Avoiding a Trip - Build a Custom Cooler

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All of us, at one time or another have gone on a hunting trip and had what we call “Blue Bird” weather.  Warm evenings and almost hot days.  We hunt in our t-shirts and enjoy the sunshine.  We are way up in the mountains and have a whole week to hunt.  How could it get any better? 

That is, until we score on that big buck or bull.  We work to get it out of the field and skinned as quickly as possible to cool it down.  But try as we might, we just can’t get that meat cool enough.  It’s only a matter of a day or two that we might lose the entire thing.  On more than one occasion, I’ve dunked meat into a lake or stream to cool it down until we can get it to a cooler.

We have two choices at a time like this….. let it spoil or haul it into the closest town and put it into a cooler.  I didn’t particularly like either one of those choices.

So here’s what I did.  My late son-in-law had a friend that was in the sheet metal fabricating business.  We designed a cooler and one night after work, went to his friend’s company and built an aluminum cooler box.  We made it out of heavy gauge aluminum so it would be sturdy, but at the same time, lightweight.  We made it small enough to slide into the back of my pickup with the canopy on.  We lined it with 4 inches of foam insulation on all sides.  It has a long continuous hinge across the entire width of the lid and can be locked with a padlock.

Before heading into the mountains for a long hunt, we freeze several five gallon buckets of water and put them into the cooler.  That ice will stay frozen for almost two weeks in our cooler.  When we get an elk or deer, we quarter it and drop it into the cooler.  We have never lost any meat since then and have never had to drive into town.  We have avoided the trip!

If you don’t have the luxury of a sheet metal fabricator, make it out of plywood and 2X4’s.  Make it large enough to hold a couple of deer or elk.  Remember that you will be adding several inches of foam insulation on each side so make it bigger.  Mine is about 5 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall.  We have put two quartered elk in it on several occasions.  Another thing we did was to put some holes in the bottom for melted ice to drain out.  You can put this cooler in the back of your pickup or in a trailer and have it at camp, ready for when you get the big one.  And as an added bonus, we keep a few “cool ones” in there as a reward for having to open it and put something inside.


Jdizzle's picture

Thats a mighty fine looking

Thats a mighty fine looking cooler. Looks like you guys put alot of time and thought into it. I will be making one from plywood for my trip to New York this year. Thanks

ManOfTheFall's picture

Thanks for the tip. I don't

Thanks for the tip. I don't know if I will ever use this one but it is definitely a great idea.


had some friends wears ago who went elk hunting every year . they put a big chest freezer on a trailer along with a sm generator. when they got home it was all over except for the eating.

groovy mike's picture

just this sort of thing that makes BigGameHunt.Net so great!


 I know a fellow who built an improved cooler – not exactly like this, but with a similar plan and  it had similar great results.  The improved cooler worked great fro everything from autumn trips to hunting camp to week long boy scout camp outs during the high heat of summer.  Yours looks a lot better than his did and having a metal shell will protect and contain the foam insulation well.  The one that I used was built by a fellow in the construction business, so he used the materials he had readily on hand.  Namely – the foam insulation board commonly used to insulate the house walls on the construction projects he was working on at the time.  What he did was incredibly simple and remarkably effective.  He simply cut these one inch thick sheets of foam insulation  into the appropriate size to make a box around any standard sized cooler.  These were about 3 feet long and 2 and a half feet high.  There were six pieces (four sides plus a top and a bottom) and we carried it to camp disassembled and stored flat in the bed of the pick up truck under things that were heavy enough to keep the insulation panels from blowing out of the truck at fifty plus miles per hour on the highway.  Once we arrived in camp and unloaded the truck the base piece was set on the ground and the cooler placed on top.  The cooler was already filled with ice and food but need not be if your plans were to use this enhanced cooler for game meat storage alone.  Anyway – the base plat went under the cooler to insulate it from the ground – then the cooler was set on top and the four side pieces placed around it and taped together against each other.  None of them were secured to the cooler or to the base plate, just a strip of duct tape run down the corners to hold the four ‘walls’ together like a hollow box.  The final piece was then placed on top and taped to the four wall side pieces with an additional strip of duct tape on each side.  This made a big box that was light and easy to lift off the cooler.  The duct tape provided more than enough stability to hold it together and whenever you wanted to access the cooler yu just lifted this cover right off of the cooler and opened it normally, then after you had closed the cooler, you would just pop the cover piece (including the four walls) right back over the whole cooler.  There was an inch or two to spare on each side so it was easy to lift off and replace without binding and the whole thing probably weighed less than two pounds.  The base piece never moved and just sat under the cooler. 

The down side was that you needed to remove the insulation every time that you went in the cooler and so you would allow warm air in, but there was ice in the cooler after several days in camp so I am confident that this simple and very inexpensive cooler enhancement significantly extended the life of the ice over use of the regular cooler alone.  In fact, I was very impressed at just how effective this improvised system was.  

The holes in the bottom for melted ice to drain out is an excellent idea that eliminates the need to dump pounds of melted and sometimes bloody ice water out of your cooler when you are done with it.  That’s a great idea!  

Thanks for the tip and the improvement over the idea that I had already been exposed to.  It is just this sort of thing that makes the tips section of BigGameHunt.Net so valuable to me! 


arrowflipper's picture

plan on

Plan on putting your venison in this cooler come October.