NORTHERN MICHIGAN – Get the deer first then we will figure it out, but about halfway through the trip I was beginning to question our philosophy. I had shot a deer at 7:41 on opening day and was feeling really good about it; I was going to be back in camp before the rain and wind started. It wasn’t scheduled to hit our area in Northern Michigan until around noon, plenty of time to field dress my deer, hike back to the car and get the sled then start the two mile drag out of the swamp.
Our group purposely hunts in an area that is very difficult to access. Swampy terrain and hundreds of fallen trees provides a backdrop for some great hunting. Even though we hunt on public land we generally only see other hunters at the road. If we hear shots they are always in the distance unless it is one of us. By getting “off the beaten path,” we have some great hunting all to ourselves, but getting the deer out is never easy. Our motto has always been “get the deer first then we will figure it out.”
Usually figuring it out involves taking turns pulling the sled. With two or three guys the job isn’t particularly hard, even when the swamp is flooded like it was this year. But as luck would have (good luck), one of my hunting partners, Bob Ranger, shot his deer soon after I did, and his was a big one. Ten-point bucks often come with a big body and his certainly did.
Since my deer, a doe, was significantly smaller I was on my own this year. After a wrong turn that added close to a mile to the trip the rain and wind started. I began to think that there has to be a better way. The sled works great when the ground is frozen and covered with snow and someone else is there to help pull. It’s not ideal when it is wet and warm and sticking in the mud. A haul that normally takes about 45 minutes turned into a two-hour drag. By the time I made it back to the road it had been raining for two hours and the wind was howling.
Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to be pulling a sled rather than walking out empty handed and it is going to make for a great story that will grow in stature as the years go by, but in the moment it was a struggle. At 60 years old it’s not as easy as it used to be. Once I returned home I actually spent some time considering other methods. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the area we hunt which is one of the reasons we have it to ourselves. There are too many downed trees and sink holes to use a mountain bike and trailer, and wheeled hand carts haven’t worked well either. Carrying the deer seemed like a good option. But how?
One method immediately came to mind, hanging the animal on a pole and carrying it. When I called one of my hunting partners, Paul Wilkins, he mentioned that he had used this method in the past. The accompanying photo gives some indication of the conditions, knee deep water and mud, which required hip boots and precluded dragging.
An Internet search turned up another intriguing possibility for carrying a deer. Clay Newcomb describes the process called “shock-pouching” on the meateater website. He attributes the method to James Lawrence a whitetail hunter from Arkansas. The process seems quite simple and he claims that an average size hunter can do it with a 140-pound deer.
The process involves removing the lower leg bones from all four legs while leaving behind the hide and dew claws. Tie the front leg from one side to the back leg of the opposite side. The dewclaws prevent the knot from slipping. These become the straps for your deer backpack. Lawrence claims to have carried a deer for “five miles” using this method. “The hardest part is just standing up with the deer on your back,” he said. “When you need to rest just lean against a tree.” It would probably be a good idea to wrap some hunters orange around the deer while it is on your back.
I would be interested in knowing whether anybody in the area has ever tried this method. We had an opportunity ourselves on Sunday when Wilkins shot an eight-point buck in the morning, and it ran deeper into the swamp. After briefly considering the shock pouch we opted for the sled. It was another long haul, but well worth the effort. As we neared the end of our trip where the trail becomes wider and the ground clear of downed trees Wilkins quipped, “I think we can still do this when we are 70.”