Backpack Hunt Gear List || After the shot: Field dressing & packing out

My backpack hunt gear list for big game is identical to my gear list for a normal backpacking trip with similar conditions, with the notable addition of hunting-specific items. In this five-post series I list and explain this extra clothing and equipment, and make them available for download.

Backpack Hunt Gear List: After the shot

For good reason, hunters often comment that, “The real work begins after pulling the trigger.” I can’t understate the effort involved in field dressing an animal and then packing out the meat (150-200 pounds for an elk), in addition to gear.

Hunt with a friend — you’ll be glad to have them along. Even if you both fill your tags and ultimately do the same amount of work as hunting solo, misery loves company. Plus, it’s safer.

Below I have detailed the hunting-specific gear that I use, followed by more in-depth explanations for select items.

  • Critical = A must-have, no exceptions
  • Suggested = A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
  • Optional = Not critical, but worth consideration
  • Depends = Contingent on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
  • Unnecessary = Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised
Equipment and supplies for field dressing and packing out big game

Equipment and supplies for field dressing and packing out big game

Marking tape

Ideally, a shot animal drops in its tracks. But that’s often not the case: sometimes they run for 30 yards, sometimes for 3 miles. Marking tape can be helpful in highlighting signs of an injured animal (e.g. hair, blood, tracks) rather than trying to remember the location of those signs in dense vegetation or relocate the signs in the dark.

Some tape will break down over time when exposed to sunlight (“photodegradable”). As an LNT issue, this would be the second best scenario, behind retracing steps and collecting them after finding the game.

Cutting tools

To field dress my cow elk last year, I used a traditional folding knife, the Outdoor Edge GL-10, while Noel had a Havalon Piranta with replaceable blades. Mine was classic and cost-effective, but his was fast and fuss-free. I was sold, and bought the Outdoor Edge Razor-Lite when I returned home.

Buy a knife with a blaze orange handle. When hidden among animal parts and vegetative understory, it will be much easier to find than a black or camo version.

A guthook cuts quickly through thick skin, and saves the knife edge for softer meat and issue. But it’s unnecessary — a knife works, too. If you really want a guthook, consider a combined model like the Outdoor Edge Razor Pro, which is lighter and less expensive than a seperate knife and guthook of similar quality.

The gutless method does not call for a bone saw, so I don’t carry one. But it may be useful or critical for other field dressing techniques.

Ground cloth

Dirt, forest duff, and hair can be cleaned off the meat later, but avoid the extra work by keeping clean the meat while field dressing. I’ve seen suggestions to use the animal’s cape, but found that it’s not:

  • Clean, since it gets stepped on and since it rolls around in the dirt and duff;
  • Reliable, since the animal must be flipped to its other side; or,
  • Big enough for two people, or maybe even one person who needs some working space to debone quarters.

A groundsheet made of coated nylon or window shrink film (aka Polycryo) is ultralight, but also ultra slick and wind-prone. This time I plan to use a cotton bedsheet. It is heavier, but it won’t be Teflon when I spread it on the ground or when I put meat on it.

Packing out

To be properly equipped for the pack-out, one must envision how it will unfold. Last year Noel and I knew it would be straightforward: if we were successful, we would field dress it, carry it out five miles to the car over dry ground or through shallow snow, and drive 90 minutes home. If we had time and energy, we could drive back up in order to fill another tag.

The equipment list was simple: cloth game bags to store the meat, and plastic pack liners to prevent bloodying of the pack or other gear.

Cloth game bags are heavier than coated nylon stuff sacks, but they are less slick, more tear-resistant, and absorbent. They are also breathable, which is critical if the meat must be stored for a few days before processing. The Alaska Game Bags seem to be the standard, but they are not inexpensive, lightweight, or compact. I wonder if a handful of pillow cases from Goodwill (cleaned) would be better.

Pack liners need to be tough — last year a 1-mm bag split inside my pack, allowing blood to soak through the pack bottom and drip on the trail and my pant legs. A gross rookie mistake. Instead, use 2-mm trash compactor bags or 3-mm contractor bags. If the “fresh scent” of the trash compactor bag bothers you, let them air out for a few weeks before use.

This year I am hunting several hours away, making it impractical to swing by the house to drop off meat. If we were to harvest an animal early in our hunt, we would need to keep it cool and protected while we continued the hunt. We’ll again use cloth game bags and 2-mm pack liners, but we’ll bring cordage in order to suspend the meat bags in trees.

The Paris Company Expedition Sled or similar could be extremely helpful in packing out meat. Especially in deep snow, it would be easier and safer than carrying it out on our backs. But there is the issue of where to keep the sled while we’re hunting. I don’t want to be carrying it around through the woods, and we don’t have a base camp where we can stash it. Leaving it at the car seems like the best option, but it’s of limited help if kept there.

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4 Responses to Backpack Hunt Gear List || After the shot: Field dressing & packing out

  1. Lewis Martin November 1, 2016 at 9:22 am #

    Hi Andrew,

    Have you ever come across TAG Bags? They are a synthetic game bag that I think is a superior choice over cotton.

    • Andrew Skurka November 1, 2016 at 11:20 am #

      No, I had not. Thanks for pointing them out.

      Why do you prefer the nylon over the cotton? Less absorbent, lighter, more durable, easier to clean?

  2. Doug K November 1, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    I had rigged a hardware-store sled similar to the Paris sled with a harness and waistbelt, used for packing in to a winter camp with stove and canvas tent. We left this in the car, figuring that on the first pack-out we’d carry backpack gear and the prime cuts of meat, then go back with the sled to pick up the remaining quarters. Turned out we didn’t get to use the sled ;-< but think it would have worked.

  3. Simon March 16, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

    Kuiu makes a game bag with handles on it. Those guys definitely have it down when it comes to stalking and packing out game.

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