Anyone who has ever been hunting will tell you, it is after you take your animal that the real work begins! I have heard successful elk hunters explain their emotional rollercoaster after a successful hunt. One hunter said the most exciting moment was when he observed the elk fall after the shot. But the emotion was immediately overcome by the realization that “now the animal needs to be recovered.” Recovery is not only taking possession of game animals, but field dressing and legal quartering. Depending on the state, legal quartering is how far you can cut up the animal in the field. Legal quartering is usually two shoulders, two hams, two backstraps, two tenderloins, and boned-out rib and neck meat.
The recovery of game animals can range from very easy to extremely difficult. You may see your animal in the field, or it may take days to recover. Whether you can back your pickup truck right up to a downed game animal to load, or if it takes you three days to pack out a large game animal, piece by piece, you, by law, must recover the edible portions of any game animal taken. Many states require that all the edible portions of meat are recovered before the antler or horns are removed from the backcountry. It is up to you to know the rules and regulations and follow them.
The right tools make the easy and efficient recovery of game possible. Failure to pack out the edible portions of game is illegal in every jurisdiction. To intentionally waste something negligently or inappropriately is referred to as “Wanton Waste” and offenses of these statutes are taken very seriously. To recover game animals, there are several items that every hunter must have: knives, bone saws and transportation devices.
There is no universal rifle or caliber to meet the needs of all hunters for all game, nor is there a universal knife for game recovery. Every hunter should have a set of at least three types of knives: a skinning knife, field-dressing knife, and a boning knife.
A skinning knife is important to have for removing the hide of the animal, especially if you are caping-out a trophy to be mounted. A skinning knife has a wide, short, rounded blade. It is designed to prevent cutting the skin of the animal so there are fewer repairs to be made by the taxidermist. The shape of the blade allows the user to use all the cutting edge, up to the heel of the knife.
A field dressing knife is used to open the cavity of the body, including cutting through the sternum, and removing the internal organs. A field dressing knife is heavier, straighter and longer than the skinning knife. This knife needs to be heavy enough to cut through cartilage, tendons, sinew and muscle.
A boning knife is used to remove meat from bone. A boning knife is a long, thin knife that is flexible to reach all the meat, including between bones such as the ribs. This knife needs to be thin and flexible enough to be worked in tight areas. This knife is ideal for removing the backstraps and boning-out the neck and ribs.
The biggest mistake many hunters make is not putting enough importance when it comes to knife quality. This is similar to a hunter who spends a lot of money on an expensive, quality rifle, then mounts it with an inexpensive and low-quality scope. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. A knife made with poor quality steel will not hold an edge and becomes dull quickly. Do you research and buy quality knives for an easier time after your shot.
Lastly, do not forget to have a way of sharpening your knives. I have noticed that very few hunters carry a sharpening stone or other methods of putting an edge on their knives. All knives, including knives with quality steel, need to be sharpened.
Another item that all hunters need to carry to recover their game is a bone saw or gardener’s loping sheers. Bone saws are used to cut through bone, which allows you to quarter your game for removal. The bigger the game, the bigger the bones. If you are used to hunting whitetail deer, you might be unaware how big the bones of elk and moose are.
Depending how hard the recovery of game is small saws and sheers are available for packing into the backcountry. These tools can be used to remove and discard the lower legs to lighten your load. Without a bone saw, cutting through the pelvic bones can be almost impossible. This tool also makes it possible to remove the ribs from the backbone. Not only do bone saws make it easier to quarter your game, but it allows you to recover parts that you would otherwise have a difficult time retrieving such as the ribs and neck portions.
Once you take your trophy and field dress it, you now need to get it out of the field. Sometimes you are lucky and take a game animal close to the road or other access point. If you are in the backcountry, recovering your game can be trickier. If you are in the backcountry, you need a game sled, game pack or game dolly.
Game sleds are used to transport game animals by loading the trophy onto the device and pulling behind the hunter. Game sleds are usually made from lightweight materials such as plastic. These devices are especially convenient in snow covered areas where packing game can be difficult.
Game dollies are lightweight metal-framed devices with two large wheels. These devices are usually collapsible. Some of these tools are packable and can be carried on the hunter’s back. Game dollies are like sleds in that the game is loaded onto the device, then the hunter either pushes or pulls the dolly out of the backcountry.
Game packs are similar to backpacks and daypacks. Game packs are used to load game quarters in or onto the sides of the device. Some even have a fold down external frame for loading game quarters. Game packs are the most common pack-out devices used by hunters.
No matter which device and tools you choose, make sure you plan ahead and have these items readily available to make your memorable hunt successful well after the shot!