Hunting elk is good fun. But as anyone who has ever killed an elk knows, the real work starts once the tag is notched. In towns around elk country in the fall, you’ll see pick-ups idling at stoplights with four hooves pointing skyward. I’ve helped hunters get whole elk into the bed of a truck. I don’t like it. I like elk to come out in pieces. They’re heavy pieces, but manageable.
Horse and mule packers have long known the advantages of making smaller bits of elk out of one big elk. But not everyone has access to stock or wants to deal with beasts of burden. An ATV is an option, but again, not everyone can afford it, and in many spots across elk country, they’re not allowed. So what’s left?
We reached out to our members (check out page 24), scoured the web and talked with those who make elk-hauling gear to bring you some of the most creative non-equine and non-motorized methods of elk extraction. We’ll provide you the resources so you can get your elk into manageable meat chunks and then show you how to get those chunks out of the woods.
When we tested the following gear, it was mid-April and we didn’t have a fresh, dead elk around. Instead, we used 60-pound bags of traction sand to simulate elk meat and quarters. It’s a fair comparison given the similar weight and awkwardness of the load. Hopefully this section will take some of the strain (not all, of course) of getting your elk out of the woods this fall.
Piece Out an Elk
There are two main methods to break down an elk—remove the guts or leave them in. The former is the more traditional style, and if you’re a Midwestern whitetail hunter staring at your first dead elk, you may want to go with what you know and take the guts out first, before you start breaking it down.
If you’ve got a few elk under your belt or if you’re with someone who has “gone gutless” before, then leaving the guts in might be an option for you. Frankly, if you know you’re going to quarter an elk up to get it out, then gutless is the way to go. But if you like organs like heart and liver, then an old-fashioned field dressing is for you.
Rather than spend six pages explaining how to break down an elk, I beg you to check out this video: elknetwork.com/gutless-gutting. Randy Newberg, host of Fresh Tracks and Hunt Talk, does a great job showing how to get the job done. It’s just under a half-hour, and it’s very comprehensive. Watch it and then watch it again.
Hold the Bones
Nearly 15 years ago, the University of Wyoming commissioned a study titled “The Elk Carcass.” In it, researchers broke down everything from live weight to field-dressed weight to boned-out weight. A six-year-old field-dressed bull weighs around 500 pounds. By boning the meat in the field, you cut that number in half.
Not all packs are created equal. If I’m hauling a heavy load, then an external frame pack is what I want. Packs like Eberlestock’s Mainframe have a beefy waist-belt, which is ideal because you want 80 percent of the weight on your hips, the rest on your shoulders.
Need to know: If you’re packing an elk this way, use trekking poles. They might look goofy, but they save wear and tear on your knees and hips and aid in balance over uneven terrain. The worse the pack-out, the more you’ll love them.
Best uses: The steep and deep, blow-down hell where many elk go to die. Use the pack to get your quarters to an old road and then wheel them out.
Weight limit: One 60-pound bag was plenty Cost: $189
More info: www.eberlestock.com
While I’ve used my kids’ sled to haul deer, it didn’t exactly hold up, which is why paying for a beast like this Jet Sled is worth the investment. It’s supposed to be pulled behind a snowmobile, but I prefer my buddies (or kids) any day.
Need to know: Bring plenty of bungee cords and consider adding a pair of old skis to the bottom to serve as runners.
Best uses: Snow covered anything. Unless you like a rodeo, avoid the steepest slopes.
Weight limit: 180-240 pounds, depending on slope
More info: www.amazon.com
Fat Bike with trailer
Thanks to traction like a gecko, “fat bikes” have become the rage for cyclists who want to ride year-round in the snow. The Diamondback El Oso is much lighter than it looks and provides an incredibly cushy ride brought to you by squishy tires—although it makes going uphill a slog. Attach an old kid carrier (I found this one on the curb waiting for the garbage truck), and you have a gear and meat hauler.
Need to know: Carry extra tubes for your bike and trailer tires, along with a small tool kit. Go slow on the downhills as the trailer full of meat will try to get ahead of you. Trailer can also double as game cart.
Best uses: Single-track trail for bike only. Gated roads for both bike and trailer.
Weight limit: 120-180 pounds
Cost: $1,200 for bike, $0-$500 for kid/gear/meat trailer.
More info: Visit www.diamondback.com, www.burley.com
If a unicycle and a wheel-barrow had a baby, its name would be Pack Wheel. Made of 6061 aluminum, it’s incredibly light. TIG welding and a beefy 29-inch mountain bike tire with disc brake add durability and control. Use it in the off-season to haul in a posh camp if you choose. It breaks down and can be carried via a pack frame.
Need to know: This is my favorite method we tested. It pays to take your time, get your load balanced and lash it carefully so the panniers don’t rub on the spokes or disc brake. If you have to go uphill, it comes with a yoke to attach to the front, and it becomes a two-person operation.
Best uses: Single-track trail, old logging roads, overland downhill, solo-hunts.
Weight limit: 180 pounds—60 on each side and 60 on top.
Cost: $500-$825 depending on the Pack Wheel model, two panniers $80.
More info: www.packwheel.com or call 385-244-7522
We used a Game Tote cart, and this is the only method in which you might actually get a whole elk out of the woods. Featuring an incredibly solid steel frame and motorcycle tire with brake, this cart will be around to give to your grandkids.
Need to know: For an elk, this is a two-person job. One-person can retrieve an empty cart from the truck, but two are needed to balance it when weighted down. The good news? You can put your entire elk and camp on this thing. It’s meant for the long, heavy haul.
Best uses: Open and rolling hills. Not for blow-down. Find an old logging road and this thing will cruise. If snow is too deep, rolling this loaded will be tough.
Weight limit: One large elk
Cost: $500, plus $76 shipping
More info: www.gametote.com, 970-498-0578