Hunting Preparations That Help Insure Post-Kill Success

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Typical hunters spend months in preparation for that moment when a coveted big game animal is in their sights. Many of these same hunters, however, give little thought to what they will need to do after they have killed a dream animal. That's unfortunate, because what happens after the kill can determine whether a hunt becomes a cherished lifetime memory or a recurring nightmare.

The list of potential problems that can occur after an animal is down is nearly limitless. They range from spoiled meat because an animal was not properly handled to having an animal confiscated because it was improperly tagged.

Once you've bagged the trophy and are standing by its side after weeks or months of preparation, here are some of the issues you should be prepared to deal with.

Many hunters spend months preparing to hunt a trophy animal, but give little thought
to the processes that need to occur once the animal is down.

In an era when quality digital point-and-shoot cameras can cost less than $150, there is no reason for any hunter to not document his experience with good photos.

It's shocking how many hunters spend years waiting to draw a tag for a premium hunting area. When the day comes, they spend thousands of dollars on guns, optics, ATVs, tents, and every imaginable piece of equipment.

Then they take to the field without a camera. Once they bag their trophy, instead of having beautiful images of themselves with their animal at a scenic kill site, they end up with crappy cell phone photos of the animal's head and cape in the back of a pickup truck.

Setting up good pictures only takes a few minutes. With virtually any digital camera you can view the images after you take them to see whether they are any good. If they aren't, spend a few more minutes until you get some good ones.

There is no better way to immortalize the experience of a hunt than with pictures. Taxidermy is costly and a stuffed head can't capture the essence and experience of a hunt as well as a few good pictures can.

In this age of digital cameras, there is no good excuse for bad pictures like this one.

Field Dressing
A man who has guided elk hunters for 27 years told me he is surprised how many hunters show up without a knife. Field care is a critical issue for many reasons. Is the hunter going to mount the animal? If so how? Dressing and skinning for a full shoulder mount is going to be much different from a European mount.

If the animal will be boned in the field, it is nice to have a clean tarp or plastic sheet to work on. If meat will be carried in a pack, it is important that it be properly cooled and placed in bags that keep it clean.

Weather conditions are a critical factor in taking care of meat. An antelope killed under the hot sun of August will need to be dressed, skinned, and put into coolers immediately. After gutting, a deer killed in cold, snowy conditions can hang in camp for days without any worry about meat spoilage.

Weather conditions are an important factor in determining how a hunter will handle the meat from his kill.

State game laws are always a consideration. Virtually all require some sort of proof of sex of the animal killed but they differ on what that means. In some states fresh antlers with the quarters is sufficient to establish animal gender. In others, a head or genitals must remain attached to one of the quarters. For example, in Wyoming, either the head or tail of a deer must remain attached to the animal so game officials can determine whether the carcass is that of a whitetail or mule deer.

How the meat is handled is also an issue. Wasting meat from a game animal is a serious offense in every state. In some states and on some kinds of animals that means a hunter must take the meat from between the ribs. In other states and other animals the rib meat can stay with the carcass.

Once again exact laws vary from state to state, but in most cases an animal must be properly tagged before being moved from the spot of the kill. Some tags need to be marked with the date of the kill and other information. Some tags must be signed. Some states have metal self-locking tags. Most need to be tied to the animal. I've known more than one hunter who had to cut off a bootlace or jacket drawstring because he forgot to bring any cordage to secure the tag.

Some states require that certain kinds of animals be presented to a game department official for inspection and tagging within a specified time after the kill. For example, within 72 hours of killing a bear in Wyoming, the hunter must "present the pelt and skull to a district game warden, district wildlife biologist, or Department personnel at a Game and Fish Department Regional Office during business hours for registration. The pelt and skull shall be presented in an unfrozen condition in order to allow collection of two (2) premolar teeth to be utilized to determine the age of the black bear and to allow examination of the pelt to determine the sex of the black bear."

In Utah, successful mountain lion hunters have 48 hours to bring the lion to a conservation officer or division office "for permanent tagging. Information collected includes: date of harvest, sex and age of the animal, body size measurements, area(s) hunted, number of days afield, weapon type and hunt methods."

Sometimes a hunter must possess a conservation or habitat permit in addition to a tag. Failure to comply with the specifics of the state where the animal is taken could result in a confiscated animal, a fine or both.

States have different requirements for tagging, but in most cases the
animal must be tagged before it is moved from the kill site.

After a hunter kills an animal several miles from the nearest road is not the time to figure out how to get it back to the truck. In much of the West, archery elk hunts begin in August when the weather is quite hot. A hunter who kills an elk in a roadless area and intends to bring the quarters out on a pack fame might discover that the meat has spoiled if the process takes longer than a day.

A hunter who hopes to use an ATV for game retrieval had better know the regulations for the area he is hunting. A few years ago a hunter killed a nice bull elk across a rugged canyon. Using an ATV, he was able to access the kill site from an old logging road. When he got back to his truck, a U.S. Forest Service officer was waiting to write him a citation. The fine was $75. Given the circumstances he considered it well worth the cost for not having to quarter the elk and carry it to the head of the canyon. He was fortunate, because in some areas fines for illegal ATV usage can be hundreds of dollars. And if a violator is also required to pay for reparations for damage, the price can go into thousands.

My son had a moose tag for an area that did not allow motor vehicles of any kind or horses. We had to be prepared to deal with that problem. During the hunt we passed up several moose that were in spots where retrieval would be difficult. The eventual kill site was reasonably close to a gravel road and we used a wheelbarrow to get the quarters to the truck.

In an area where motor vehicles and horses were prohibited,
a wheelbarrow was the solution for retrieving moose quarters.

A hunter who must leave an animal after it is down for any reason is wise to carefully mark the spot. I once killed an antelope on an expansive sagebrush plain. After dressing the buck, I left to get my truck. When I returned, I came in from a different direction and nothing looked the same. I spent an hour wandering through the sage before I relocated the buck. Now I leave a hat or something else easily visible to pinpoint the location.

Marking a downed animal with something easily visible like a blaze orange hat
can make it easier to relocate if you have to leave it for any reason.

Again every state has different rules for transporting game animals, meat or even antlers. Some states set up roadblocks and check stations during the hunting seasons. Animals or meat not handled properly are subject to confiscation and the hunter can face hefty fines.

If a hunter donates an animal to a friend who then plans to transport the meat or the animal out of the state where it was harvested, many states require a special permit. Wyoming charges $8 for an interstate wildlife transportation permit that must be obtained at a Game and Fish Department office. Idaho has a downloadable proxy form that must be "signed by the person who killed the animal specifying the numbers and kinds of wildlife, date taken, hunter's name and address, license, tag and permit numbers."

Plan before the hunt
Every hunter should be prepared for the success of harvesting a game animal. That means knowing exactly what the legal requirements are once the trophy is down.

Flint Stephens pays his mortgage by writing about investment markets, but his real passions are fishing and hunting. Stephens grew up pursuing fish and wildlife in Ohio, but while attending college in Utah, he fell in love with the mountains, deserts and a girl from Moab. After several years as a journalist in Illinois, the draw of mountain adventures brought them back to central Utah in 1986. Stephens enjoys horses, freelance writing and photography. He spends his spare time making certain his children and grandchildren are completely addicted to outdoor pursuits.


After the kill

Getting the animal gutted, quartered, and hung to cool is the first and most important chore to preserve the meat.  I use that tarp you describe, as well as 2 pulleys and stout nylon rope to pull animals to an uphill position for gutting and skinning.  I gut, then skid the animal up hill onto the tarp, then skin and quarter.  Two pulleys cuts that weight in half (one high, one low) and allows one guy to slide a full grown bull to a clean spot.  After quartering and sawing away excess bone weight, I slide the quarters in game bags (I use the Alaskan game bags, 2 packs of them), then attach a pulley up a tree and hoist the bags up above the height critters who might want my meat can reach.  I bring a 50 ft roll of cheap 1/4" sisal rope to secure the bags in a tree (find a shady spot) and diamond hitching meat to pack frame.  A GPS you have learned to use is also a must, and good planning should also include checking out your area on maps or Google Earth and entering waypoints on a GPS for packing out meat the easiest way.  Easiest is not usually shortest.  Of course, spending money on a hired horse packer is by far the least damaging to old knees, backs, and hearts.  While I have my own horses, I rarely bring them (too much time spent feeding, watering, and worrying).  I do find someone who can be hired to pack out meat, though, and highly recommend that as a way to pack out meat if you bag an elk more than a mile or two away from the truck.  Folks at feedstores, hardware stores, sporting goods stores can usually put you in contact with a packer, or someone willing to do the job for a couple hundred dollars or so.  That is money well spent!  

Retired2hunt's picture

  The article provides some


The article provides some very good and some very basic preparation information that is very important to the hunter.  I had taken lousy hunting pictures for years.  This article and one within the tips section has corrected that for me. 

Having the proper tools for field dressing has not been my problem.  I have now created a spreadsheet that lists all the necessary items I need.  I check off the items as they are packed.  I use a hunting pack that I ensure always has the tools I need.  So no issue there. (Send me a PM if you are interested in a copy of my hunting list spreadsheet).

I would like to be able to retrieve my big game more effficiently.  The areas I hunt are all different in terrain types.  I have yet to easily move my animals out of the area.  An ATV right now is out of the question.  I like the wheelbarrow idea but that will not work if there is a lot of snow on the ground.  Somebody offered the idea of using a kids snow sled.  I think that is a fairly good one you just have to ensure the animal is well stabilized inside of the sled.

I don't think using your blaze orange hat to provide a visual on an animal you must leave for a while is a very good idea.  You are taking off a visual that you need to use for your safety.  You don't want to be mistaken as an animal by another hunter who fails to see exactly what they are shooting at.  You also need that hat just in case you need it as a visual to catch the atttention of search and rescue.  I bring blaze orange marking tape with me that I use to mark my trail and my animal if I have to leave the area.

Overall a very good article that makes you think so you are prepared before leaving the door.



numbnutz's picture

Great information here. It's

Great information here. It's funny to me how hunter get so excited about draw the tag of a lifetime in most cases and forget the important part of hunting. Like having the right gear. My dad has forgotten his knife on more than one hunt. It's important to make a check list before you go. I usually start mine as soon as the draws are done and I know what tags I will have in the fall. Throughout the summer I add or subtract stuff on my list. Then while packing i go over my gear one piece at time and check it off the list. Once out in the field it's always to double and triple check what you have on you for the days hunt if your hunting out of a camp. I'm guilty of forgetting my tag and licence at camp before only to remember once I get to the area I want to hunt and would have to go back to camp to get it. Now I always keep it in my day pack so I know where it's at at alll times. Also don't forget your either bullets or arrows, also if bow hunting don't forget yyour release if you use one. After the kill take care of the meat as soon as you find it. I have seen deer and elk both go bad even in 20 degree weather. and have a plan to get the meat and cape out. Good luck and have fun this hunting season.

swisheroutdoors's picture

Great examples

Thank you for sharing some excellent examples of what to do.  Being prepared certainly can make the difference on a good hunt or a bad hunt.  A friend of mine used a canoe on more than one occasion to pack out Moose Meat when hunting in thick areas sometimes access to a waterway is closer then to a parked truck.  I've also seen the use of a wrecker to hoist a moose out onto a flatbed truck.  If your hunting locally in a settled area the local mechanic shop number may be useful.

Not sure if it will really deter a coyote but I was told by some old timers to place my orange vest over a deer if I needed to leave it.  This was to deter coyotes because of the human scent on the vest and to also as mentioned in the article mark the spot for visibility.

Another useful tool for getting an animal out is a simple kid’s long plastic sled.  I used one I picked up a Wal-Mart and put a black bear on it.  I fastened it down with rope.  It worked so, so.  That bear rolled over a few times.  But the very next year a buck my brother took we used the sled and it worked like a charm through the same clear cut.

Almost everything in this article I learned the hard way.  Forgetting a knife, leave an animal and can't find it, no cord to fasten tag, drag a 220 lbs field dressed deer for 4 hrs to nearest road alone, didn't take a picture in the field.  I prepare for everything now.  Well until I forget something on the list that I'm supposed to follow.  Sometimes I just say well I have my shoes on and I have my weapon.  Let's Go.

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