If you hike a mile or two into some promising cover and shoot a nice buck, you’re the one who gets to haul it all the way back to the truck. If you’re unprepared, such tasks can be exhausting and frustrating. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s where downed-game transportation comes in.
Game Sleds –
A game sled looks like something your kids would take sliding down their favorite snow hill in the winter. They’re usually made of heavy-duty plastic, and you pull them along the ground just like you would a couple of kids on a sled heading to the park. Such modes of game transport are very effective for pulling game down narrow game trails where carts with a wider wheelbase may not be practical. The animal is placed on the sled and held there by ropes or straps as indicated or provided by the manufacturer. You also can pull game sleds over fallen logs and trail obstacles that game carts may have trouble with. For these reasons, game sleds may be your best option for getting game out of the woods. The nice thing about game sleds is that many on the market roll up into a compact cylinder that weighs about 5 lbs. and can easily be carried on your back or pack as you hunt. They are also inexpensive and usually run less than $30. There are downsides to game sleds, however.
One potential problem is uneven terrain. It can be difficult to walk along a slope with a loaded game sled because the sled and carcass will naturally want to head downhill all the time. If you were fortunate enough to get a rather large deer or antelope and find yourself on a steep incline as you drag, the animal and sled could possibly cause you to fall and head downhill with your game.
Another challenge for game sled users is that the antlers or horns of the animal are being dragged relatively close to the ground and are prone to snag on bushes, small trees and tall grass. In addition to collecting vegetation debris, constantly pulling against a persistently snagging animal can wear a hunter down pretty fast. That said, game sleds are best used on established trails through wooded terrain.
Game Carts –
Another option, and one that I personally use, is the game cart. You can make your own or go with a proven line from a reputable manufacturer. At first glance, a game cart may look like a cross between a skeletonized wheelbarrow and a rickshaw with bicycle tires. One advantage game carts have over sleds is they can be pushed or pulled across slightly to moderately sloped terrain, though steep slopes are still problematic. They roll over smaller ground obstacles such as branches and rocks as well. It usually requires less effort to bring an animal in on a well-balanced cart than on a sled, and the wheels team with the cart frame to keep the animal’s head elevated above most low-to-the-ground entanglements. By precisely positioning the balance point on such a cart, manufacturers enable a hunter to place heavy game on it and move it with the least amount of stress possible on a hunter’s back, arms, shoulders and legs. This doesn’t mean carts are without drawbacks, too.
Game carts are more expensive than sleds with costs running between $100 and $150. Of course, the cart has paid for itself if it saves you three trips to the chiropractor after the hunt. Also, fully assembled game carts are not meant to be towed around all day. That means you leave them with your vehicle, bag your game, and then go back to get the cart. The good news is that with deer and antelope, you can usually get by with one round trip to retrieve your animal.
Many hunters also have found that game carts are a great way to transport gear to a spike camp. They’re ideal for bulkier items such as wall tents, camp stoves and cookware, and many models will carry well over 200 lbs. of game or gear.
Some game cart manufacturers have come up with the innovative idea of collapsible designs that you can carry on your back all day. The good news is these "backpack carts" weigh about 20 lbs. The bad news is also that they weigh about 20 lbs. That might not seem like a lot of weight to carry on your back all day, but keep in mind you’ll also have your gun and other assorted necessities that combine to add another 15-20 lbs. to the weight of the cart. The way I suggest using the "backpack cart" design is to take it out into the walk-in area, remove it, mark the location with your GPS or other means, hunt that section of land, then retrieve the cart, go to another portion of the walk-in area, and repeat the process. That way the cart is never too far away for spot-and-stalk hunters, and still-hunters will have it concealed nearby their blind or stand.
As a former dragger/cut-quarter-pack-out hunter of big game, I can tell you that since I’ve started using game carts I won’t be going back to the old way if I can help it.
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