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Are game bags worth it?

Closeup black bear photo

Photo credit: Josh Kirchner

Reflecting back on my early years in the field, I never paid much attention to the world of game bags. I used to throw a pillowcase in my backpack and call it good. My dad actually carried the same game bag in his bag for almost as long as I can remember. Filling tags were never at the forefront of importance for us and that old game bag was evidence of that. We had a great time and that's what matters. This is probably why I never paid much mind to them; I simply never had to. These days, things are quite a bit different and, while I am no professional, filling tags is a much more regular occurrence in my household. My game bags are seeing use now. The question is are game bags really necessary? Or can we still grab that old pillowcase?

Purpose of game bags

skinning black bear

Before we dive into the different types of game bags out there we need to discuss the purpose of a game bag. When I was a kid, I thought a game bag was to keep folks from seeing the deer that was just shot. Turns out that isn't the case. One of the huge benefits of loading your meat into these bags is going to be cleanliness. Game bags just plain keep your meat clean and out of the dirt. It's a pain in the butt cleaning off dirty meat when you get home. This, I appreciate. Less time scrubbing/picking off debris and more time cutting and packaging.

The next reason I would encourage you to use game bags is to keep flies off of the meat. Now, you can only do so much here, but the quicker you get that meat off of the animal and into a bag, the better. If you don't pay attention here and let the flies have their hay day, you will end up with fly larva on your meat. I don't know about you, but maggots all over my hard-earned protein don't sound appetizing. Get that meat into bags ASAP to avoid this.

Game bags also aid in cooling the meat. Now, you don't need a game bag to let this happen, but it does help. It gives your meat the ability to cool without worrying about the dirt and flies. This should be your number one priority after putting something on the ground. Why? The internal temperature of a deer sits right around 100 degrees, give or take a few. That's hot! The longer that you leave that meat under the hide and close to the core heat of the animal, the worse. Separating the meat from the carcass and promoting airflow is key. The quicker you do that, the better end results you will have in terms of meat loss.

Pros

  • Keeps meat clean.
  • Prevents flies from laying eggs on meat.
  • Promotes airflow and aids in cooling the meat.

Cons

  • Some game bags can get pretty expensive.

Different types of game bags

This isn't an overly complicated area, but I do feel like it is worth mentioning the two ends of the spectrum in regards to game bags. I am not going to be referring to plastic trash bags or pillowcases here. In this section, we will go through actual game bags that you would purchase from a store or order online. Whether you are on a budget or want the best of the best, there are game bags out there to fit your needs.

Cotton/canvas

game bag on hide

Everyone likes saving money, right? Heck, I know I do. Things are expensive enough as it is these days. Why would I want to spend a fortune on game bags? Well, you really don't have to. I suggest that you educate yourself a bit, though, before you get pumped about dropping $12 on a package of game bags. You've all seen these stretchy, cotton, cheesecloth-like bags. They are lightweight and can be thrown anywhere in your pack easily. Many quarters have left the field in these very bags. The issue that some of them have, though, is that they are too porous when stretched.

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A game bag that is too porous is going to allow flies to land on the actual meat. That defeats one of the main purposes of a game bag. This is what you don't want and something you want to try to keep to a minimum. Game bags like Alaska Game Bags are great. They won't break the bank and are not too porous. There are also some canvas game bags on the market that are good, too. The downfall with those, though, is that they tend to be a bit bulkier and not as lightweight. There are some models of less expensive bags that are reusable, but not all are. Once you use them, into the trash they go, and back to the store you go.

hand in game bag

Synthetic

meaty game bags hanging

Many folks, myself included, have moved away from the cotton or canvas bags and moved to a higher-end, synthetic game bag. Synthetic materials are going to dry way quicker than cotton and move that moisture away from your meat. This kind of goes back to our clothing and why many of us have moved away from cotton in the field. It’s all due to moisture management. One of the biggest reasons I made the jump was the ability to wash and reuse them. I might spend a bit more up front, but end up actually saving money in the long run. No more going back to the store after every successful hunt to grab more game bags. Another selling point to me was the rigidity of these bags. Due to the fact that they are not stretchy, they end up sitting very well in the pack when hauling meat. The meat essentially forms to the bag, rather than the other way around.

game bag in back yard

Other options

There are other options besides actual game bags. Now, I am not going to recommend going this route, but they do exist. In fact, I have friends that still use black trash bags to haul their meat in. I was appalled when I found this out, but they told me that they have never had an issue with it. I mentioned the heat aspect and how the meat couldn't breathe. Their response was they leave the top of the bag open so the heat can escape. I would have the same breathability concerns with pillowcases. I think the main factor here, though, is the time in the field. How quickly are you going to get that meat back to the cooler? If you are doing a backcountry style hunt, you might want to consider a different route. However, if you aren't that far from the truck, in a pinch, these could prove a worthy option.

So, are they worth it?

firstlite hat

After going through each of these options and discussing game bags in general, are they actually worth it? Is it worth us either spending $60 to $70 up front for the synthetic bags? Is it worth us having to return to the store hunt after hunt to purchase more budget-friendly game bags? Or is it all a sham and we should just grab a few contractor trash bags and call it a day? You have to ask yourself the question, "What's it worth to you?" I work my tail off for each animal that I am lucky enough to harvest. The thought of that meat possibly going bad because of merely not using the right tool for the right situation is not a thought I want floating around in my head. So, if you ask me? Yes, game bags are absolutely worth it. You might have a different opinion. I'd love to know down below.

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8 Comments

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Chris S. - posted 2 months ago on 10-15-2019 09:54:37 am
goHUNT INSIDER

anyone have an opinion of the cheesecloth type bags vs synthetic in regards to weight and packing size? I like the idea of the synthetic but found that the cheesecloth type are so light and take up very little room for a 3-7 day backpack hunt. Curious how the synthetic compares in regards to backpack room/weight?

Tracy B. - posted 2 months ago on 10-13-2019 02:28:51 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I've used all of the mentioned bags except for plastic - can't imagine how much meat would get ruined that way. The synthetic bags are, in my opinion, the best option by far.

Drew M. - posted 2 months ago on 10-11-2019 08:20:22 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Jeremy I use synthetic bags and I leave them in the bags in the cooler. But I use frozen water bottles. If I am using ice I will put the game bags in contractor bags before they go in the cooler. Synthetics are great. I have been using the same set for around 8 animals now. What I do is after I get home I fill the cooler with water and pour bleach in it then I put the game bags in the cooler. This cleans the game bags and the bloody cooler. Cool article!

Jeremy H. - posted 2 months ago on 10-10-2019 01:51:21 pm
Mesa, Arizona
goHUNT INSIDER

When using synthetic game bags, do you leave the meat in the bags and throw them in the cooler, or do you remove them from the bags before you throw the meat in the cooler? That is one question i have that i have not seen answered anywhere.

Kelly R. - posted 2 months ago on 10-10-2019 01:22:27 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

My guide shut him down right away and told him to shut it. It really didn't bother me, but it made me think about the other options out there. This year on my deer hunt I purchased a set of synthetic bags that are reusable. I really liked them. the fact that they are reusable, and the moisture wicking properties are great. I likely won't have to purchase game bags ever again unless these wear out or tear.

Kelly R. - posted 2 months ago on 10-10-2019 01:17:12 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I had always used the cheesecloth/cotton game bags in the past. Never had an issue with meat going bad and would have no problem using them again in the future. I never really gave much thought to purchasing a higher end synthetic bag until last year when I went on a hunt that was guided and had other hunters along. One of the other hunters kind of scoffed at my cheesecloth bags

Dylan W. - posted 2 months ago on 10-09-2019 09:16:41 pm
Wheat Ridge, CO
goHUNT INSIDER

I was glad to hear about your buddies with the plastic bags. We hunt late-season and debone all our animals on the spot then divy the meat into 3 to 10 gallon food grade Ziploc bags and drop them into our packs. This has worked fantastic for years. No mess, no blood and they go straight into the coolers like that. If it was hot this would not be a good system but at the time that we hunt preventing freezingis more of an issue than heat so it works great. There's always someone telling us that this isn't a good way to do it but they never have an explanation for why so we just smile and continue to enjoy our meat.

ben.lundell84
Ben L. - posted 2 months ago on 10-09-2019 08:11:53 pm
Utah
goHUNT INSIDER

Yes, worth it. I have always used some form of game bag. I love the articles on things that aren't mainstream subjects. The small details can make a big difference in a hunt.