August 14, 2023
Traveling to hunt stirs inspiration. But don’t get lost in the enthusiasm. Calculated planning and organization ensures you have everything accounted for as a road-warrior hunter. Regardless if your sortie tackles whitetails, pronghorn, elk or another species of your choosing, you need to be prepared for more than pulling the trigger.
That hit home for me on a previous DIY, public-land elk hunt. Every article of hunting gear was accounted for and even backed up. Eleven days into the hunt, a mature six-point bull stood a bit too long in a forest opening. My shot was true and suddenly I was staring at a task of monstrous proportions. In my haste to plan for the kill, I had overlooked what happens after the shot. Hours from home and alone, I struggled with the gear I had in my pack to modify the massive critter into the protein portions I hoped would feed my young family. Fortunately, the mountain coolness assisted me in keeping the meat from spoiling, but had I the prudence to plan like a road warrior, the undertaking would have been less stressful.
Avoid the chaos and have a plan to succeed on your next hunting trip. Here are some things to consider.
GEAR TO GO THE DISTANCE
What you use for hunting gear is a personal choice, but even that requires scrutinizing each piece. If the gear item is important to the hunt, it is critical to have a backup or tools to fix any common field issues. I follow the warrior rule of two is one and one is none. In plain language, if you have two of an item and one fails, you have a backup. If your only item fails, you have none.
When I drive to a hunt, I typically take two of everything that will be in my pack. Flying predicably cancels that option due to cost, but try to back up where necessary. Think optics, rangefinder, knives, game calls, navigation, communication, headlamp, spare battery power for all, prescription eyewear and clothing items. How often have you lost gloves or hats on a hunt? Back them up.
Certain items, such as first aid, survival gear, water bottles and others may only require one, but think ahead and evaluate what items would be critical if lost or damaged. In a backcountry situation you may only need one first aid kit, but packing multiple ways to spark a fire is always a good idea for survival.
In the case of a firearm or bow, two is a better option. Again, that is easier if driving, but at the very least pack along a repair kit and tools to address common problems. Riflescopes may come loose or a bow sight may see abuse. A spare bow sight is much easier to pack than a complete bow and having a gunsmith tool kit may prevent a migraine in the middle of any hunt.
Even before meat preservation becomes an issue, you need to be able to recover the animal. Research access rules, terrain difficulty and the long-range weather forecast. Recovering a whitetail from an oak draw in Illinois can become a fiasco if it dies in the bottom during a downpour. Last fall my buddy killed a whitetail in the bottom of a Kansas Flint Hills coulee. We decided to winch the buck out instead of quartering it. In hindsight, the quartering job would have been simpler. It took us more than an hour to find enough strong rope to winch the buck up from the vertical, rocky slope. We now have a better plan.
If you care to tow a trailer (or burden your truck bed), ATVs and side-by-sides can be used on traveling hunts for both access and recovery. Some areas will be off limits to motorized vehicles. In those situations, you may need to utilize a high-quality game cart. Review models rugged enough to tackle your intended terrain.
Some models may not be up to a Western rodeo recovery, although they might handle a whitetail in an Iowa cornfield. If a cart seems bulky, consider a sled, especially in grassy or snow-covered landscapes where the plastic will slide easily. A tarp can also double as a sled for short drags out of cover.
And, of course, there is always the option to pack an animal out on your back. Before departing, study how to quarter and debone your quarry to reduce it into packable portions. Purchase a pack capable of hauling elk quarters, even if you just plan to deer hunt this season. A 150-pound buck will result in approximately 75 pounds of boned meat and a 100-pound doe will result in approximately 45 pounds of boned meat. Pronghorn are lighter and elk are obviously larger. Pack along enough meat bags as you will want to skin the deer to reduce weight and the bags will protect it from contamination.
I have lost count of the times friends have told me about having firearms stolen from their vehicles. Traveling to a hunt will require you to stop, whether for fuel or an overnight rest. And once you arrive at a hunting destination, you could be in unfamiliar territory. All these factors may result in losing your gear to thieves. Be proactive and make a list of every item you are transporting and analyze any theft possibilities presented. This includes your vehicle, ATVs, trailers and all your gear sitting around camp after arrival.
If your vehicle has an alarm system, check to see if it is in working order. Next, consider how to hide or obscure all the valuables in your vehicle. Items left in plain sight invite break-ins. Even a quick stop at a convenience store could result in a smash-and-grab while you are getting rid of those last three cups of coffee. Never leave windows rolled down and if you are traveling with a partner, have one watch while the other hits the head. In a motel situation, hide everything in your vehicle and better yet, move valuables into the motel room. Park in a well-lit area and consider additional safeguards such as steering wheel locks, wheel locks and locking lug nuts. Trailers should be secured with a hitch locking system and enclosed trailers need to be locked securely.
Bolt cutters and various other high-tech tools can clip most small locks and chains in a matter of seconds. Look into heavy-duty cables or log-style chains, too large for a bolt cutter to snip. The best are manufactured with an alloy or boron steel and hardened inside and out. Spend extra on locks that cannot be cut as well. Master Lock, the leader in locks, has a variety of options available.
Once you arrive at camp and unload and unhitch, follow all the rules above, especially by locking trailers and even chaining ATVs to trees. Everyone is a trail camera junkie. Pack extras to monitor camp. Hide one that can survey the entrance to camp for capturing license plate numbers and set several in high areas pointing down to snatch images of thieves. A mere sign posted at any camp that surveillance is onsite also goes a long way in making thieves think twice.
Again, if traveling with friends, consider having one stay in camp while others hunt. A non-hunting friend or relative who loves to cook makes the perfect campmate and serves as a built-in security guard.
You now have a plan to recover an animal, but what will you do with the meat once you get back to camp? Warm conditions and the possibility of waiting for your friends to fill tags could lead to spoiled meat. You may have the option of taking a deer straight to a meat processing business. Explore all options and check hours of operation. If you score on a weekend, you will still need a plan to keep meat cool until Monday morning.
If DIY is your plan, you might also serve as the meat processor. Plan accordingly. Either bring necessary items or have a plan to procure them onsite. You will need knives and a knife sharpener. You will also need Ziploc freezer bags, meat-wrapping paper, tape and a maybe meat saw to at least carve an animal into transportable portions. Before carving that animal up, check regulations on transportation and evidence of sex. Also check on meat transportation regulations regarding chronic wasting disease. Few states allow the transportation of intact carcasses any longer.
Now get busy. Wash all meat as you prepare to store it before cooling. I also advise you to use a Sharpie and make a note on the outside of each bag. When you arrive at home and want to grind burger or grill a backstrap, it makes identifying the hunks of deliciousness easier. In all camp considerations, remote or town based, consider ways to keep meat cool. Quality coolers, like those available from Mammoth or Coleman, stocked with ice, easily keep meat at an ideal aging temperature until you can get home. Consider a couple of coolers for meat and a couple more for ice storage to replenish.
The latest trend in meat preservation is bringing along a chest freezer. Innovative hunters are loading or securing full-size chest freezers on trailers. Once at camp, they either plug them into available electricity or power them on a generator throughout the trip. Freezers double as a place to keep your food cool and really become handy when meat needs preservation. If left outside, be sure to secure them with a theft-proof cable or other locking device.
Meat on ice can be stored for up to two weeks and provides a quality way to age meat for ideal palatability. Wild game ages best between 32 and 40 degrees. Bring a small thermometer to monitor temperatures in a cooler or meat hanging in a shed at camp.
Being a road warrior is more detailed than hunting from home. The rewards will be the same, but if you plan accordingly the stress will be minimized and memories will be profound.