How Do You Breakdown an Elk?

THelms

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We were discussing this around the office the other day and it seems that we all have little tricks we use when breaking down an elk in the field. We also all employ different tactics based on different scenarios. Some of us gut and leave them overnight in Grizz country, if it's cold enough, while others build a fire and get the job done at once, moving and hanging meat out of ursine reach.

Horse packing vs. backpacking is another area for discussion as well, as there can be a difference in how the elk is broken down.

One thing I cannot get my head wrapped around though is why folks leave the lower legs (shanks and hooves) attached while packing, thoughts?
 
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Hilltop

Veteran member
Feb 25, 2014
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Eastern Nebraska
We were discussing this around the office the other day and it seems that we all have little tricks we use when breaking down an elk in the field. We also all employ different tactics based on different scenarios. Some of us gut and leave them overnight in Grizz country, if it's cold enough, while others build a fire and get the job done at once, moving and hanging meat out of ursine reach.

Horse packing vs. backpacking is another area for discussion as well, as there can be a difference in how the elk is broken down.

One thing I cannot get my head wrapped around though is why folks leave the lower legs (shanks and hooves) attached while packing, thoughts?
I know some guys that prefer to hang their quarters, with hide on, by the leg. I does keep the main muscle groups a bit cleaner and prevents some drying out. I personally don't like to pack any bone other than the skull, but to each their own.
 
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nv-hunter

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Feb 28, 2011
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Reno
On my wifes bull 2 years ago I left the lower leg on the hind quarters because I forgot my saw and broke the last knife blade trying to remove them. The joints had stiffened enough to make it a royal pain to brake them. It was just the 2 of us and wasn't too bad a pack out.
 
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JimP

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Mar 28, 2016
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Gypsum, Co
For years we would gut them and then skin one side and then start cutting. On the hinds we would split the pelvis and the tail part of the spine to where we would have two hinds from the hoof to the tail. We would leave the legs attached for easier packing with just a game bag on it.

We would also leave the legs on the front shoulders for the same reason. We wou then cut the ribs front to back about 4 inches off of the back strap and split the breast bone.

In the end we would have 8 pieces to pack out, bones and all. 2 hinds, 2 front shoulders, rib cage, back strap, neck, and the head if a bull. The liver and heart would usually come out in the same bag as the ribs.

When we were done the only thing that got left behind was the guts and the hide unless someone wanted it.

For tools we always packed a hacksaw frame with a bone saw in it along with a couple of knives
 
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Ikeepitcold

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Feb 22, 2011
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Reno Nv
We always debone.
Packed in and out on our backs we try to keep our loads as light as possible. I like about 80lbs as a max and will take more trips to keep my pack at this weight.
 
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nv-hunter

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Feb 28, 2011
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Reno
The guys I hunt with are the opposite of IKEEPITCOLD the less trips the better. seen them haul a front and a hind out each on one load. They do remove the lower leg not don't debone. I get trim meat and back straps.

We use the gutless method, I skin from the belly tho as I worked in a slaughterhouse for a long time and can do it faster and cleaner (imo) then then splitting up the back.
 
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mallardsx2

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Jul 8, 2015
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My Gutless Process in a nutshell:

1. Get the animal onto its side if it isn't already.
2. Stretch the animal out & get my contractor garbage bag cut and laid out on the ground.
3. Run knife from the base of the tail the whole way to the back of the head.
4. Cut a ring around the knee on each leg & Remove leg.
5. Cut from center of back to belly.
6. Skin "front flap" forward as far as possible and "back flap" to the knee at the back legs.
7. Remove front shoulder & de-bone Bag, Hang.
8. Remove HQ and de-bone Bag, Hang.
9. Remove Back strap, Bag, Hang.
10. Remove tenderloin, Bag, Hang.
11. Remove Neck meat, Bag, Hang.
12. FLIP & REPEAT.
13. Remove head (& Cape if I'm stuffing it).

The only bone that comes out of the woods is the skull plate.

If the animal is mine or my wife's, I am the ONLY one that does the finish work on the cape. Others work on getting the meat taken care of.
There is at least 2 reasons I have implemented this rule over the years. lol
 
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Slugz

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Oct 12, 2014
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Woodland Park, Colorado
I'm a big believer in letting rigor mortis set in and and cycle back to meat relaxed with the bone in and hide on if able. I think it makes a more tender meat over all especially in the rear quarters. Taking into consideration geography and weather will drive my plan. That being said,
1) Rear and fronts hung on a meat pole, backstrap off, rib meat, neck meat off
2) Repeat other side
3) Loins out from the rear of the last rib or go in after it and open it up. (**Edit ) Lately open it up and eat the heart and some liver that night back at camp with a sprinkling of Scotch.

Loins, backstraps, rib meat, neck meat out the first trip then go in the next day and debone the quarters.

If I need to get it out quick then hides off the quarters, keep the bone in, lower leg cut off.
I love a good pack out!!
IMG-20210122-WA0010.jpg
 
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HuskyMusky

Veteran member
Nov 29, 2011
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IL
What's the first thing you do when you kill and elk...?

Pop 3 advil! lol.


My plan has always been the "gutless method" especially in the field.... without truck/horses etc... nearby.
 
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taskswap

Very Active Member
Jul 9, 2018
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Colorado
What's the first thing you do when you kill and elk...?

Pop 3 advil! lol.
I actually do the same! I'm the forgetful sort, so I have a short checklist. I literally forgot to take any selfies last year - I've never been much of a photographer so I don't really think about it. I got home and my wife was like "where's your kill shot, I want to share it with our family?" Oops.

My initial checklist goes:
1. Take pictures.
2. Weight tarp with rocks.
3. Set out bottle of water. Chug half now with 3x aspirin and 1x caffeine.
4. Headlamp on head and turned on. All clothing layers on.

And yes, every item on that list is something I've forgotten one time or another.

I typically hunt Rifle 1 where you can get warm days but cold nights, and luck being what it is so far my kills seem to be at dusk not dawn. It's amazing how quick you can lose the light without noticing it fading and there's nothing worse than having to use bloody gloves (or re-glove) just to get a headlamp on.

I quarter but don't debone - I agree with the opinion the meat is higher quality. Then again I typically am no more than 2-3 miles back. I can totally understand why if you're further in you'd want to save every ounce.

I hunt with a Badlands Superday pack. I carry enough in it to field dress, then the first load out I take the meat bag. In camp I switch to a meat hauler to get the rest. I typically hunt with at least 1 friend, so I usually have help on the later trips.
 

RICMIC

Veteran member
Feb 21, 2012
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Two Harbors, Minnesota
I generally do the gutless method also, but on a guided hunt where we use horses they often qtr. the elk for packing back to camp. The guide told me that the F&G had asked them to "open the belly" after doing the gutless method as it allows for quicker and more complete disposal by birds if the larger predators don't get to it.
 

DanPickar

Active Member
Mar 4, 2014
283
94
Wyoming
It's all situational. I almost always use gutless method unless its dark, and I'm in griz country, then I gut and prop it up on something to cool overnight. Other than that I do whatever will yield the least amount of wasted meat. Completely boned out will give you the most waste but sometimes necessary based on distance from the truck!
 

lukew

Super Moderator
Jul 1, 2019
167
147
I'm a big believer in letting rigor mortis set in and and cycle back to meat relaxed with the bone in and hide on if able. I think it makes a more tender meat over all especially in the rear quarters. Taking into consideration geography and weather will drive my plan. That being said,
1) Rear and fronts hung on a meat pole, backstrap off, rib meat, neck meat off
2) Repeat other side
3) Loins out from the rear of the last rib or go in after it and open it up. (**Edit ) Lately open it up and eat the heart and some liver that night back at camp with a sprinkling of Scotch.

Loins, backstraps, rib meat, neck meat out the first trip then go in the next day and debone the quarters.

If I need to get it out quick then hides off the quarters, keep the bone in, lower leg cut off.
I love a good pack out!!
View attachment 34223
My kind of trophy photo! Love it!!
 

DanPickar

Active Member
Mar 4, 2014
283
94
Wyoming
I'm a big believer in letting rigor mortis set in and and cycle back to meat relaxed with the bone in and hide on if able. I think it makes a more tender meat over all especially in the rear quarters. Taking into consideration geography and weather will drive my plan. That being said,
1) Rear and fronts hung on a meat pole, backstrap off, rib meat, neck meat off
2) Repeat other side
3) Loins out from the rear of the last rib or go in after it and open it up. (**Edit ) Lately open it up and eat the heart and some liver that night back at camp with a sprinkling of Scotch.

Loins, backstraps, rib meat, neck meat out the first trip then go in the next day and debone the quarters.

If I need to get it out quick then hides off the quarters, keep the bone in, lower leg cut off.
I love a good pack out!!
View attachment 34223
Couldn't agree more with the rigor mortis mentality. The best rutted up bull elk I've had was dead for over an hour. So I try to give it an hour minimum to relax.