It’s early in November, way back in a piece of public land, and you shoot a big, mature buck. Now the work begins. Many hunters don’t think about what to do after an animal is on the ground. Depending on where you’re hunting, it’s a good idea to have a few options to get your deer back to the truck.
If you don’t have the luxury of driving a side-by-side, tractor, truck, or even riding a flashy mule up to your destination, you’ll need to use your brain and body to determine the best solution for getting it out alone.
Dragging is the most popular method of getting your deer out of the woods. It requires little to no equipment—just strength and grit. After field dressing the deer, you pull the body behind you across the ground.
There are several ways to drag the deer back to your vehicle. The simplest way is to grab the buck by the antlers and pull. This works much better with a buddy because the solo method can cause you to poke yourself in the back of the legs with the antlers and isn’t easy on your back.
Alternatively, you can use your treestand harness or tree saddle to tie a rope to the neck of the deer, keeping your hands free and distributing the weight across your body. This method works well with your linesman rope while tightening the prusik knot or ropeman ascender so that the neck and head are off the ground. If you plan on getting a shoulder mount of your buck, this will help keep the cape in good condition.
Using a traditional plastic snow sled is also an option, but it’s bulky and requires you to go out to your vehicle to get it before completing the drag. A roll-up snow sled is lightweight and packable, so you may consider carrying it with you if you’re hunting deep in the timber. A ski handle and rope combo can help maintain a good grip, and you can make one out of a sturdy stick in a pinch.
Hunting game carts offer one of the easiest ways to get your deer out of the woods if you have the right conditions. Deer carts come in all shapes and sizes depending on your budget and what matters to you.
I recommend looking for a deer cart that folds up nicely so that it doesn’t take up a ton of space in your truck bed but has big enough tires to cover small logs and obstructions on the trail. Gated roads, fields, logging roads, ATV trails, and most hiking trails make ideal locations creating a path for you to follow.
As mentioned before, larger tires are preferred if you go off-trail. Otherwise, you’ll be frustrated and want to toss the cart over the bank. One year, my cousin and friend were elk hunting in Colorado and decided to bring a deer cart. The hiking trail was steep and narrow, causing more work than carrying it out on their back. That’s an extreme example, but the concept is the same.
In the western states, the only way you get an elk out of the mountains is to remove the meat in the field, put it in your backpack, and move under load back to your vehicle to get it on ice. It’s not a tactic often used for whitetails unless you live in the Appalachian mountain range.
However, quartering a deer in the field is my favorite method to get an old mountain buck out of the big woods. This eliminates the need to do more work once you get home and puts your body in a less awkward position. Humans have been carrying loads on their backs since the beginning of time, but it does require a level of physical fitness and a framed backpack.
You should consider using a backpack with an internal or external frame and a load capacity of at least 80 pounds to save your shoulders and avoid back pain. A well-fitted, load-bearing backpack with a bit of physical fitness will make a big difference.
I keep a kill kit in my pack that consists of a sharp knife, knife sharpener, five game bags, and some paracord. The game bags keep all of the meat clean and free of bugs and allow it to cool. You can use the paracord to hang the quarters in the tree while butchering the rest of the deer to keep the meat clean.
If you’re by yourself, this method will most likely take a few trips back to the truck, but it still may be faster than dragging if you’re deep in the woods. The biggest downfall with this method is that you have to be wearing a framed pack which can be bulky and cumbersome, or you have to make another trip to your truck to get it.
Each of these methods of getting your deer out of the woods is effective in its way. You have to look at where you’re hunting and decide what makes the most sense for you.