Getting Out Of The Woods

Your buck is now on the ground and field dressed, so the real work begins. How do you get the animal out of the woods? Here are some suggestions.

The author prepares to get his buck out of the woods using the Cabela's Super Mag Hauler.
Photo courtesy of Wm. Hovey Smith

The deer is down and field dressed. The gun and knife have done their tasks, and now the work starts. At this stage I have often asked, "Why in the world did I shoot this deer in such a gosh-awful place?"

The answer is, "Because that is where it lived."

Deer seem always to slide to the bottom of the deepest ravine, go into the thickest cover or die in a mucky swamp far from where I would wish it to be.

As I often hunt alone, I have come to rely on devices to wheel, slide, float or tote the deer to wherever it needs to go. I built some of these from salvaged materials, purchased others, and one of the most successful has been an adaptation of a snowmobile sled. Each works best in particular environments, but at least one of the following techniques is applicable under almost any circumstance.

First Decisions

When standing over the deer the first steps towards removing it is, "How much do I want to process this deer in place?"

In steep terrain, the only alternative may be to bone out the deer and pack it to where it can be loaded onto a sled or transporter. Some hunters take deer out in quarters, but I prefer to reduce the weight to a minimum and bone out the animal. This is particularly true if the deer is too big to move, there is no one to help and a 4-wheeler cannot reach it.

Gutting removes a significant body mass, but also subjects the inside of the carcass to accumulated leaves, dirt or other debris. Whether I gut the animal depends on the legal requirements of the hunt (on some public lands you may not leave offal in the woods), how far I am from my deer processor and if there is any danger of the spoilage.

Wheeled Deer Transporters

My first attempt at making a deer carrier was a "redneck deer barrow." This consisted of an 8-foot section of aluminum ladder to which I bolted an oak plank for an axel and attached a fork and wheel from a kid's tricycle. A pair of tubular metal handles from my father-in-law's junk pile completed the assembly. When the handles were detached, the entire device would fit inside my 8-foot truck bed.

Even in its earliest evolutionary stages, the general concept was sound so long as the weight being carried was not more than 125 pounds. The deer barrow's lightweight and single wheel enabled it to be maneuvered along game trails in thick timber.

My first opportunity to demonstrate the successful use of my deer barrow came when I used a second-generation model with a larger single wheel to remove a deer, stand and gun. "Bess" my .75-caliber smoothbore flintlock had dropped the deer in its tracks, and now it was up to my homemade transporter to get it home. It did, but only with considerable arm fatigue and having to load up again after the deer barrow tipped over.

To complete the evolution of the deer-barrow, I attached a steel axel and two wheels and had a welding shop build stronger handles after bending the originals. These improvements made the deer barrow more stable to load and gave it greater bearing in soft soils. Now I could set the deer barrow down to rest my arms without fear of it tipping.

As long as the load was still about 125 pounds I could push the deer barrow some miles. However, the weight distribution back of the axel forced my arms to support much of the load. My redneck deer barrow was just not satisfactory with heavy loads.

Thinking that I still needed something to haul larger animals, I ordered a dual-wheeled Super Mag Hauler from Cabela's catalog. This hauler is rated for 700 pounds with dual wheels and 550 pounds with a single pair. Despite its capacity, the Mag Hauler still folded into a compact 44-inch package. I have even loaded it onto my 14-foot Gheenoe for island hunts. The only problem that I found with the Mag Hauler was that sticks kept getting into the spokes of the 20-inch wheels. Bolt-on wheel shields are now available as an extra to alleviate this problem. The cost of this carrier with a single pair of wheels is about $130 with dual wheels adding about another $50.

Where a good portion of a trip out was on a hard trail, this wheeled carrier was really in its element. The load was much better positioned making it easier to pull without tiring the arms. The hauler may be pulled or pushed, but the usual method is to put the hands behind the back and pull it.

I found the Mag Hauler worked fine so long as I did not have to go into the thick stuff. It proved to be ideal when hunting public lands where motorized vehicles are prohibited, but where there is a network of roads and trails.

Skids And Sleds

Several makers are now offering tough plastic sheets fitted with grommets. These are designed to be rolled up when not in use. When deployed as a skid they reduce the friction of the deer on the ground, as well as a way to tie the legs out of the way.

These skids not only reduce pulling friction by between 30 and 50 percent, they also protect the hide. One early version called the Stag Drag was tough enough that I could pull it over a graveled road behind my lawnmower without significant damage to the plastic sheet. These skids may be used anywhere, including wilderness areas where wheeled vehicles are prohibited.

Next I noticed a plastic sled designed to be pulled behind a snowmobile in a Sportsman's Guide catalog. The sled's pull rope went through openings in the side allowing any interior load to be secured with bungee cords. It also had a depth of about 5 inches with down-molded edges that would help prevent water from splashing onto a load even when the sled is pulled through puddles.

A fitting test came when I took a deer on an area that was part of my grandfather's farm, but was always too wet to till. Instead, it grew huge oaks and even some cypress which provided important food and cover for the resident deer. I made a clean kill and the deer dropped only 30 yards away. I got the sled out of the truck, collected the deer and drug it out over fallen limbs, through flooded timber and even over some cypress knees before making it back to the road.

Not only did my snowmobile sled-cum-deer carrier work well in the woods, it also outperformed wheeled transporters when pulled over soft sand. An additional advantage was that a deer on the sled is significantly easier to load into the back of a pick-up. When hunting near home, I of

ten leave the deer on the sled until I get to my processor. Any blood easily washes off the sled and because the animal is contained in the sled my truck-cleaning problems are considerably reduced.

Floating The Deer Out

Deer float, and there is no problem pulling a deer through knee-deep water. But, the most inventive thing that I have done to extract a deer from water was to get my bowfishing gear, put a barbed fiberglass arrow into the deer and use the high-strength line to pull it in. A good fishing plug on a heavy rod and reel could have done the same. As long as the deer does not hang up on something, it does not take much pressure to move it through water.

I have paddled deer across ponds in small boats. This was not easy, but a sure way to capsize a small johnboat is to attempt to load a deer in the water. If you must put a deer into a boat, beach the craft, get out, drag the deer in, get back in and see if you can safely make it to the landing. If the boat is too small, you may still have to tow it in.

Use what is legally permitted, think about employing things that you already own, purchase what you need for a particular hunt, and your deer retrieval tasks will be considerably eased.

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