Fall is arriving quickly in Colorado. Snowfall is sticking on high and northerly aspects. My last ultra marathon of the season is on Saturday. Of course, the days are shorter, the leaves have turned, and my raised beds are no longer producing. And, finally, I’m also dusting off my hunting equipment for the upcoming big game season.
Last year I had my first successful hunt. I think about that cow elk everytime that I dig into my chest freezer, which is nearly empty after 11.5 months of elk chili, elk burgers, elk brats, and elk roasts.
To improve my odds of refilling my freezer, I looked back at the notes that I had typed up after last year’s hunt. Reflections on GMU 29 and 371 I shared earlier; here are the others:
It was more enjoyable to start very early on Saturday morning than to camp out on Friday night, as we’d done in the past. We were able to do last-minute prep in the comforts of a warm house or vehicle. And it gave us a little bit of extra time to prepare, rather than laying in the dark for 13 hours.
Both of our (new) knives had to be sharpened while field-dressing and deboning the elk. This is a skill, and difficult to do with a dirty knife. So that I can avoid this fuss and so that I can always have a sharp blade, afterwards I bought an Outdoor Edge Razor-Lite with replaceable blades.
Cotton meat bags seemed more user-friendly than nylon meat bags. They were less slick. They allowed fresh air to reach the meat. They absorbed blood, reducing the volume of liquid flowing around. And they could be easily cut in half and re-tied, to make the load more manageable.
If there will not be snow on which to place the meat, pack a cotton bedsheet so that the meat can be kept off the ground and thus clean. The animal’s cape can be used for this purpose, too. However, the cape is in your working space and it tends to get contaminated by dirt and hair.
Keep meat bags inside of heavy-duty 2-mil trash compactor bags or 3-mil contractor bags to contain blood while packing them out. Otherwise, the blood may stain other equipment and/or soak through the pack fabric.
In regards to sizing, I normally use a 20-gallon bag when lining a medium-sized 3-season backpack. A large-volume hunting pack would take multiple 20-gallon bags or one 42-gallon bag. These bags need to be in addition to the bags used to waterproof your gear.
Develop multiple hunting plans in your GMU so that you can react to the weather and to changes in seasonal patterns, e.g. a late rut. Thankfully, we were able to go with our highest-odds plan because the weather forecast was ideal, if a bit hot.
Trail cameras are revolutionary: they add observation data to a hunting plan with a minimal investment of time.
Splitting up has obvious advantages and disadvantages. You cover more ground, but you risk missing a herd. Also, rendezvousing can be messy unless you have a very clear plan.
Our two-way radios were worthless, and we were unable to get messages to each other through the interference. I would expect better performance when further away from the heavily populated Front Range.
Immediately prior to firing my rifle, I had the same feelings as just before a cliff jump. There are good reasons to hesitate, but it will be okay — just for it.
Even though the odds are against you, have a plan for butchering and processing if you get one. Have coolers in the truck. If you will use a butcher, know their address and hours. If not, have DIY equipment ready to go, not sitting in your Amazon cart.
The process felt very natural and intuitive. I’m not exactly sure why: Was it because I watched field-dressing videos on YouTube, because I have some basic anatomy knowledge, or because humans have been butchering animals for hundreds of thousands of years? Maybe it was a little bit of all of those things.
We used the gutless method and were happy with it. It only has one crux cut: the tenderloins.
As time wears on, butchering seems to become more difficult. You get tired. There are fewer big cuts of meat. And you lack landmarks (e.g. quarters) to help navigate the meat areas.
An evening kill would be hard. You’re tired by dark anyway, and then you must complete in the dark a monstrous task.
Magpies arrived on the scene within 30 minutes. We felt confident that none of the animal would go to waste.
After the kill, settle in for a long day. It will take 1-2 hours to field-dress the animal, and then multiple round-trips back to the vehicle with meat and gear. Kill-related adrenaline will not sustain you through the entire process.
In the car, keep a “pack out kit” with clothing and footwear that are comfortable for extended hiking. In particular, we both longed for a pair of shorts in the mild temperatures.
The pack-out effort cannot be understated. Prepare for 150 to 200 pounds of meat, plus possibly the antlers, and plus the weight of gear. It took us two round-trips, carrying 50 to 70 pounds on each trip. I have no immediate plans to hunt solo for this exact reason — the effort is almost too monumental for one person.
Fewer slower and heavier trips are better than more faster and lighter ones. The increased hiking speed with a lighter load will not offset the time lost to hiking back into the woods to the kill site.
If you feel that your kill was “lucky,” no doubt you’ll feel that you earned it by the time you reach the vehicle with your last load.
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