Photo credit: Brandon Koomler
For many, hunting is a very personal thing. It’s where we find peace from everyday life back in the city and, ultimately, what hits the reset button for us. I truly believe that being in the field and hunting is therapeutic. We return as our best selves from these adventures. All of that mush aside, there is a goal here. You know, that tag in your pocket. Yeah, that! It’s safe to say that everyone wants to fill that sucker. So, in light of that thinking, it’s a good idea to be prepared for such things. This means having the proper tools for the job at hand. Cutting up a big game animal isn’t rocket science in the least, but doing so is much easier with a well-equipped “kill kit.” Here are some essentials to think about for any kill kit.
Before I dive into actual pieces to carry within a kill kit, I want to touch on something else that is just as important. When an animal hits the ground, it’s common for there to be a sense of panic. Adrenaline levels are high as is the excitement around the whole situation. For that reason, rushing is also very common, especially when the sun dips below the horizon. Working on an animal in the darkness can definitely have a way of making you want time to go faster. Here’s the thing, though. Rushing with a knife in your hand and a load of dead weight is a great way to get hurt. I’ve done it. Heck, I almost took my thumb right off one time working on my first bear! It could have been worse, but I finished cutting up that bear with a game bag wrapped around my thumb to stop the bleeding. What happened was totally avoidable.
Photo credit: Brandon Koomler
I know it’s hard to cap the excitement when that animal is at your feet. It’s a complete feeling of accomplishment. But, it’s time to breathe and slow down. Pay attention to what you’re doing and what others are doing around you — should someone be helping out. Also, put a plan in place for where you’ll hang meat and how you’ll cut up the animal. Doing these things ahead of time will help a person walk into this situation more confident, giving way to a much smoother experience.
First and foremost: Your tag needs to be attached to the animal. Now, you’re legal. After you’ve tagged the animal, now we can chat gear.
The most obvious that comes to mind is a good knife. One that is not only sharp and holds its edge, but a knife that feels good in the user’s hand. A knife with a slippery when wet grip can spell disaster once coated in blood. The same can be said about a knife that is dull. Fighting against a dull knife is a fantastic way to cut yourself or someone else. Another thing to note is the shape of a knife. Knives with deeper bellies will be far better suited for skinning jobs, while more shallow bellied knives shine with incisions, quartering and detail work.
The battle between fixed blade and replaceable blade knives is one that will never cease to exist it seems. So, if that is a question you’ve got in relation to what knife to get, let me tell you this. They are both good and both will get the job done. Fixed blades are more robust and better for working through joints while replaceable blades are better for fine cutting because they are surgically sharp and smaller overall. Deciding between the two is really all personal preference. I used to be a replaceable blade guy, but now I prefer fixed. They just feel better in my hand and I have more confidence in them to handle whatever I throw their way. You may be different and that is totally fine.
Whether you are toting a fixed blade or replaceable, there is something else you will want. For fixed blade knives, bring a field sharpener along. This will ensure that if your knife does go dull, you can fix it right on the spot and be back in business. Work Sharp makes some very handy field sharpeners just for this purpose. If a replaceable blade knife is what you fancy, then you’ll want to make sure that spare blades are in your kill kit. These razor sharp blades don’t hold an edge as long and they also tend to break when working through tough areas. You’ll definitely want spare blades.
Game bags are somewhat of a debate among hunters, but I won’t go hunting without them. I remember as a kid, we’d carry around some old looking cheesecloth type of game bags. And, as I got older, that turned into a pillowcase. Neither were good options and that is evident by the purpose of a game bag. The purpose of a game bag is to keep flies off, keep meat clean, and let meat breathe, dry and cool off. The cheesecloth had some pretty big holes in it, which flies could get through (or debris) and the pillowcase was cotton, which doesn’t breath well at all and tends to hold moisture.
Reusable game bags do come in a bit more pricey than the $12 ones at Wally World, but they are so worth it. These are lightweight, durable and they do exactly what they should do. Depending on what animal I’m hunting will depend on how many of these will be in my kill kit. For deer and bear-sized game, it’s usually only two. For elk, I’ll have four to five bags with the plan of hanging whatever I don’t pack out the first go. On that note, many of these higher quality game bags have a drawstring that makes hanging meat a snap.
If you’ve ever spent time trying to clean off dirt-caked game meat, I’m sure this next item is one you know well. Contractor bags. You know the ones you can grab at Home Depot? Yeah, those have become a staple in my kill kit. When I really saw the need for these is when I started having the urge to bone out more and more critters in the field. Unless you’ve got a tree to hang quarters in to keep the meat off the ground while you cut, this can be quite difficult as far as cleanliness goes. That’s where the contractor bag comes in. By laying one of these out on the ground, you’ve now got a place to layout your game meat. With the meat laying on the bag, you can bone it out and keep the debris off. From there, it’s ready to head home for processing and there will be much less cleaning to do.
Gloves or no gloves, that is the question. I know a ton of folks who don’t use gloves when processing an animal and that is totally fine. I’ve also heard of the potential to get blood poisoning from not wearing them, too. This occurs when the blood, tissue, organs, etc. of an animal infected with brucellosis comes in contact with our eyes, nose, mouth or skin. While I feel like the chances of that are very slim, it’s definitely something to think about. Personally, I don’t know anyone in my circle that has gotten sick from not wearing gloves.
Aside from brucellosis risks, cleanliness is also something I consider. I’m a glove guy and don’t particularly enjoy scraping gunk off of my hands and out of my fingernails for days after a kill. Wearing gloves might make me look like a surgeon in the field, but my hands are clean when the job is done. So, gloves aren’t mandatory by any means, but they are a huge plus — at least from where I’m sitting.
Having a solid kill kit is something that I feel can fly under the radar quite often. This is especially true with new hunters as they’ve likely never experienced tagging an animal. Either that or they think the probability of them actually getting something down is so slim that a “kill kit” is far from their mind. I’m telling you though: don’t put it off — whether you’re a newb or not. Things get very real when an animal lays at your feet and if you’re not prepared to handle that, you’ll have a much more difficult time. So, think ahead and be ready. And while you’re going through this whole process, soak it up. We only get so many chances to do this stuff and each animal is one to learn from. The best experience is in the field experience and a good kill kit will make it that much better.