the ranch to home or the butcher while the cheesecloth bag is to allow maximum cooling if hanging in camp. If the weather is hot and you need to put the game in the ice chest, break it down into halves or quarters; place the pieces into the canvas bags, then place these in heavy duty garbage bags. This step along with the use of water jug/ice blocks keeps moisture off the meat.
  • Ground tarp and heavy duty garbage bags; don’t make -- or leave -- a mess in camp. Put the tarp beneath the work area and secure all animal matter to be disposed of in the garbage bags for a trip to the nearest trash receptacle.
  • Paper towels or clean cloth rags and water jug for clean-up. Several gallons of fresh water will enable you rinse out your prize’s body cavity, then wipe it down with towels. Don’t forget to save some water for a well-deserved clean-up of yourself, as well. After all that work, you’ll need it!

Finally, don’t forget to have the tag attached to the carcass and, if it is a deer, bear, wild sheep or elk, to have the tag validated as soon as possible by a person authorized per CDFG regulations. The report card portion of the tag must be returned to Fish & Game within the amount of time specified.

Ed Migale Articles

While big game, waterfowl, and upland game bird hunting, as well as saltwater fishing for the past two decades Ed Migale has had hundreds of articles published in national and regional publications and has received numerous writing awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of California. Ed has hunted and fished for over 40 years throughout California, as well as in five western states, three Canadian provinces, and in both mainland Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. In March of 2011 he called in and killed an Osceola gobbler in central Flroida, thus completing a ten-year quest to bag all five subspeciies of the wild turkey in North America — the "Royal Slam."

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