Photo by Cathie Archbould
A meat pole is an integral part of most hunting camps and is an inexpensive way to protect a winter’s supply of tasty steaks, roasts, and burgers. One of these three options should suit your hunting style and budget.
1. Deer Camp Butcher Block
1. One possibility is an open-on-all-sides meat-processing shelter inspired by the semi-permanent big-game camps you’ve visited over the years. It can be as elaborate as your budget allows.
The foundation is a brick or concrete slab. Four stout corner posts support a slanted roof with a gutter emptying into an elevated rainwater barrel that collects runoff for cleaning. Install a metal or wood-pole main beam for skinning, and an intersecting crossbeam with several eyelets or moveable hooks for hanging multiple deer. Make sure the main beam is fitted with a gambrel attached to a pulley hoist powered by a winch, ATV, or man power, and use boat cleats to secure the pull rope.
To the corner posts, attach hooks or snap fasteners to hold a removable tarp to minimize bugs. If you are on the grid, add electrical outlets for powered appliances like Sawzalls and vacuum sealers, bug zappers, and trouble lights to illuminate after-hours skinning chores.
On one open side, place a stainless-steel table with a sink that drains into a refuse bucket, with table space for a cutting board and bagging and labeling work. Underneath the table, place a cooler for your favorite beverages and a few reserve scrap buckets. Keep things modular, and the shelter can double as an outdoor patio or a deer barbecue under the stars.
2. Backcountry Meat Pole
This minimalist approach requires two sizeable trees near camp, about 8 to 10 feet apart. For the crossbeam, locate a downed tree if possible, about 4 to 6 inches in diameter and 12 to 14 feet long. Lash it to the main trees with 1/4-inch or larger poly rope. Lash the cross pole high enough so the bottom edge of the hanging meat is well above the reach of coyotes and other scavengers.
To the cross beam, tie on individual rope hangers with slip knot loops that can easily be moved along the beam, ensuring that quarters of meat don’t touch. Hang the meat in game bags and use a poly tarp to shield (but not touch) the meat in the evening from rain and snow. During the day, the tarp shields the meat from the sun, but position it to allow air to circulate around all sides of the meat.
In bear country, be sure to use a portable electric fence with a charger powered by D batteries to surround the area.
3. The Treeless Meat Pole
Caring for meat in the high alpine or treeless tundra means being inventive, since there are rarely opportunities to hang it. The cardinal rule is to never lay your meat on the ground. On caribou hunts, I’ve had to haul bits of dwarf brush and willows from a nearby river, then cut and stack brush into large piles onto which I placed the quarters to allow air to circulate under the meat.
In hot weather, I’ve dug holes in the tundra moss and placed bagged meat on a layer of brush above the permafrost for natural refrigeration. Cover the quarters with a layer of brush and moss to deter birds and other scavengers. In sheep or high-alpine deer camp, find a pair of large boulders that catch prevailing breezes and tie a parachute cord between the rocks. Then lean the quarters–ham-side up–against the rope until the meat crusts. Rotate as needed to allow the quarters to drain before packing out.
Any time you hang meat in extended camps, mist it daily with citric acid spray to deter flies and bacteria. Dampen, but don’t soak, game bags. Keep meat cool, and don’t allow the pieces to touch. This conscientious care and natural aging will produce delicious meat that will allow you to relive your backcountry hunt long after you have returned home.