Mike Lee elk hunting

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Strategies for Taking Public Land Elk Day 3: How to Skin and Pack Out an Elk

Mike Lee with an elk
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Editor’s Note: Mike Lee, formerly from Montana but now living in Oregon, has been hunting elk for almost four decades – both on Montana and Oregon public lands. According to Lee, “Because I like to work from the ridgeline of mountains down to the lower elevations, I hunt in trees and dark timber most of the time. So, if I’m calling an elk from down below me, more than likely, I’ll meet him in the timber.”


Elk I was hunting one year in Montana with a friend of mine. We had pre-season scouted together, and we both knew the area we wanted to hunt. In the morning, we had watched a herd of elk coming off private land and heading to the High Country. But to get to a spot where we could intersect the elk on public land, we would have to walk about 4-1/2 miles to get into position. We left the truck about 3:30 am to cover the distance in the dark before daylight. When we were about 400 or 500 yards from the place where we wanted to take a stand, we started hearing elk bugling all the way around us. We stopped, sat down and waited. As the sky lightened-up, we could see elk for 360 degrees around us. When the sun climbed higher in the sky, we strained our eyes to look for bulls. While we were trying to decide what we were going to do, a spike bull walked 10 feet behind us and almost stepped on us. Needless to say, we both got really excited.


Once the spike finally ran off, we spotted a very-good bull in the trees and four other bulls on the hillside above us, about 600 – 800 yards away. As my friend and I whispered about what we thought would be the best game plan, a bull bugled right behind us. We turned to look and saw two, 6×6 bulls about 200 yards from us. We slowly turned around and got good rests, and both shot at the same time. This hunt was on opening morning and only 15 minutes after legal shooting time. We had two, 6×6 bulls down already, and this elk hunt was one of the greatest I’d ever had.


Since we were only 3-1/2 miles from the truck, we helped each other field dress and quarter each elk. We used the gutless method of getting our meat by:

  • taking our knives and cutting the hide from the base of the tail up the backbone all the way up to the base of the elk’s ears;
  • skinning the hide down about a foot on either side of the front shoulders, cutting behind the front shoulder and around the hide and removing the front shoulder;
  • skinning the hide down just a little bit farther to take the hindquarter off the elk the same way we’d removed the front shoulder;
  • taking the back strap out; and
  • reaching in behind the last rib and using my index finger and my thumb to pinch behind the tenderloin – disconnecting the tenderloin at each end of the meat, so it came out in one piece.

Mike Lee with an elk


Then, we flipped the elk over and used the same procedure to get the meat off the other side. With two people working on the same elk, we got all the meat off one elk in about 30 minutes. We had the meat for both elk and were ready to start packing out in only about an hour.


Here’s the way we pack out. One of us carries a hindquarter and a meat bag with tenderloins, backstraps, neck roasts and some of the rib meat. The other hunter carries out both front shoulders. After putting the meat in the truck, we go back and get the second load. On the third trip, we bring out the head and any other meat that we have. On this day, as we were coming out with our third load, we met some hunters on horseback who had harvested elk and had their elk packed in their panniers on their horses. They carried one of the heads out for us on our last trip.



Elk: Keys to 23 More Hunters' SuccessTo learn more about hunting elk successfully, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “Elk: Keys to 23 More Hunters’ Success,” available in Kindle, print and Audible at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09B2H9V6Y/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i2.

And see John E. Phillips’ book, “PhD Elk: How to Hunt the Smartest Elk in Any State,” available in Kindle, print and Audible at  http://amzn.to/WkbAWa. You may have to copy and paste these clicks into your browser. When you click on these books, notice on the left where Amazon allows you to read and hear 10% of the books for free. On the right side of the page and below the offer for a free Audible trial, you can click on Buy the Audible with one click.


Tomorrow: How to Find and Hunt Elk in Bad Weather

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