One dream many bowhunters have is to spend an extended period of time in the backcountry chasing elk, deer or other big game animals. One of the biggest problems a backcountry hunter faces is what to do with the meat after the kill. When the daytime temperatures are in the fifties or cooler, a bowhunter can take his time cutting up and deboning an animal. When the temperatures are extremely warm, everything changes. Getting the meat off the animal and cooled down becomes a top priority. In warm temperatures, when one member of a hunting party kills an animal, all hunting stops and everyone pitches in until the animal is off the mountain and on its way to a game cooler. After all, for most of us, taking home high quality meat is one of the main reasons we bow hunt.
Making sure meat stays clean and cool and doesn’t spoil is a tough job when hunting deep in the backcountry. No one knows that better than Steven Rinella, Host of the MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel. He makes his living harvesting game and turning it into high quality meals that his friends and family enjoy eating. “One of the main reasons some wild game tastes bad on the table is because it isn’t taken care of properly in the field,” says Rinella. “Making sure field care is done right often results in good table fare.”
GET RID OF THE HEAT
Heat is enemy number one when hunting in the backcountry. “When I kill something in the backcountry, I don’t like to leave the guts in the animal overnight. If for some reason, I need to leave an animal overnight before I start cutting it up, I always gut it. A big animal like an elk cannot be cooled fast enough. Big game animals hold a lot of heat in them and you need to get rid of that heat. Gutting an animal is a must, even when it is cold out, if the animal must be left for a long period of time,” Rinella explained.
Another thing Rinella does is get the hide off. “The hide of an animal also holds heat so I don’t like to leave the hide on my quarters. Some people think it keeps the meat cleaner, but the meat can spoil faster, especially in warm weather, if the hide is left on the meat even for short periods. Always get the hide off and let the meat cool,” Rinella added.
KEEP IT CLEAN
One major thing hunters do wrong is allow their animal quarters to get dirty. “Keeping meat clean is very important. You don’t want your meat to get covered in dirt or worse yet, get a lot of hair on it.” Hair from a big bull elk, for example, may be covered in mud or have urine or feces on it which can result in the meat not tasting good on the table. To keep hair and debris off of your meat, always hang it or lay it on a clean tarp of some kind when cutting it up in the field so it doesn’t come in contact with the ground.
When skinning an animal, use an extremely sharp knife so you can quickly skin the hide away from the carcass without having to tug or pull on the hide. The more tugging and pulling you do, the more hair will come loose from the hide and likely fall onto the meat. One thing no one wants to find in their elk burger is elk hair.
When Rinella is taking care of an animal in the field, he likes to cut the meat in large pieces instead of deboning most of the time. “I like to quarter an animal and keep the quarters whole. I also keep the ribs in large pieces. I keep the neck and backstraps whole. Keeping the meat in large pieces allows me to keep the meat a lot cleaner and decreases the amount of surface area that is exposed to bugs, dirt and other contaminants,” Rinella noted.
HANG IT HIGH
After everything has been removed from the carcass, Rinella puts it in the trees. “When possible, as soon as I have the meat removed from the animal, I put it into breathable game bags and hoist them in the trees. People should never put meat in anything other than a breathable game bag. Game bags are made of mesh material that allows the meat to breathe and cool and prevents bugs from getting to the meat. By mistake, some folks use non-breathable bags which can quickly spoil meat because it can’t cool down fast enough.”
Meat gets hoisted into the trees for a few reasons. It keeps the meat out of reach of most animals, keeps the meat in the shade under the branches of the trees and even a light breeze when hanging in a tree will quickly cool the meat. “I am always amazed at how long meat will last in the backcountry when properly taken care of. Even when daytime temperatures are extremely warm, meat will do well if it is in the shade and the nighttime temperatures drop a little and get cool. Getting the meat in a tree is a must if a hunter can’t make it out of the backcountry for a few days,” Rinella advised.
One more reason you want the meat up in the air and in the breeze is because it will form a hard layer on the outside of the meat which protects it from almost all things bad. “A gentle breeze and cool temperatures will result in a hard rind forming on the outside of the meat. It is similar to a rind on an orange. This hard layer is dried out meat that actually protects the inner meat. I want this hard layer to form so my meat is protected. After I get the meat out of the field and start processing it, all I have to do is trim away this hard layer to get at all the quality meat underneath. This is one reason I don’t like to debone the meat. Deboned meat can dry out quickly. When kept in large pieces, only the outside layer becomes hard.”
KEEP IT DRY
One enemy of all game meat is moisture. “I try to keep moisture away from the meat. This is another reason I hang meat in a tree under the branches. The tree can keep a little bit of rain off the meat.” When it is raining after a kill, using a tarp hung above the meat in a tree is one way to ensure meat doesn’t get wet. Moisture and humidity are your worst enemy after a kill. If you find yourself in these conditions shortly after you have killed something, get the meat out of the field as soon as you can and do your best to keep it dry.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT...
When heading into the backcountry, there are a few things you never want to leave the trailhead without to ensure your meat makes it out of the backcountry in good shape. You will need a great backpack for packing out meat and super sharp knives. Rinella uses a Havalon knife, a tarp, a paracord for hanging meat, high quality game bags and pepper, Meat Savr or some other type of fly deterrent that can keep flies away from your meat if it has to be hung for long periods.
MAKE A FEW CALLS
Call several game coolers before heading into the backcountry so you have a place lined up ahead of time so you are not looking for a game processor after the fact. Most small mountain towns have game coolers nearby who will either process your meat or at least cool it for you.
Coming home with a cooler full of meat is one of the most rewarding things about bowhunting. By following the meat care guide above, you can ensure you and your family will have dozens if not hundreds of high-quality organic meals. Nothing beats a steak on the grill from a free range wild animal that was raised in the mountains on grass and drank from mountain streams which is a far cry from the meat you buy in the store.
Outdoorsmans Pack System
A good pack is as important as high quality game bags when hunting in the backcountry. Rinella uses the Outdoorsmans Pack System when hunting off the beaten path. “There are several reasons I like the Outdoorsmans Pack. It has a liner that can be pulled out and quickly cleaned so I can throw a game quarter into the pack and remove the bag when I get home and hose it out for the next trip. I sometimes clean it in a creek during the hunt. The liner quickly dries and is ready to go again so I don’t have to worry about all my stuff getting bloody. This big internal bag works well for packing out meat and gear and is easy to keep clean,” said Rinella. The pack can also be removed and the frame can be used to pack out large quarters. A pack like the Outdoorsmans can make a 75-pound load feel much lighter which is a must when packing out large loads of meat.
Food good enough for family and friends
“If I were to be completely honest, my favorite thing to eat is elk backstraps,” said Rinella with a laugh. “But I like making great tasting meals out of things people don’t always utilize. For instance, I love taking the neck of an elk or deer and browning it in a crockpot. I slow cook it for hours until the meat falls apart. Then I put it in BBQ sauce and serve it like pulled pork. A neck is always fatty and greasy and it tastes a lot like pork when cooked down. This type of recipe is easy to do and everyone I serve it to loves it.”
About the author: Tracy Breen is a full-time outdoor writer, marketing consultant and motivational speaker. To learn more about him, visit www.tracybreen.com.
We get calls here in the shop on a daily basis asking about spotting scopes and what makes one better than another, or why should they get this scope over that scope. We can spew the numbers from manufactures catalogs and websites all day long, but what it really comes down to is in field use. Without time in the field with a particular optic, nothing we say is going to be different than what the customer could get from the manufacturer.
This last season I had the opportunity to use the new Swarovski STX 95mm spotting scope on a few of my hunts. So I am going to provide a review of the scope as a hunter and not as a sales person. No technical lingo or quoting text from the Swarovski catalog.
To be fully honest I have never been a spotting scope guy, I have always carried 15’s in my bag, and relied on them for most of my glassing purposes. I just never saw the benefits of carrying the extra weight for the extra magnification. With that being said, the STX 95 changed my mindset completely! This thing is an absolute work of glassing beauty. The scope is amazingly clear throughout the 30-70 magnification settings unlike any spotter I have ever used in the past.
The ability it gave me to see if that object I was looking at over two miles away was a bedded deer or a rock, saved me valuable time in unnecessary stalks (we have all been there.) The scope was so valuable on my Coues hunt in Southern Arizona that the extra five pounds in my pack felt like a bargain in the trade off. Yes the STX 95 weighs in at a touch over five pounds but the clarity it gives you at the highest magnification will keep you from having to pack it all over the mountain chasing rock deer.
As you can see I was truly blown away by the STX 95 and its capabilities in the field. If you ever get a chance to look through one in the field do so and I will be here to take your order when you call!
One guy who spends more time than most in the woods is Steven Rinella the host of the MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel. One thing Rinella never leaves home without is his Vortex Optics. Whether he is chasing Dall Sheep in Alaska or elk in Montana his binoculars and spotting scope are always within arms reach. I recently interviewed Rinella about what optics he prefers using most and how he uses optics to help him fill more tags.
~You are a big fan of Vortex Optics. What spotting scope is your favorite and why?
SR- Lately I've been using the 65 mm Razor HD with a straight eye piece. I own several other models but this one fits nicely with my style of hunting, where I'm seeking compromise between packability and power. I prefer an angled eye-piece for long glassing sessions, but the straight eye piece allows me to bounce back and forth between binos and a spotting scope on my tripod without having to change my physical position. With optics, there are constant trade-offs. I'm always tweaking my system to find the right way of doing things.
~I am sure over the years you have used many different binoculars and spotting scopes. Do you feel like Vortex offers a great value for the price compared with higher dollar glass?
SR-Yeah, you really can't beat it. The glass is fantastic, and the prices make it possible for guys who otherwise might not be able to afford good glass to get their hands on some. And it's all backed by a solid warranty. They won't leave you high and dry with faulty gear. And they just keep getting better year after year, with more and more products coming out.
~When hunting out west do you spend much time glassing? What is your favorite glassing technique? Do you sit in one spot for hours and glass or glass as you are hiking?
SR-Every year, I spend more of my hunting time sitting behind binoculars and less time walking around and spooking game. On a lot of western hunts, I might spend my whole day sitting in just two or three spots. I can tear the landscape apart with my eyeballs without emptying the country of game.
~Are there hunts you have been on where glassing is what made the difference between going home without a filled tag and filling a tag?
SR-That happens all the time. In fact, when hunting big game in open country, it's the norm.
You often use an Outdoorsmans tripod. What do you like most about the Outdoorsmans tripod system?
SR-It's indestructible. It works smoothly. I've never had a problem with it or a single gripe. I've put mine through so much abuse, it amazes me that it's still working. But it's as good as the day I got it.
If you could only afford one pair of binoculars, which model would you choose?
SR-Razor 10x42 for western country. If I lived back in the east, I'd use 8x42.
About the author: Tracy Breen is a full-time outdoor writer, marketing consultant and motivational speaker. To learn more about him, visit www.tracybreen.com.
Sometime ago, I read an article in Western Hunter Magazine, which was written by Randy Ulmer. He was discussing how he & his family use to jump shoot mule deer when he was a kid & how inefficient it was to solely use this tactic today. After I digested Randy's article I realized, Randy had evolved into one of the most efficient & smartest hunters of his era, while many of his generation chose to stick with old tactics & strategies; he chose to EVOLVE.
So, often we use the terms "AVERAGE or NORMAL" when we refer to ourselves in hunting, which are misused terms, because we are not defining what we are referring to... From my perspective, we are generally talking about our hunting skills & income levels, which are completely non-related, but somehow we have inner twinned them. I would encourage you to separate those & to refrain from using the terms "AVERAGE or NORMAL" as generic terms to describe yourself.If you are truly serious about advancing your skills as a hunter it doesn't take a monster budget, but it does take time & effort to increase them. You are also the only one who can chose to evolve as a Western Hunter, bowhunter or hunter. I can't, nor can anyone else do it for you, you have to do it on your own.Things you should be doing to increase your hunting skills:
Read, Listen & Watch credible content across multiple platforms
Reach out to credible successful hunters via email, social media or in person
Be open to new tactics & strategies
Practice with your gear (shooting, glassing, etc...)
Learn about the game you are hunting
Spend time in the woods
Be prepared to make mistakes or fail in the field
As your skills begin to climb up the ladder you will find that you don't ponder over upgrading your hunting gear as often as you once did. You will see the value of what you want & if you want it bad enough, you will prioritize things in your life to get the set of 15x56 Swarovski Binoculars you have dreamed about. By increasing your skills, you will simply have a better understanding of what gear is necessary & what gear is not.
Never let the brand of gear you currently use or your wallet define your hunting skills, that is simply under mining your ability to achieve your personal goals.
Antelope hunting is one of those things almost anyone can do, even if they are on a tight budget. Steve Fernandez from Colorado spends much of his fall guiding elk hunters at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. In his down time, he likes to chase speed goats. “Before the elk rut gets in full swing, I will chase antelope. I try to kill my goat early in the season so I can be done hunting before I have to switch gears and go elk hunting.”
Fernandez loves bowhunting big antelope bucks and uses a variety of tactics to fill his tag. “I start by spending a lot of time glassing in the late summer before season opens,” Fernandez said. “I try to figure out where the water is they are hitting, the travel routes they take and then put out blinds near water holes that receive a lot of action. I also put out trail cameras to further figure out big bucks.”
Fernandez is a big fan of high end optics and prefers using Swarovski optics. “If I am going to spend hours glassing, I want the best glass that can really help me narrow down my search, Fernandez said. “Good glass is necessary.”
When he has a few bucks figured out, Fernandez puts out pop-up blinds. “I put them up a week or more in advance and I build a barbwire cage around blind so the cattle can’t chew up the blind,” Fernandez said. “By leaving a blind out for a long time in advance, the goats and even the big bucks get comfortable coming to the water tank.”
Fernandez has had the best of luck staying in his blind all day long. “I will arrive long before the sun comes up and stay until dark, Fernandez noted. “I bring extra food, Wilderness Athlete drinks and magazines and don’t climb out of my blind until it is dark or after I shoot a buck.” Fernandez says big bucks often sneak into a water tank during the middle of the day and often that is when many hunters go home or go out to lunch for a little while. “Staying in a blind all day can be difficult, but it can really pay off.”
If blind hunting doesn’t work, Fernandez isn’t afraid to spot and stalk antelope with the help of a Montana decoy. “I have found that if I stir the dust up in front of my decoy which makes it look like a buck scraping at the ground, real bucks will come running in. I don’t even have to do much stalking. The bucks come to me,” Fernandez said with a laugh. By making the decoy look alive, Fernandez has brought many bucks within bow range. “I have killed a fair number of bucks by using a decoy. It is challenging and exciting.”
You may think because Fernandez is a guide that he is hunting on premium-leased land. That is not the case. He hunts public ground or simply knocks on doors. “I try to hunt on a budget as much as I can and I am still able to be successful because I hunt hard.”
As you can see in the picture above, the hard work pays off.