Bow & Arrow August 1980
How To Backpack a Deer The Safe Way
By Sam Fadala

Ideally, we like to harvest our venison where some means of conveyance is in close proximity to the downed game, be that a vehicle a pickup truck or a willing mule ; however, many a deer must be brought out when the only “horse” around is the two-legged variety called Hunter.

Having spent many years in the Southwest before moving North, and taking a good number of Coues deer, the little whitetail buck that lives in Arizona’s rugged border mountains, I learned to take venison back to camp on my back. At first, when there were few hunters in the country, and I had not employed much common sense in the matter, I toted my venison right on my back. What a target that must have been.

Later, I got around to using my head along with my back, employing a packframe and cutting the really big bucks in two hunks, my partner taking half, I taking the other half; or leaving half to be picked up later if I had no help. Today, I still use the packframe method of taking a deer from a field to the campsite. And I still cut the really big animals in half, while carrying the smaller ones back in one piece.

Because I wanted the reader to see how the deer was situated on the packframe the photos do not reveal the bright orange cape that is tied over the animal before packing it in. In fact my son who is shown carrying the deer, his first packframe pack-out was told to remain only in that one small canyon , not revealing himself where he could be seen. Also we were on a private ranch, which cut down the chance of seeing another hunter.

However, the orange cape is always slipped over the venison before packing it back to the camp. The reader should be aware of this fact, and he never should carry anything that might make him a target.

Step one in safety, then , in backpacking the deer to camp is to disguise it’s shape so it appears to be anything but game. As suggested this is accomplished by covering it with an orange cape. Also it should be pointed out at this point that the packaged unit – the deer strapped to the packframe – is rectangular in shape, which helps break up its animal – looking outline.

Step two in the safety department is to carry only what is manageable. Size of the hunter has a lot to do with how much he can pack, but amazingly, I have seen some stout fellows crumble under the weight of a deer that goes only ninety pounds dressed. I imagine that certain muscles are not built for it, and I once witnessed a football coach who had been bragging for two days as to his physical prowess, turn absolutely crimson when he had to give up packing a small buck to camp.

The two men who were along were none too kind when the braggart stumbled for the tenth time and couldn’t get up under his ninety five-pound load. One of the fellows said, “Hey, why don’t you let me pack that to camp. There are two cold beers in the cooler- and I’d like to get one before it
gets hot.”

There is no shame in not being able to pack a heavy load to camp. But it
would be a shame to get a hernia. The hunter can tell what he is able to pack. Certainly he will feel the load as a heavy weight on his shoulders and
back, but he should also be able to walk a good distance with it before
having to rest. If there is a stretching, straining feeling in the groin, I would
suggest cutting the deer in two and packing one half at a time.
After the hunter has decided a safe load limit for himself, step three in
safety is to go slowly. The packframe should be adjusted for comfort, using
the waist belt and shoulder straps. If the deer has been cut in two, which is
accomplished after field dressing it by simply cutting through the vertebra
which marks the end of the loin and the beginning of the hams, and if the
tie-downs are firm, the load will ride remarkably well, shifting but little.

However, by going slowly there is less tendency to throw the load off balance.
Step tour in safety is never to jump down from so much as a small log
while packing the deer to camp. With such a load on tho back, even a hop
on a little hillock could strain the groin area. Stepping down slowly from
The back legs are drawn up in between the front legs, and the head tied back.
Once securely tied, the deer is transformed into a tight, easy to carry pack. any bump on the ground is the byword.

The final safety precaution is to use a walking stick. Any stick picked up
off the ground will help balance the hunter and take a lot of the weight off
his shoulders, by transferring it to the arm, arm-power aiding leg-power. I use
A Moses stick, a walking staff that can prevent a fall as well as being Leaned on.

Hunting with a backpack is no hindrance, I use a frame with a daypack slipped over lhe top bars. In dangerous country; where a storm can sock you in for days, I carry a Coleman five
pound tent, and a light sleeping bag tied to the frame. With the contents of
my daypack, I will last out a fairly fierce storm without becoming a statistic. My frame has a hook on its right side for attaching the rifle via its sling or a bow. Thus, l have both hands free,
but still can slip it off for use in a hurry, Finally, after game is taken, my
frame serves to,help me get that meat back to the vehicle.

A great advantage of hunting ,with
the packframe, I feel, is avoidance of bruising the meat. We live on our game
and perhaps,I have become overly critical of how to take care of meat. But after the game is dawn. I skin it out if the trip to the truck is a long one, then
I tie the meat, Sometimes all boned out, onto my frame. Or I use a large packsack to carry back the pure meat. When close to camp, I hurry to get the deer back where I can hang it and skin it,

Then I tie the whole animal. A half of a large deer, directly to the
frame. I do not drag the meat, bump it over Logs and rocks, drop it, slide it
down places, or use it as sled. The hunter who learns to go with a
packframe and tote his game out can transfer his learning to any big game
he might hunt. Boning out large game is a topic unto itself; however a great
deal of game meat can be packed from the woods with a large packsack, especially if the inedible parts are left behind.

The method of tying game to the frame is simple. With a small deer, the entire animal is placed on the pack in a vertical fashion. With stout nylon cord the one-fourth-inch size is strong
enough the deer is lashed to the frame. Its legs, still protrude from the
side of the frame and its head is not secured at this point.

Next, the legs are drawn together, back legs first. The two long back legs
are aligned with the right side of the packframe and tied down, but not before they are slipped between the two front legs. Now the two front legs are tied down and onto the back legs. The head is slipped back along the frame and secured. The cord is wrapped generously around the animal. It is easy to untie later, but a loose load will bring a lot of grief.

A couple of good wraps must be taken underneath the hams of the deer or it will slip right off the frame. In loading the frame onto the hunter, I like to sit down and get into the pack first. The belt is secured and then the hunter stands up, slowly and carefully to make sure of the load. In standing up, one man helps the other. I think getting behind the seated hunter and lifting under his arms is best, in order to help him gain his fee. In carrying the deer, if it is loaded properly, the hunter can sit on a log, rock or any other object as a chair for him whenever he needs a break. Again, in getting back to the feet, it is wise to have help.

Using the packframe method has a few advantages that one would not normally consider. I recall a deer taken on the second tag, does only being allowed for the second deer, with bucks closed season. The rancher was happy to let us back into the hunting land, because we assured him that we were not going to drive off the roads. When we produced our frames he nodded and opened the gate to the back forty for us.

Another time the roads were quite muddy and a rancher was not going to let us hunt antelope on his place. He figured, and rightly so, that running off the road to pick up game would leave ruts that he would have for a decade. When assured our frames would get meat back, and not our rut-making four-wheel-drive, he let us on his land.

We were lucky, for just as we made it back to our vehicle on the main road, having packed an antelope on the frame, the rancher was driving past. He stopped and waited for us, and even helped me slip the frame off.

“Hey, you guys really do pack your meat out on your backs,” he said and next time we wanted to get on his ranch we were welcome.

As long as all the safety measures are observed, packing game out via the frame is a good standby method, as well as mainline means of getting the bacon from the woods to the frying pan.
Hunting with the pack can take a hunter into nearly untouched country off the main roads, too.
And it has actually made some friends for us.

While being able to drive within reach of the downed game is nice, some conditions don’t allow this. It is handy to have an alternate method on hand. <—-<<