Contributors to this thread:
Alone & Breaking Down An Elk!
No doubt many of us here have had to do this a time or two. Whether hunting Timber or Open Country an Elk - Cow or Bull can appear overwhelming when alone. What are some tips that could assist others in this seemingly monumental feat.
Number 1 for me is to use the Gutless Method, it can save time & energy!
Alone & miles back!
Alone & miles back!
I quarter an elk then debone it with the quarters hanging in a tree. Getting the hind quarters off, especially on a really big elk can be a challenge but a way that works really well for me is with the elk on its back or side stand so you are basically straddling the quarter you intend to cut off and facing the elk. The legs should basically be resting on your back. Then lean back on the elk leg and start cutting from the groin working to the outside until you get the quarter off. Your body weight will keep pushing that cut open and will help expose and dislocate the hip. It works really well. Both hands stay free and you never have to manually hold the weight.
One of the biggest lessons I learned last year was on a big 6 point that i was working on. He fell and rolled down a STEEP hill. He got hung up on a patch of brush and that’s where I had to deal with him. At some point I was standing below him on the hill while working on the front shoulder and the brush gave way. He slid and luckily I was able to bail out of the way. It sounds ridiculous but I was inches away from being stuck under him. My tip is two fold. Take your time and tie one off in that situation and tip two is don’t stand underneath one!
Almost forgot- take a couple minutes and get the elk into the most workable position you can. Alone this can be difficult if not impossible. There also may not be a great spot. But if you can take 15 minutes to get an elk moved to a more workable spot, breaking one down will save you tons of time, save your back and help you do a better job and make it easier to keep the meat clean. Dumping the guts can be a good way to lighten the elk enough to be able to move it to where you need it.
Bring some rope to tie the head to a tree, so it won't slide downhill. And your knives will be more useful if they have orange handles, saves time if you put it down with a camo handle and it disappears.
3 things are a must for me. First is 50’ of parachute cord to tie off legs while I work on them. Second is my Stone Glacier pack frame. Third are my Leki trekking poles.
EDIT: just thought of one more item. I always have my Wyoming Saw II with me. There’s been a couple times the elk were wedged in downfall. I’d have been in trouble had I not had my saw. It also came in very handy to remove the head of this year’s bull. I was unable to turn him over until the antlers were out of the way.
One thing I’m finding out. The older I get, the more I need to get the job done! lol!
+1 in the orange knives. I have no idea why people buy camo knives. And have at least two knives. Even if you have replaceable blades, it’s not just about a knife getting dull, it also the fact that it is really easy to lose one.
Travis, wow, that could have left a mark! (grin) No doubt we need to be careful especially when alone!
Yes sir, I've misplaced a knife before, it's not hard either! (grin)
X2 Wyobull, I carry those same things for the same reasons! Gotta get the elk out too, good points!
AndyJ, I'm a two knife person too, I have my hair/getting Ivories out knife & my skinning knife! I don't let my skinner cut any hair as it dulls a knife super quick!
Perfectly timed thread. I have no tips. But just broke down and hauled out a PA whitetail by myself last night. No not an elk but by light of headlamp still some work. I'm sure I made it look harder than it is. When I had the meat out to the truck I sent this text to Huntabsarokee "Butchering your elk by yourself last year is the most impressive hunting feat you've ever done."
2 elk by yourself in 20 mins. Get your ass busy.
I broke one down and hauled it out by myself this year. I can tell you what not to do. Do not take your shirt off because the sun is making it miserable to work. I got the worst sunburn of my life.
I like to carry a folded up piece of very thin clear plastic in my kill kit. I spread it out on the ground, and hold it down at the corners with rocks, if possible. That way you have a clean-ish spot to keep the game bag that is currently being filled, or for momentarily setting down a knife, or chunk of meat, or unused game bags, or whatever. Just nice to have a 3x5 foot space not covered with dirt, pine needles, etc.
Also, if you are lucky enough to be breaking down the animal in daylight instead of by the light of a headlamp, make sure to keep an eye on the already filled and hung up game bags. They may have been in the shade when you started, but that shade is always moving, and direct sunlight can heat up that meat quickly!
Also, try to kill the elk UP the mountain from your truck. Downhill meat packing is much preferred to uphill.....
Gutless is the only way. My other thing is I never stop to sharpen a knife. I keep 2 Buck fixed blades for any heavy duty work and use. Havalon Piranta for everything else. Always a sharp edge. Dull knives require too much pressure which is dangerous. The last thing I want to do when my elk is on the ground is stab myself!
2 knives, 2 headlamps and bring 2 friends:)))
Everybody takes the hind legs off at the knee. If you move up one joint the bones separate much easier and the package is considerably shorter. All but one muscle is still attached to the femur so it doesn't ball up.
Get him in as good a position as you can, have some cord for tying legs off, gutless method unless you need to move him before taking the meat off or of course if leaving him overnight. A few fresh pine bows make a decently clean place to temporarily set meat if you don't have a contractor trash bag to lay out (you should).
Work steady but safe. Depending on the distance and terrain, leap frogging loads might make sense. Its more time putting on and taking packs off but it leaves the meat unattended for shorter periods and sometimes feels like less work having all the meat closer to the truck when you get there with that first load.
Embrace the plod.
Bob, so you're saying move up one joint towards the elks body? Hmm, I've not tried that, I generally use a WY Saw & cut off at the joint saving the nice handhold there!
Number 1 - Safety.
When you are out there alone with a big animal to take care of and using sharp knives, even small incidents can be life threatening. Make the area safe around the elk (move limbs, rocks, tripping hazards, your bow and arrows, pack, etc) to prevent twisting an ankle, slipping and cutting yourself or getting stuck by a sharp limb. Make cuts away from your body so you don’t slip and run a sharp knife into you. Had a hunter almost die on me once that had to help and ran a knife into his thigh about 3 miles into the Gila. Thank God there was someone there or he would not have made it out! Make sure to put a pack it that clotting agent and bandages in your pack to deal with bad cuts or puncture wounds.
Number 2 -Tools
A sharp knife or two at least in your pack. Those replaceable blade knives are nice and light, but the smaller ones blades can be a bit fragile. I still like a good fixed blade knife and a sharpener as well as one of those replaceable blade knives and extra blades. The faster you can break an elk down and get it started cooling the better, even if you don’t have game bags with you. A little bit of dirt is not too bad if you get there and the game bags are in another pack. A saw like a Wyoming saw or good folder with a bone saw can help with the ribs and cutting out the skull cap but I will use my knifes for everything else including removing the head and cutting the lower leg joints. A good set of game bags will help keep the meat cleaner and a good backpack for the haul out. Those hiking poles are a big help when going out heavy.
Number 3 Learn to use the gutless method and then bone out the quarters if you have to pack out on your back very far. You lose a huge amount of waste by leaving the bones in the woods. I do it all on the ground with a game bag under the meat to keep it clean.
It’s a lot of work and it definitely helps to have experience breaking down an animal in the field. Practicing on smaller animals like deer will be a big help when you end up on the side of a mountain with a big dead elk.
An orange knife and orange para cord saves time looking for them when things get busy
Oh, and if you are hunting in grizzly country, move the meat bags away from the gut pile at least 100 yards in a couple of different directions. Uphill from the carcass works better and where you can see the meat bags from a good distance...
I have to say I have a lot of respect for guys that elk hunt solo, and break down those suckers...solo, and get them out of hellish places.....SOLO ! I'd have to bring a frying pan !
Your never alone on Bowsite!
Triple ditto on the orange knife. Lots of other good tips already, but here's something to consider if you need to leave some meat overnight in griz country: Leave a radio and/or flashlight on the carcass.
Find cell service and call friends... tell them where I’m at and to bring some horses....dinner and beer is on me tonight .
Yes sir, lots of great tips!
Tavis, good stuff there, thank you!
When its getting dark and running out of time, put the quarters up in low branches, take off that sweaty T shirt and hang it near the meat.
Go back to camp and get yourself a beer. Pack meat in the morning! :>)
Paul, yes right where cnelk has the paracord on the hind qtr in his earlier pic. The joint falls apart, only tendons holding it.
Also helps to learn how to cape out the skull or cut the skull plate off. and or leave the skull and cape.
Also, don’t sit and blubber like that formerly known as a man on the “Man up” thread!
You got a lot of work ahead and can’t waste the energy boob’n!
Suck it up and get to work!
Has anybody lost an elk by leaving it overnight in Colorado? I’ve left 3 over night the last 3 years, 2 processed and one I didn’t find until the next morning. I’m always a little apprehensive but no issues.
Breaking down an elk solo isn’t hard, the only tricky part are the hind quarters.
I carry an extra set of lithium batteries for my headlamp. The lithium are lighter than alkaline, have a lower “freezing” temperature, and last s lot longer. I also have a petzl e lite that weighs nothing and has a 10 year battery. It just sits in my possibles pouch as an emergency headlamp.
Bob, gotcha, thank you!
I've left several overnight in ID & no loss yet except for what a bear decided to feast on! (grin)
Ucsdryder, you just wait, you'll have one die in an unforeseen position & spot & you'll think other-wise! (big grin) Too, depending on how long he's been dead & he has stiffened up man it's a bitch to get him broken down. Maybe they just don't to die in good places for me! Ha Ha!
I was by myself and had to quarter, then go up a very steep mountainside. Drink alot of fluids lest ye be cramping....BTDT. Preferably Gatorade for electrolyte losses due to sweating.
Paul, I’ve hunted Idaho and know what you mean! And yes the next day stiffening make lifting those quarters off the body to cut much harder! By the time I’m done I’m walking around with my hand on my lower back trying to stand up straight.
The advice to have two headlamps or at least two good sets of headlamp batteries is gold. If you need to break one down at night. You are done if your headlamp dies and it makes packing out much, much worse.
Most of the elk I have butchered alone have been done in the dark. If you go gutless, it is a big job. If you gut and quarter, it is a little bigger job. I have no great secrets to getting the job done clean and easy. Just take your pictures and get to work. When taking off a ham or shoulder, I like to place my game bag on it before I cut it off. As the leg is severed from the body I slip the bag over it before it ever touches the ground.
Also a little bitty LED light, the kind that fit on your keychain. Keep it on the zipper pull for your pack. When you get an elk down, and are taking the first load back to the truck, hang it near the remainder. It makes it so much easier to find in the dark.
Gianni, I hear ya bud! I'm still holding my back! (grin)
I usually have a piece of rope, or better yet a piece of 16ga tie wire on the quarter before I cut it completely off the carcass. Then I take it directly to the tree or branch I've hung and hang that quarter till I've got all 4 hangin (gutless method of course). Then if I'm gonna bone it out I have the bag ready and try to get the hind boned in one piece and have it bagged as I cut the last of it from the bone. Then I take the wire off the leg bone and tie it to the bag and hang it. And replaceable bladed knives are the only way to go IMHO. My havalon weighs a few ounces vs a conventional blade and sharpener, and I dont have to stop and sharpen. Did 2 elk in about 90 minutes first season with one blade. Shot em about 45 minutes apart.
I really like those plastic utility knives with replaceable snap off 18mm razor blades. I think the blades are sturdier than the havelons and the knives are dirt cheap, light weight and plenty sturdy.
Anyone else get terrible hand cramps from gripping and pulling on the hide while skinning?
I’ve been carrying very lite weight Kevlar Gloves. Kinda look like the rubber palmed gardening gloves. They have very good grip when bloody and prevent little nicks while flailing around from adrenaline.
Cnelk I love that. I wish my favorite knives came in orange. No doubt I’ve spent some time asking myself wtf did that knife go! I’m very careful and methodical about where I place my tools when I’m cutting up a bull.
You will get little sympathy from those of us who have cleaned/packed out a moose by ourselves!
1. Shoot them in the morning so you have all day to work on them and pack meat. 2. Started wearing a cut resistant glove but by the end they are shot because the fibers are very coarse and fill up with blood. Try putting them on under your latex glove. 3. I swapped out my game bags intended for boned meat to larger bags that can hold a full quarter. When by myself I just want to get the quarters off and covered in the bag and can worry about boning the meat later. I mean where do all those damn flies come from anyway?
Done it a few times, including this year with my elk, had to debone one side leaving quarters on, positioning wasn't great, almost had to do my moose this year but rattlingjunkie came to pick me up due to high winds making an all day hunt pointless
Can never have enough flashlights. Killed 13 elk, had help with 5 of them, the rest were solo. Anywhere from 4 miles in to three hundred yards from the truck. My question is...why 2 elk? And in 20 minutes? Holy crap, what a job. One five point I left the front half overnight in sub zero temps and by golly the neck meat soured over night. Should have cut the wind pipe out. Stupid. Even in that kind of cold, it spoiled from body heat.
The first time I broke down an elk with a Havalon, I broke 4 blades. Currently, I’ve done north of a dozen animals in a row (deer, elk, and goat) is without breaking a single blade and that includes separating dozens of joints and a few spines. Hold your Havalon lightly and mostly with your first 3 fingers and you’ll never break a blade.
6 of mine I didn't 'break down', dragged 2 of them out whole whether you can believe that or not. One was a spike, 2.5 miles downhill in snow (got it in the pickup bed too), and one was a giant cow, 300 yds downhill into the bed of my F250 (took up all of an 8 foot bed), and the other 4 I cut in half and dragged out the halves. Back breaking but I was young and stupid and didn't have a real good pack than.
Slow down ensure you are not pushing yourself so much you make a mistake and injure yourself.
Take cord to help hold the limbs since you don't have a partner and something to lay the meat on to keep it clean and to cool before putting it in the game bag.
Orange knifes or you will loose it. Carry two.
I keep a CAT Tourniquet and clotting bandage in the kill kit. You may never need them, but if you do and don't have them you wont live to learn from it.
Trekking poles. They may look funny but they will keep you from getting injured on the pack out. I even carry them for packing out Whitetail. Falling with a heavy pack can be fatal.
I carry a thick Nitrile glove for the right hand for dexterity and a Kevlar glove for the left hand. I am right handed and if you are going to cut a hand it will be the left hand. I also switched to a Gerber replaceable blade knife instead of a Havalon. I had cut myself twice before when tired and replacing a blade on the Havalon. Very easy to change the blade safely on the Geber.
Pictures mean different things to different people. For me, they are huge. I absolutely LOVE pictures. I love looking at them later, and reliving the moment. I'll spend up to an hour taking pictures. And I really don't care about the "lost time." There have been a few times I have short-cut the picture taking time, and never got that "great" photo, and then I regret it for years.
For guys that like pics, I'd say take your time, get your photo, because you never have another chance at it. It's a one and done. Who knows what future success or lack of you'll have? Who knows what these pictures will mean to you when your back gives out later in life and all you have left is pictures? About showing your kids, or your grandkids, who may marvel at the wild places we've been when they aren't there for them. My tip would be to take your time, and do what you need to do to get a picture that you are happy with. The beauty of digital cameras is we can now see what we've got. I've felt bad on a couple occasions taking pictures with my brother or my friend and we look at them and they say "How's that?" I look at them and they just aren't quite right, and I feel bad taking another 10,15 minutes to get the pictures right, but I am so happy I did. On my own I'm only holding myself up so I'm OK with it. An hour less sleep who cares, I've got the rest of my life to enjoy those pictures.
On the breaking down I think it was quickly mentioned but that length of paracord to tie off a leg and take that little bit of pressure off is money depending on where the animal fell.
Use several techniques that many of you do.
#1 Gutless - and leave all the bones behind
#2 Cut-resistant kevlar glove on left hand. I wear 9mil nitrile gloves on both hands, over the kevlar glove. When you're all done peel the gloves and voila clean hands.
#3 Orange knife is a no-brainer, but I guess plenty of folks think camo is cool.
I personally find removal of blades from Havalon is easy, but I have a few tricks. Havalon now makes a blade removal tool, but even without it, just pinch the blade between a log and your boot sole, flex the removal tab and pull. Zero chance of cutting yourself. For install get blade started and push tip against same log, again no chance of cutting yourself although if you go crazy you could snap the blade, which I never have.
#4 Most of the time I never bother to separate knee or above (the easier one as Wapiti points out). I disconnect whatever leg, lay it on top of the skinned carcass, which is pretty well clean, slice the meat off and leave all the bones behind.
#5 Trekking poles - use the straps correctly: don't just let the loops hang down and reach straight through, you have to count on your hand grip to hold the pole (pics of majority of people do this); reach up through the loop from below and the natural weight of your arm cinches the loop so you barely need to grip the pole with your hand.
#6 Stay in shape all year long, hunting and packing meat is hard work!
#7 Bright headlamp. Majority of my butchering packing out game is after dark; seems like I kill more things at the end of the day.
My cleaning kit...…
I have boned off and caped most every elk solo the last 5-6 years.
No doubt where they die and the way they lay after death is significant on how difficult it will be.
Be safe out there--------->
Good luck, Robb
Thank you guys for all your awesome input! I feel those of us that have been doing this for years & could do it in our sleep take a lot for granted on how tough it can be for others who've never done it or have done it so few times that a Thread like this could really help them out on their future elk hunts!
Take what AndyJ suggests about straddling the elk on those hinds to release the joint, great stuff bud! Thank you!
Yes sir, there's tons of years of experience in this thread that can really shave down on the trials & errors of breaking down the beast when alone or not!
Works for caribou in AK too, where you are required to take the meat first and the cape/antlers last. Boning out is essential when alone there. I had one down 4 miles in from camp and it took two trips with a real heavy pack each time. 100# plus on one of them (the second one with head and hide - THAT was fun.... :/ ). "I carry a thick Nitrile glove for the right hand for dexterity and a Kevlar glove for the left hand.." That is a darn good idea. I manage to nick my hand most every animal, luckily only required stitches once.
Trapper, good points!
I've been cut a time or two myself but no stitches date! (fingers crossed!)
One of my concerns when there's two guys breaking down an elk is watching out for the other guy, knives get to slicing & dicing & that's how I've been whacked on the worse! I had a guy have his knife slip off the hide as he struggled to get the tip through & into the back of my forearm smacking the tip into the bone, blood gushed & he had no idea he'd just stabbed me he just kept on going until I said something! Got the bleeding stopped & finished the bull & packed him out. The next day I had a fever & felt like $hit! I hunted anyway but it was no fun!
ElkNut1: DEFINITELY be careful with 2 guys! Knife safety is almost as critical as firearm safety - always be sure you know where you're pointing and don't be pushing in a direction that when the blade slices through it flies toward your partner!!!
When I'm hunting with my daughter I have her wear Kevalar gloves (and rubber gloves) on BOTH hands because she's often the one holding things while I slice.
Carl, great idea with your daughter! Better safe than sorry!
I love the gutless method, growing up in TX we called it a poacher cut!
When I bow hunt in NM it is hot, so while I would love to hang out and take lots of pictures I gotta get it going. First thing I do is skin a side and lay the skin flat, that way I can use it as a clean area.then start taking off quarters and the straps to get it cooling asap.
Once one side is done and bagged, roll him over and get to work again. Due to my bad back I get down on my knees and work to keep from bending over too long or I won't be able to get up.
I keep my knives and saw close to make sure they don't get "misplaced".
Work fast and you can save alot of meat, but if I wait at all meat will spoil and be lost.
Lot of good info in this thread... Like many, I like multiple knives. My current favorite is my Havalon Titan - which has the replaceable blade on one end and a heavy duty fixed blade on the other. I also try to have a small multi-tool along - that makes changing the blades so much easier and safer. Head lamp (and a spare) is a must (because you always seem to run out of day light). I normally don't quarter but debone the elk out - starting by skinning one whole side of the elk. I'll have a small tarp along and just start laying\throwing the meat on the clean tarp. I take all the meat off the side that's up and then I'll flip it over, skin the other side and repeat the deboning process. Some paracord or string can be handy - I always have some bungee straps along for straping the meat sacks to my pack..
My bull from 2 years ago was rigored up by the time I got to him. He was pinned against some deadfall and taking care of him was hell. By the time I was nearing completion, my forearms and hands were cramping up. Had to pry my right hand open off my knife. Boy that sucked. Not sure that I have any recommendations, but them being in rigor makes things way more difficult!
Smarba had lotsa good points. Ive done a several solo and many with help.
1. Orange knife. Easy to find and i like the paracord that cnelk had. Makes it easy to keep track of.
2. Be damn careful when you have help. I've seen some very close calls where the dude on the knife slipped and came very close to burying the knife in the helpers femur.
3. Ditch the bones. If you are solo, carrying out the bones is an extra trip.
4. Get some good lightweight game bags and trekking poles. Bags will keep it clean and the poles will save your legs on the uphill climbs.
The bull I killed this year was solo. He was mile+ in...shot him at 0930...boned him out and got the last load out at dark.
Last load out...time for a cold one!!
Agree with Cadis, though it was also a "no brainer" but ditch the bones. The only bones I consider carrying are the shoulder blades (just the upper bone) because it can be harder to get all the meat off them in the field than at the butcher. But I only keep them if it's a relatively easy pack out.
I personally do my elk Euro skull, so reluctantly carry out the extra weight of the head. The only reason to justify a saw would be if I planned to cut the skull cap.
I actually find it easier to keep the bones in on the hindquarters and bone out the fronts. I find the hindquarters much easier to work with the bone in, especially when by myself. The extra weight is not, at least for me, a big deal. The front quarters are not as much weight and not too difficult to deal with and load into game bags, or a pack, without the bone. But then, I'm 6'3", 205 so someone not as big might have a bit more trouble with the extra weight.
One huge reason to debone the hind quarter is the big ham is such a huge heat source it's difficult for the meat to cool during typical archery weather.
I’m lucky that I haven’t had to do one solo yet, but UNLUCKY in that the vast majority of my hunting has been solo, so I’ve only done the one Elk. And she was BIG, which I am not.
So I’m really appreciative of all of the good advice here, and IN PARTICULAR, the Safety info. I didn’t think so much about it 20-25 years ago and indestructible, but now I have 2 boys and a bad case of (advanced) Aging Jock Syndrome.
Anyway, I will add just this, and mostly by way of adding emphasis:
Be prepared to deal with a catastrophic knife wound. Pack the right gear and lay it out with thought and care right at the edge of your work area. I’m thinking you should keep the tourniquet around your neck.... pretty sure that our Warriors do that in the field.
But having your emergency kit somewhere in your field of view will be a constant reminder to avoid needing it.
And a tip I picked up from a UK deerstalker who used to shoot a few thousand deer/ year...
Go to a boat store that deals in sailing gear, and put together a block & tackle set that will give you a 3:1 mechanical advantage; you’ll be amazed at how small and light you can go with some good dyneema line and a few small pulleys. You don’t need miles of line - just whatever length you’re willing to pay for and carry. Because sometimes you only need to move an animal a couple of feet to make life a whole lot easier.... And with a 3:1 advantage, most here should be able to lift a gutted bull clean off the ground.
As long as you don’t stick yourself in the femoral....
I've done this many times. Usually do the boneless method unless it's a short pack out. Shot this big cow at timberline solo and yielded four 40 lb game bags of boneless meat. That's weighed at the site and packed out on 2 llamas. A hail thunderstorm moved in and the llamas didn't like packing out across the top of the mountain with lightning cracking all around anymore than I did! Knives aren't the only thing that can kill you solo.
Also, I recently did a Stop the Bleed training course. Very informative and I would urge any hunter to take one being as we're using and around sharp implements all the time. Along with the gory videos we practiced applying tourniquets to arms and legs on ourselves and others. Take aways: 1. Get a CAT type tourniquet, put it in your first aid kit and know how to use it. If it's less than $30 it's probably not made well enough and may fail when you need it most. 2. If you have a tourniquet applied to your leg you are not going to be able to walk out Rambo style. It will be painful at the tourniquet site and your leg will be completely numb.