Hunting in the Heat
by Justin Karnopp
I’ve had quite a few experiences in which I was racing against the heat in order to keep my meat from spoiling. Heat and a freshly killed elk don’t mix well. You could inadvertently sacrifice filling your freezer and end up with 250 lbs of spoiled meat. Here are a few tips to help you avoid that catastrophe.
Most western archery elk seasons begin before the first frost. When packing for an early-season elk hunt in the backcountry, when temperatures are likely to be in the 70s and 80s, knowing how to get your meat out of the heat and on ice is the first thing to consider. Bring enough empty cooler space, loaded with ice.
The best cooler I’ve seen is the Yeti, which will keep ice hard for 12 days in 100-degree heat. To keep meat dry, the best method is to freeze a number of large plastic bottles rather than use bags of ice. Batches of dry ice, which can be purchased at ice houses and some grocery stores, placed between the frozen large bottles works as well as a home chest freezer for a week.
While afield, be fully prepared to quarter the animal on-the-spot and get the quarters in the shade, hopefully hung in a nearby tree. If you are miles away from camp or car, it may be necessary to bone the whole elk out and get the meat out in one trip, which is a doable task for two hunters.
If a creek is nearby, find a good pool to dunk the meat. The goal here is to cool the meat quickly. After cooling, pat it dry and haul it out.
Consider how far away from your ice stash you should be hunting. Obviously, if the forecast calls for 90 degrees, packing in five miles in the morning might not be the wisest decision. If the day is going to be hot, set a reasonable cut-off time and don’t hunt past it.
Of course, take care of yourself too. If you’re hiking, you’re sweating, losing not just water but sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Replace these nutrients with a sports drink, bananas and peanut butter. A light wicking material such as Capilene is a far better choice than a soaked cotton shirt. Check your maps and make sure you can reach a water source where you can use a filter to refill your water bottles. It is very difficult to pack enough water to maintain hydration once the mercury hits the mid-80s.
Finally, ask yourself if you should be hunting at all. A nice set of antlers and 250 pounds of spoiled meat is hardly a successful hunt. Perhaps you could turn a hot hunt into a scouting mission, coming back to the area when things cool down.