Retrieving downed animals

Discussion in 'Long Range Hunting & Shooting' started by Jason, Apr 3, 2009.

  1. Jason

    Jason Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    Hello, Just wanted the get peoples thoughts on leaving shot animals over night or not.
    Most of the places I shoot long range the animals are on their way back into cover at daybreak but on their way out at night and give a better shot opportunity. Trouble is retrieving the meat.
    If the night is cool (ie just on freezing) do you have any problem leaving animals shot just on dark to sit and collect in the early morning for the meat? Thanks guys.

    JPRITT Well-Known Member

    Jun 5, 2007
    I've done both. leave it for a first light retreival or spend most of the night skinning and gutting by head-lamp. I think it depends on alot of things like:


    -can you safely get to the animal in the dark? (cliffs? water? etc.)

    -what is the likelyhood of loosing you meat to pedators?

    -maybe you can get more help if you wait and do it in one trip.

    I think having to wait until morning is perfectly accceptable if the currcumstances dictate. IMHO the important thing is to retieve as much of the animal as possible out of respect to it and the sport, no matter how it has to be done.


    FEENIX Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2008
    Pulling the trigger is the easy part, the work involved (time and effort) after the shot is a different story ... and I always take that in consideration. I always make sure that the harvest is taken care of appropriately and immediately . Having said that, no I have never left my harvest overnight, regardless of temperature.

    I am not a trophy hunter so I do not have any problem not taking the shot regardless how big the game is. IMHO, it takes more discipline not to take the shot. In my 30+ years of hunting, I've only harvested 1 big game animal past noon. Just my luck, I guest!:D
  4. Broz

    Broz Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    Personally, I have only left one overnight. My first bow kill. It was a rather large Iowa WT Buck. He was not leaving much of a blood trail and even though I waited 2 hrs to track him, I was scared if I spooked him up I would never find him again. So we returned at first light. He was only about 100 yards from where we quit the night before. It was cool enough but he was stiff and a bugger to skin. Plus, I gotta say that was the worst deer meat I ever ate. So for me, unless like mentioned above, it is a safety matter I will be up all night if so need be. But I will probably have a couple friends on call to help. That is what hunting buddies are for and I would gladly return the favor.

  5. J E Custom

    J E Custom Well-Known Member

    Jul 29, 2004
    Here in Texas even the coldest weather is not cold enough to leave a deer on the ground
    over night because the ground insulates the animal and spoilage is almost a sure thing.
    Plus varments may/will find it and ruin it.

    If you can retrieve it and field dress it that is another story because you can insert a few
    bags of ice in the body cavity untill the next day and it will be fine ( The skin and hair acts
    as an insulator for the meat and holds the cold in).

    I personally Believe in processing any game as quick as possible1 to 2 hours from kill to
    cooler. so if a shot is iffy in the evening I won't take it !!!!

    I have lost only one animal to spoilage (A mule deer ) It was snowing and I got lazy
    and field dressed it and hung him up to finish the following day ,big mistake, it soured
    over night and was uneatable because I left the skin on.

    So my recomendation is= If you shoot it, track it until you find it and then clean and process
    it before you go to bed.( You can allways sleep in the next day without worring about
    the meat).I have seen and smelled many kills that were left on the ground by a lazy hunter
    only to hear later on how the meat was tough and strong so they just ground it up and
    made sausage out of it.

    Knowing that I am going to work untill I get the game In the cooler has made me more
    cautious about the shots made in the evenings and some times I just pass on a shot and
    take pictures if the weather is bad and I feel lazy.

    Just my thoughts on the subject
  6. tjbill

    tjbill Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2006
    I have never left one of my kills overnight, but have left the skin on overnight when I was younger. EVERY deer that we didn't get the skin off right away has been the gamiest and toughest meat we have had. The most important thing is to get the meat cooled all the way through as quickly as possible. The food safety standard for cooling meat is to get the INTERNAL temperature below 70 degrees within the first two hours and then below 40 (or 41 depending on what health code you fall under) within the next four hours. Now in real hunting situations, I don't carry a stem thermometer and it might take 6 hours just to get the animal back to the truck, you could be hours from the nearest town, it could be 50 - 60 degrees, etc. So here is my rule that I do everything in my power to follow - make a good shot and a quick recovery then gut and skin the animal as quickly as possible and then break the animal down into smaller pieces if possible, and if not at least open up the chest cavity and the shoulders. If you do this right away it will quickly lower the temp of the meat even on a warmer day, but if you leave the skin on it will insulate (that's a big part of how they stay warm) the big muscles and keep it well above 70 degrees for several hours even if the temperature is around freezing. And as was stated before, get the meat off the ground as the ground will insulate the meat that it is in contact with and cause that section to turn pretty quickly. You wouldn't buy prime grade tenderloins at the grocery store and then leave them in the trunk of your car for several hours, so do your best to take care of the animals you harvest.
  7. AJ Peacock

    AJ Peacock Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2005
    We always try to get them out, hung up and skin off.

    However, in the west sometimes it's not possible. Large Muley's and all Elk (especially the bulls), will spoil if the hide isn't pulled (even in VERY cold weather), as the hide is too good of an insulator.

    The neck meat and hind quarters on a bull elk will still be warm then next day if not skinned, even when left in snow.

    If I have to leave an animal in the woods, I'll open them up and prop the cavity open with sticks. I'll get them up off the ground, even if it means just placing them on a couple of blown down logs (makes a huge difference compared to laying flat on the ground).

    Last year, we where only able to take 1/2 of the 5 pt bull we got before the weather (blizzard) and dark caught up with us. We deboned all the meat and layed the LARGE pieces over branches. When we got back the next morning, the meat had a little snow on it, was not frozen and was just like being in a cold frig all night (perfect). I was told that by de-boning and 'hanging' the chunks, the predators will focus on the skeleton and leave the meat alone.

    When I've had to leave Muley's in the woods, I always try to hang them (head down), to get the largest portion of meat up off the ground and away from most predators.


  8. CapDog

    CapDog Well-Known Member

    Jun 12, 2006
    I've had to leave a couple animals out overnight, but it was cold enough to not worry about meat spoilage. Overnight lows were anywhere from
    -10 to -40 degrees. To keep predators away I've left my sweaty undershirt hanging from a branch nearby and haven't had any issues with animals coming in to have an easy meal.

    I have also passed on shots knowing that I wouldn't be able to get the meat out without it spoiling because it was too warm or if I couldn't get to them in the pending darkness. (I don't sleep well if I haven't recovered the animal and gone back to camp.)
  9. ntrl_brn_rebel

    ntrl_brn_rebel Member

    Feb 16, 2009
    I have had to leave animals over night, more or less becuase of location, lack of help, etc. I hate to have to do it, (it seems like all I do is worry about it if I do) but if done properly, it never seems to be a problem to the meat IMHO. I have always quartered them out, to hang if leaving them overnight. I can usually have a deer quartered and hanging by-myself in a half hour, no problem. I usually pack the head/cape and back straps out with me, or a quarter. Then the following day all you need to do is grab a buddy and one trip, your done.

    Here is a link if anyone is interested to the gutless technique, it shows pics and good detail to someone interested in trying it out.

    HuntingNut » News » The Gutless Field Dressing Method
  10. MontanaRifleman

    MontanaRifleman Well-Known Member

    May 21, 2008
    I have left two elk in the field overnight and came back and got them the next day. No meat was wasted and no moral or ethical problems as far as I am concerned.

    You want to make sure you get it dressed and the body cavity opened up for cooling. If you can get it quartered and hung, all the better. I usually carry about 150' of bailing twine with me in my pack to hang quarters if I have to.

    Bottom line is, can you save the meat? if you can then you're good to go.
  11. LongBomber

    LongBomber Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2008
    If I know it will freeze overnight I have no problem leaving a animal overnight. I always try and gut / skin before I leave it. If I know I am going to mount it, I will only skin to just infront of the shoulders (in the dark I have bed aim...and it costs money to get holes stitched up) so that the meat cools off. If it is going to be hot overnight I try and get out as much as I can. I left a large whitetail overnight at minus 30, I bent the legs into handles so when it froze it would be easy to load onto a quad. It is amazing how easy a deer is to move with handles.
  12. cross

    cross Well-Known Member

    May 30, 2007
    We almost always have to leave elk out overnight because it usually takes the better part of a day to get one out with horses or mules. That said, I don't leave until they're skinned, quartered and hung. About 15 years ago I left a 5-point bull out overnight. I split the brisket and propped him up over a log with a stick wedged in his chest to open him up as much as possible. I left him at about 3PM. It snowed about 2" that night and I got him home whole the next day by noon. While skinning, I could start to smell the bone sour in him about 1/2 way down. The whole front half was spoiled. I don't care if it takes me until 9 at night, they're quartered, skinned and hung when I leave them. They're always perfect when I get back. I've had wolves walk within 10 feet of hung and skinned elk and they didn't bother them. I think the more an elk looks like an elk, the more chance that a wolf will get into it.
  13. cowboy

    cowboy Well-Known Member

    Jul 14, 2007
    All of the above comments have good merit. A lot depends on location, animal type and size etc.etc. That being said I have been involved in leaving deer, elk, moose, and antelope overnight many times. A lot of times it's for more than one night at the kill site. Most of this involves being here in Montana in the backcountry and being a 6-8 hour pack trip to a pickup or trail head. We gut an animal, quarter it, try to get the quarters off the ground on a downed log or large rocks, brush it up with tree limbs and head to the wall tent. We have more potential from birds i.e. magpies, camp robbers, whiskey jacks or whatever you want to call them than anything else. We are dead center in the middle of both black and grizzly country. My experience is if you quarter it and get it off the ground, it'll cool down dang quick - much better than being in the back of a pickup and I have yet to have any bad meat. In the early backcountry elk season, Sept. 15th, and things are really warm we will bone it out into meat sacks, put some lodge pole pine across a creek in a shady spot, and place the meat sacks on the poles - preferable 4-6" above the water and that meat will cool down faster than anything and will be almost the temp of the cold water in short time. The thing I think is most important is to have a plan beforehand in whatever area you are going into for a downed animal.
  14. bigngreen

    bigngreen Well-Known Member

    Nov 24, 2008
    I used to manage a wild game cutting operation and have seen game in every condition possible and in many stages of spoilage, all which is preventable by doing a few key things.
    It all starts with gutting, remove the whole windpipe and all the contents inside the pelvis, air need to move free up through the carcass the bladder must be removed.
    I always carry rope and light game bags to deal with game. Deer I just pull them up into a tree by there hocks or lay them over a sage brush, just get air under them.
    Elk get quartered with the hide on hung then skin one side and remove flanks, backstrap, and neck then roll over and repeat hang in bags.
    Elk start to spoil in three areas, the neck, between the shoulders and in the ball sockets on the pelvis.
    The worst things to are not remove the windpipe and bladder, let snow accumulate on carcass, haul game under a topper and let the sun get to it.
    Antelope get skinned and under water as fast as possible for best quality, deer and elk do not skin till they are ready to cut and cut them as soon as possible.
    Wild game flavor gets stronger as they dehidrate, hanging for a long time and skinning dehidrates game fast making them stronger tasting.
    I used to do seminars on game care and had a detailed post but my daughter has just figured out the mouse and she came up and started clicking and it went somewhere.