Going into the 2014 hunting season marked my 20th year of elk hunting. My elk hunting debut happened the fall after I turned 16. My uncle and I had just gotten our drivers licenses so we begged my dad to let us use the jeep so we could go hunting. Whether it was the lack of confidence in us actually killing anything or just to get us out of his hair he let us take the jeep.
We set off with high hopes and big dreams with no real sense of reality. We drove through the night on adrenaline to get to our hunting area and were off at first light. Later that evening my uncle connected on a small rag horn bull. That is when the reality of the situation set in. Nether one of us had a clue what to do with an elk once it hits the ground. That was one very painful lesson I will never forget.
Now 20 years later I like to think I have learned a few things along the way. Going into that hunt we had no idea on how to butcher an elk in the field as well as the tools to get the job done. Now we have done it enough times that with two guys we can have an elk butchered and ready to pack out within an hour and a half. Here is the system I use to ensure I have good clean elk meat to fill my freezer each year.
The first thing I do is to make an incision from the base of the neck down to the base of the tail running along the back bone. Next I pick a half way point on the elk and make an incision running from the spine down to the underside of the brisket. I now have the elk sectioned off into a front half and back half. I usually start to work on the front half first.
I slowly start to peel the hide back working my way from the spine down to the brisket. I work my way down until I have the front quarter exposed. I then run my knife around the elbow joint and then start to skin out the underside of the quarter. The front quarter comes of pretty easy. I keep working my knife along the underside of the shoulder blade cutting through all the muscle and connective tissue. At this point the shoulder is separated from the carcass. I then put the quarter in a game bag and hang it in a near by tree. This will keep the meat clean and start the cooling process.
I then go back and start to work on the hind quarter. You have to work a little harder to get the hind quarter off but it is still pretty simple. I start to peel the hide back in the same manner as I did the front quarter. I get to the elbow joint and I run my knife around it the same way as I did the front quarter. I work my way back up the underside of the leg until I reach the ball joint. It really helps if you have a partner helping you lift the leg as you cut. If you don’t have a partner with you at the time you can tie a rope to a nearby tree to pull the leg up to get it up out of your way as you work.
Now once you have reached the ball joint I keep working my way knife around the joint while constantly lifting the leg until the joint gives way. You will hear the joint pop as it gives way. Now I keep working up towards the spine until the quarter is completely free. I then put this quarter in a game bag and hang it next to the first one.
I then go back and start to work on the back straps. I run my knife along the back spine separating the meat from the bone. I start up in the neck area and work my way down all the way to the tail. Once you have done this I start to cut out the underside of the back strap. You will be able to see where this muscle is, and I start to cut underneath it back towards the spine. I start to work towards the neck and work back towards the tail. It is a little hard to get going and first, but once it starts to come it comes off in one long piece of meat. I then immediately place the back strap into a game bag to keep it clean.
At this point I have gotten all the major pieces of meat off of the carcass. I now go back and do a quick clean up of all the small pieces of meat that I might have missed and place them in a game bag. I make sure I go through the neck area and get as much meat as I can as this area produces a lot of meat to be turned into burger.
Now I am done with one half of the elk. I then roll the elk over and continue the same process until the other side is complete. Once I am done I end up with a couple of bags of loose meat and the four quarter hanging in the tree.
Generally if you are using stock animals to haul out an elk you would leave the meat on the bones to be packed out. I have never used pack animals to haul an elk out so I bone out the quarters. I don’t want to be hauling any extra weight at this point then I have to. Elk bones are heavy and there is no need to haul them out of the mountains.
The last thing that I do is to bone out the quarters handing in the tree. I start to work my way from the highest point down. I slowly work my way down running my knife as close to the bone as possible. I slowly work the meat off the bones and let it fall in the game bags as I work my way down. This will ensure the meat stays clean during this process. Once the meat is off the bones and into the game bags I tie them of keeping flies from laying eggs on the meat.
Once you are done you should end up with 5 good sized game bags full of meat. If you have taken care you will end up with 250-300 pounds of good clean meat to feed you and your family throughout the year. Now is when the rubber meets the road. It is time to haul those bags of meat off the mountain and get them in the cooler. Now is when you find out if you did enough during the summer preparing for your hunt. I won’t lie; it is a lot of work to get the job done. But it is the number one workout I look forward to every year.
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It’s a lot of hard work, no doubt about it. The sweat begins when you turn from marksman to butcher, but those 20 yrs of experience you got in the bag are only going to help! Serious about hunting elk? You need to be in shape! Using the right broadhead for elk helps too, assuming you’re bowhunting, of course!
Great comment Jim and I couldn’t agree more about the broadhead statement!