Hunter dressing elk

The Elk’s Down – What’s Next and Equipment Needed...

Elk in the field

The Elk’s Down – What’s Next and Equipment Needed...

07/14/2021 Comments (0) Archery, Bowhunting, Elk Hunting

The Elk’s Down – What’s Next and Equipment Needed with J. R. Keller Day 3: How to Predict the Time Required to Reach Your Vehicle and Always Assess Your Physical Condition

Hunter standing with elk

Editor’s Note: J.R. Keller has lived in Colorado most of his life and has had a love for the outdoors, which he’s acquired from his father, while accompanying him on hunting and camping trips. With Keller’s vast knowledge of hunting elk, turkey, mule deer and waterfowl, he’s appeared on The Outdoor Channel, TNN Outdoors and numerous outdoor TV shows and teaches seminars across the country. Keller’s philosophy is that knowledge is the most-important piece of equipment a hunter takes into the woods.  

Hunter carrying elkIf I’m hunting alone, I’ll plan for a full day of work to get my elk out on my frame pack. I’ll debone as much meat as I can, put the meat in the frame pack and leave the bones, especially if I have to walk any distance. Carrying out deboned meat is much easier than taking-out quarters.

The distance you have to walk back to your vehicle after the elk’s down dictates how much meat processing you do in the field. The further I have to walk carrying a pack, the fewer bones I want to carry. The closer I am to the truck, the more bones I can take with me. Although the GPS can tell me how far I am from my vehicle, it can’t show me how many mountains I’ll have to climb to reach the truck. So, if the GPS shows that I’m only 1 mile from the truck, but I know I’ll have to climb over two or three mountains to reach that truck, I may debone the meat. But if I’m at the head of a meadow and only have to walk 1 downhill mile to my truck, I’ll carry a quarter of the meat out at a time and not spend the time deboning it.

Downed elkSo, it’s not only my distance from my vehicle when I find my bull that determines how I’ll get the meat out. I also consider the terrain – whether it’s hilly or mountainous or mostly-flat ground with a slight slope – that I’ll have to cross to return to my vehicle. All these factors determine the best method of carrying out my elk.

Assess Your Physical Condition and Pace Yourself

The last and the most-important elements to consider when preparing to carry elk meat out are your physical condition, age and pre-existing medical problems. Loading my frame pack with 50 to 70 pounds of meat and then having a heart attack trying to get the meat out doesn’t make any sense. I don’t load my pack with a weight that’s too difficult to carry. I use common sense and lighten my pack, even if I have to make several trips back and forth. The further I have to travel, the heavier my pack will feel. So, the hunter’s personal health and conditioning or lack of it will play a major role in how he gets the bull out after the bulls down.

Elk ready for dressingRemember, hunters are on their hunts to enjoy themselves. They’re not on these hunts to lift weights and prove to anyone how much elk meat they can pack-out at one time. If I carry less meat on each trip and make several trips back and forth to my elk, I’ll have a much-more enjoyable hunt than if I struggle with carrying a heavy pack all day. If I debone the elk, depending on how far I have to walk, I generally can get most of my elk meat out in three to five trips.

Don’t get in a hurry, take your time, go at a steady pace, and be careful. Most people aren’t accustomed to carrying loads on their backs. Therefore, until you get comfortable with your pack and your load, pack light, walk slowly, and take deliberate steps.

Cover: How to Find Your Elk and Get Him In CloseTo learn more about elk hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close,” available in Kindle, print and Audible versions at You may have to copy and paste this click into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon allows you to read 10% of the book for free).

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