I love oversized antlers. And big bucks in general. All of that. But as I grow older, the most satisfaction I get from any hunt that comes in a tangible, touchable form is the meat. There is something about peering into my chest freezer and seeing dozens of pounds of meat that makes me feel like things are alright.
Meat care is the last chapter of a successful hunt and it's something I take seriously. It's also something that I engage in at least four or five times each fall, at home and in the field. Both types of butcher jobs share similarities, but also demand different products.
After all, it's a heck of a lot different to cut up a deer and package it on a table in my living room while the Vikings are playing on a Sunday afternoon as opposed to hauling a deer into a makeshift camp and going through the same process while I'm 700 miles from home.
Both are worth it, of course. And both demand the right equipment. Following are several must-haves for the do-it-yourselfer, no matter his or her butcher situation.
Cabela's Antimicrobial Game Bag
Elk, moose and mule deer hunters always have a game bag or three with them, but they aren't the only ones who should carry quality game bags. I've used them for whitetails and antelope as well, and I have to imagine there are a few bear-hunting situations where they would come in handy.
Cabela's offers a great option in several sizes ranging from a Carcass Bag, to XL/Elk sized bags that are perfect for quarters. Keeping your meat debris- and insect-free is a must, and this is the way to do it.
Viking Solutions Super Hide Puller
Pulling off a big game animal's hide sucks in general, but gets really bad when the carcass is super cold. To alleviate the occasional difficulty of this task, consider the Super Hide Puller from Viking Solutions.
This company has created a bevy of cool game-care products over the years, and the Super Hide Puller is no exception. Just make the initial cut on the hide and then attach the Super Hide Puller, which operates easily with one hand.
Koola Buck Junior
If you're seriously into game care, you might want to check out the Junior from Koola Buck, which is a portable refrigeration system. I got the chance to use one of these on a turkey hunt last spring, and it was awesome.
It operates off of standard 110V electrical power and will maintain temperatures between 34 and 41 degrees F even if the outside temps are sitting in the triple digits. The Koola Buck Junior measures three feet wide by three feet deep, and offers up a total interior cooling area of 58.5 cubic feet.
YETI Tundra 65
People ask me all of the time whether YETI products are worth the cost. My answer after a few years of using them is, yes. If you can afford a YETI, you should buy one. A personal favorite is the Tundra 65. It's big enough to hold a lot of meat, but not so big that I need to enlist a buddy to help me carry it.
The ice retention is off the charts, and it's simply a quality cooler that is designed to handle the rigors of over-the-road hunts. I know that at first they are cost-prohibitive, but after you go YETI, you don't go back. There are several good reasons for that.
Canyon Coolers Scout
This 21-quart cooler is one of my favorites for sandwiches and other essential road trip food and drinks. By the end of the trip, I (hopefully) fill it with backstraps and other choice cuts. The Canyon Coolers Scout is compact enough to carry just about anywhere and boasts a sleek design.
Take a close look at everything from the Made in Montana shoulder strap to the marine-grade tie-down points and you'll see that while this cooler might look like the perfect family-picnic type cooler, it's actually designed for the rough-and-tumble world of outdoorsmen.
Wiebe Knives Arctic Fox
I'm into knives. I don't know what it is, but there is something about knowing your knife has a wicked, scary sharp blade that makes you feel better about life. This is one of the reasons why I've started carrying replaceable-blade knives in my packs and in my truck.
These knives, like the Arctic Fox from Wiebe Knives, allow you to quickly pop out a blade and throw a new one on. They are ideal for butchering and skinning jobs, but also if you need to cape a critter in the field. The Arctic Fox comes with 24 blades and weighs only two ounces.
Gerber Vital Big Game Folder
Gerber creates plenty of killer products, but one of its best is the new Vital. The first critter I got to butcher with this knife was a wild hog and the blade cut through that porker's hide like it was warm butter. After the butcher job was over, I replaced a blade which is always a little dicey because I'm no stranger to stitches.
Thankfully, the Vital is designed with Split Sec Tech, or in layman's terms, a system that makes changing the blades very easy, quick and safe.
Ontario Knife Company
I've never met an Ontario Knife Company product I didn't like. In fact, when it comes to carry-around knives, I almost always have an OKC product in my pocket. Their latest, the HUNT PLUS lineup contains a Drop Point and a Skinner.
Both are priced very reasonably, measure a shade over nine inches long, and are constructed with uncoated stainless steel. This means that they are also crazy sharp and able to hold an edge for a long time.
Work Sharp Combo Knife Sharpener
If you've got a butcher station set up at home, you need to get a Combo Knife Sharpener from Work Sharp. This bench-top wonder is only $60 and is designed with flexible abrasive belts to allow you to put a factory-sharp edge on all of your knives. It also features a 25-degree ceramic sharpener for manual touch-up jobs, even on knives that sport cerated blades.
Outdoor Edge Grill-Beam BBQ Tools
Whoever made the Grill-Beam Tools at Outdoor Edge read my mind. I've cooked a lot of fresh wild game over the years while tent camping where I'm always turning on and off my headlamp while cooking.
These ingenious stainless steel tools have a 22-lumen light built right in. They are also designed for serious use and telescope to a full 17 inches making them a deer-camp essential.