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DIY Alaskan Caribou Hunting Adventures: Part 4 – The Hard Work Begins

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Dad Returning to His Caribou Bull

For Part 1 of this series, click here: Part 1 – Getting There

For Part 2 of this series, click here: Part 2 – Flying In

For Part 3 of this series, click here: Part 3- Antlers in our Midst

 

Part 3 of this series ended with us heading back to camp to lighten our loads, fill our bellies, and prepare for the long day and hard work of having to quarter and butcher three bulls, and start the process of packing them back to camp. Alaska law requires you to salvage all edible meat, and have it back in camp before any trophies can come back. Our plan was to go to each of the three bulls, and at least get them processed into game bags and cooling on the tundra before days end. Any meat and trophies that made it back that day would only be a bonus.

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 Dad Was Happy

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Taking a Moment With Dad’s Bull

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Dad Handing Me a Backstrap For The Game Bag

It was around noon when that process began, and the first bull we made it to was Dad’s. Seeing it for the first time, it was obvious to me that not only was it a great one to take, but that he was really happy with it as well. A few more photos, and we quickly broke it down by removing each quarter, backstrap, neck, rib, and tenderloins, and put them in game bags and propped them up between grass hummocks for best air circulation. There the meat would rest until we had a chance to come back that evening, or tomorrow.

Leaving the meat overnight meant risking losing it to scavenging bear or wolf, but there wasn’t much else of a choice. You’ll lose meat faster from heat and bugs than thieving critters, and we hadn’t seen any sign of bear in the area at all. We knew wolf were around from tracks I’d found, but I hoped they’d focus on the vitals and primary carcass versus bags with our scent on them. With overnight temps in the low 40’s, it was definitely cool enough for good meat storage.

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Getting Back to My First Bull

Next up was my smaller bull, about a mile and half away. By the time we reached it, the high-stepping tundra hiking required to get there was already wearing on my muscles, and I’d already had numerous cramps in my hamstrings. Unstable tundra hiking makes you lift your heels higher than normal, exaggerating the walking motion. We quickly went to work on it as well, and within an hour, it was completely broken down and in game bags as well.

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The Initial Cut of the ‘Gutless Method’ For Processing Wild Game

The process I used for breaking down big game for packing is the ‘gutless method’, which I start by splitting the cape down the spine, and exposing one side of the animal while it lays on its side. I”ll remove that cape to make a meat tray to lay meat on as I remove it to keep it clean, and remove the front and rear quarters. Once they are in game bags, next the backstrap on that side is removed, and then any final cuts like neck and rib meat. Then I roll the animal over and repeat on the other side. Once all removed, you can separate the spine and last ribs to expose the inside tenderloins, or even reach in from the side if you choose and remove them that way. This method works even if you’re intending to have taxidermy work done, you just need to be more careful in how you remove the hide. It’s a highly effective and quick method to learn if you do a lot of backpack hunting, and an important step in meat care in the field, keeping it clean and cooling quickly.

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Together At My Larger Bull

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Removing The Cape

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Lone Cow Caribou That Approached During Processing

Once the second bull was bagged and cooling, we moved to my last bull. Dad was pretty excited to see it too. It was around 4:30PM when I started on it, and there were still caribou moving in the area. A cow even came pretty close to us while we were working on it, but even with a tag open, our hunt for the day was over, with more than enough work still ahead of us. I had already decided to cape the last bull for a shoulder mount, so I took a little more time with its cape removal, but by 7PM and after a snack, we were loading meat bags into packs and starting the first load back to camp, about 2.5 miles away.

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Packing Back the First Load

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Dad Approaching the Creek

I tried to find the most direct way I could, but having never made the straight shot between this bull and camp, I guessed the best way I could to get us to the creek bed the fastest for easier hiking on gravel versus tundra. That mostly worked out, except for leaving our slip-over hippers in camp, and soaking our boots during a mad dash across the creek.

With sore backs and legs, it was around 8PM when we dropping our first pack loads of meat in camp. I erected some meats poles using a system of tarp poles that I had planned and devised, and the first bags were up and cooling. I put dad in a camp chair, and got to work on dinner. Sitting and eating was welcomed.

By 9PM though, I had decided there was enough light (it doesn’t get dark) to get on my feet again and head back to the farthest bull to pack his last load of meat and antler/cape back to camp, and maybe even a little of my second bull. So, I headed back out, this time with hippers, on the lowest impact, straightest course I could find, hoping that would also make for easier hiking for dad in the morning.

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Pack Loaded to Begin the Second Trip

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Putting the Back To Work

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Resting My Back On the Creek Bank

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Evening Silhouette

It was around 10PM when I had a pack full of the last of bulls meat, and his cape and rack strapped to my Sitka Bivy 45 pack. A few small bags of meat from my other bull were in the pack as well, with the goal of making only one trip to him needed the next day to get him back to camp completely. By 10:30 I was putting my hippers back on at the creek, and by 11PM, still with plenty of light, I was waddling myself back into camp again. I was exhausted, with two full packs loads and over ten miles of awkward tundra hiking, the 18-hour day was officially over.

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Getting Back to Camp the Third Time That Day

I put the initial salt on the cape, cleaned up a bit, and passed out in my sleeping bag, knowing my back and legs needed to get ready for another day of it tomorrow. It was a good day though, that started with a successful stalk and hunt for each of us, and ended with tired legs and meat hanging in camp. I was too whipped to even reflect on it.

The cutting was over. Tomorrow would be a day of hiking, and packing loads back to camp. We had two bulls in game bags still out on the tundra, in two directions. Still, sleep came very easy….

 

Gear Highlights:

1) Buck Knives Alpha Crosslock – The Buck Alpha Crosslock, or perhaps better known by it’s nickname, the PBS – Portable Butcher Shop, is everything you need to process an animal in the field, in one tool. It has two ‘blades’, one is a typical knife blade, and the other is a saw with gut/caping hook. All of the caping starts with a small incision, then insert the caping hook, and pull. It cleanly opens the cape without creating a lot of loose fur to get stuck on meat, and then switch over the knife blade for removing quarters and cutting meat. If you need to saw through a rib, remove antlers, or even cut wood for a meat pole, the saw has you covered there. It’s an extremely useful tool in the field, that’s light and easily packable. Made in USA, at Buck’s factory in Idaho by some folks that know a thing or two about hunting.

 

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