How To Remove A Downed Deer From The Field by Gary Benton
If you hunt long enough, there will come a day when you are forced to carry your meat from where you’ve made your kill to a campsite or vehicle. In a survival situation or natural disaster, you will have to get the meat home or to your survival site. I’ve seen all kinds of different methods used for moving a deer carcass and some were easy, some hard, while others were just plain dangerous. I’ve seen folding up one and two wheeled carts, a travois made with poles, drag bags, plastic sled looking affairs, ATV’s, and the list goes on. Other than motorized methods of moving the meat, all will require some physical effort on your part and that can be extensive if you backpacked into your hunting area.
Unless you’ve done some planning, the job can be rough and a fairly large kill can be real difficult, if not almost impossible, for one person to move. First, I never hunt alone and I do mean never, so that second person can assist in removing the animal as well as giving me a special safety factor. I realize in a survival situation you may have to quarter the animal (and you may have to hunt alone) and pack the meat out one quarter at a time, but when hunting under normal conditions you want to make as few trips as possible.
Keep in mind; safety is a big factor when you’re transporting your game from the field, just like when you’re hunting. Also, if you have a medical condition, talk with your doctor before any hunting trip and see your doctor regularly in the event you are forced to survive unexpectedly, because a large deer carcass can seem to double or triple in weight as you move it over rough ground.
For many hunters, who hunt around home, rarely is a downed animal very far from transportation and that is an added bonus. Most healthy hunters can drag a field dressed whitetail for a mile or less, and for local hunting that will usually be far enough. Two hunters, don’t forget the safety factor, can usually pull a deer very easily for better than a mile, but it can a lot of hard work at times, especially up hill. Brush, rocks, undergrowth, sticks, and other debris can make the job much tougher on your legs and back, so rest frequently. Many hunters will simply grasp an antler and a front leg and start pulling, keeping the animal on its back to avoid getting dirt in the open chest cavity. I’ve heard to put the animal in a game bag before dragging and others say no, so I’ll let the choice be yours, but when I tried it, the game bag got stuck, hung up on debris frequently, and ripped as well, so all I did was waste a game bag.
Other hunters, like my brother, tie a rope to an antler, secures it to a stick (about one inch in diameter) and pull the animal by grasping the stick like a handle. I found it to work all right with the rope tied to a doe’s neck, since there are no antlers. I had a rough time with the antlers on a buck sticking at every rough spot I came to. Then, again, it seemed to work fine with a buck, if I held a foreleg as I pulled the animal. Try this method and see if it works for you, because I’ve seen different people use different methods, so use the procedure you like most. Personally, I don’t care much for using the handle.
Any hunter who’s been over the hill and around the creek a couple of times has seen the one and two wheeled carts that can be used for removing game. I’m not sure what to make of them and while my uncle swears by his (it has a single wheel and folds up), I don’t like the idea of taking something that big along with me, particularly if I have to backpack into a remote spot. Granted, they might make (depending on the terrain) moving the game easier, but when I backpack in I tend to want to keep the weight as light as I can. In addition, I wonder how strong the cart is made, especially where it folds, not that I’ve heard any complaints from Uncle Ben. Now, if I was able to keep it in my vehicle or at the campsite, and then retrieve it once a deer is down, I might consider one, but I’ll never take an extra ounce in the woods that I have to carry very far.
Some folks down a deer and then retrieve it with an ATV or truck, which is great as long as you can do so on the land you’re hunting. Some public and private lands will not allow the use of any motorized vehicle (especially ATV’s), so that option may not be feasible for you.
One of my favorite ways to move meat from long distances in the field is using a commercial drag bag for deer. The large plastic (20 ounce PVC is the construction of the one I use) material is made of mesh (acts like rip stop material) with gives it added strength, has metal grommets to secure the game, and has a smooth shiny finish which aids in pulling it. When the carcass is placed on the bag and then tied securely using the grommets and rope, I’ve found it does a great job of both keeping the meat clean and keeping it securely in the material (won’t slip out). The model I use has a large adjustable nylon strap that attaches securely to the bag (sewn very well to the bag) and two adjustable chest/shoulder straps, which aids in pulling the load. While easy to use, you’ll still have to avoid sticks, sharp rocks and other debris as you pull the load out. While I like the ease of using a drag bag, I want the meat to cool as quickly as possible after transporting and the bag will trap some body heat. I usually hang the meat immediately after I get to camp in a cool dry spot, or transport it home immediately.
In some states, you may be able to quarter or cut your deer in half to transport back to camp, and that might mean more than one trip to where the animal was killed. While that makes it easier to transport, make sure you keep it tagged according to the game laws where you’re hunting (check local laws before the hunt). If quartered it can be placed on some backpack frames or commercial packs designed for transporting heavy gear (with a pack cargo shelve at the bottom) and brought out, but I’d make sure to keep a large amount of international orange material on my pack partially covering the carcass. My buddy, Lane, constructs a travois from two long poles, crosses them leaving a good fourteen to eighteen inches to grasp and then secures them. Next, he ties the carcass to the poles, using cross support beams, and pulls the meat out.
We’ve all seen the movies where two men (usually Native Americans), from years gone by, are packing a deer tied to a long pole that they rest on their shoulders. I would never suggest this method of removing meat from the field, because it is very dangerous. Some hunters don’t wait to see if a target is clear before they shoot and while that may seem insane we’ve all heard stories of such things. Keep the deer carcass down low and not up high were it can be mistaken for something it isn’t. And, never drape a deer around your neck as you move though the woods (also like they do in the movies). In Missouri, when I was just a young boy, a neighbor was shot and killed doing exactly that with a small button buck. The hunter who shot him only saw the small deer’s head and fired, never realizing it was a man packing his meat from the woods.
Any method I use to transport my deer from the field to transportation will always have international orange on it. Usually I tie strips from an old hunting vest or bright orange t-shirt to my straps on my drag bag and then the bag itself. Since I want to be seen when I move through the woods this makes good safety sense to me. Also, I wear an international orange ball cap and hunting vest (or jacket) at all times when transporting my deer carcass, even if the state does not require me to do so.
Removing a downed deer can be a great deal of hard work, especially if you are weak from trying to survive or after a hard hunt over rough country. There are many different methods the work, but the key is to find one that you’re comfortable with. Perhaps you’d prefer a one or two wheeled cart, a rope drag, or maybe even a drag bag like I use, but whatever technique you decide to use, use international orange and be seen. Besides the physical effort of just bringing the meat out, the key to moving the meat safely is being seen for what you are, a hunter.