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Handling Big Game

Transporting Big Game

Capt. Clark
Sunday the 15th December 1805.

I Set out early with 16 men and 3 Canoes for the Elk, Packing Out 
Elk Quarters
proceed up the River three miles and  thence up a large Creek from the right about 3 miles the hite of the tide water drew up the Canoes and all hands went out in three different parties and brought in to the Canoe each Man a quarter of Elk, I Sent them out for a Second load and had Some of the first Cooked against their return, after eateing a harty diner dispatched the party for a third and last load, about half the men missed their way and did not get to the Canoes untill after Dark

Before the hunt it is important to prepare a meat transport plan starting with moving the carcass from the harvest to the hunting camp, from the camp to your vehicle, and in some cases to an airport for air shipment.  If you will be transporting game across state lines, you should be aware of any requirements pertaining to the transport of carcasses where you are hunting, in the states you may be traveling through and in your home state.

If you hunted in Canada or Mexico it is equally important to know the rules for transporting harvested game and the requirements for transporting your guns into the country and returning to the US.

Special Requirements

Some states require the harvest tag to be Packing Meat Out
attached to the head or antlers whereas other states require that it be attached to the largest piece or portion of meat.
Attached to the meat does not mean attached to the bag the meat is in, but rather in the bag and attached to the meat.
The tag must remain with the meat until it is eaten (including while it is in cold storage).
In Washington State it is illegal to possess or transport big game animals unless evidence of the animal's sex is left naturally attached to the carcass until the carcass is processed or stored for consumption.
When you are field dressing or packing out carcasses some states emphasize that you may not allow your game animal to be recklessly wasted.
Alaska requires all moose and caribou meat including rib meat to be packed out.  (Canada also has similar requirements for preventing wastage of game meat)
If you have hunted in another state you need to check the rules for transporting the bone-in meat across state lines.  For more information on importing meat from outside Washington State go to Chronic Wasting Disease Introduction.
Check with state or province fish and game departments to ensure you have the latest requirements for game transport.

Harvest Site to Camp

The hardest transport leg is from the harvest site to the Deer on Cart
hunting camp and again terrain, temperature and time will play a major role on how its done.  Any of the following types of equipment can be used for transporting the carcass:

Backpack frame for quartered or boned meat
Skid or sled method to drag the carcass while keeping it off the ground
Wheeled cart for hauling the carcass
Horses/mules/llamas/goats for packing out meat quarters
ATV's/snowmobiles/4 Wheel drive vehicles for hauling or pulling
Boats for hauling meat across lakes

If the terrain is very rough special equipment such as block and tackle, ropes, and winches may be required. The size of the retrieval team will vary depending on the distance to camp, the time available to get the carcass out and the size of the animal.  To save time and effort it may be simpler to quarter or bone the carcass, pack in cloth meat bags, and haul out the pieces.

At this step, safety of the hunters and the potential for major spoilage of meat have to be weighed against retrieval of the entire carcass.   The decision made must meet the test that the action taken did not result in reckless wastage of meat (this may vary from state to state).

Vehicle Transport/Air Shipment

With the carcass at the hunting camp further field dressing may be needed for the remainder of the trip.  

If the animal is large it may need to be Good Ventilation
cut into quarters to improve handling and keeping the meat cool.  Provisions should be made for transporting covered quarters for large animals in a SUV or truck.
Deer size with the skin on can be transported without quartering by placing them on a rack on the roof of the vehicle provided the weather is cool and there is good circulation around the carcass.
If the carcass is visible, you should check with state authorities to see if there are restrictions on "public display" of the animal.
During warm weather, boned meat may be put in containers with ice or under a tarp with bags of ice between the tarp and meat (remember cold air sinks so ice is more efficient if placed above the meat rather than under it).
As required arrangement for processing the meat should be made in advance with a locker or butcher.
If the meat is to be shipped by air you must get the air transportation regulations and determine packing requirements, weight restrictions, cooling requirements, cost and delivery arrangements.