What’s Does it Take To Eat a Good Elk Burger?

Do you know what it takes?

I was enjoying an elk burger a couple of days ago (shared this same pic on Instagram @backcountrychroniclesdotcom) and was thinking about everything involved with putting that delicious burger on my plate.

Most Questions I get and see on the forums are about “where are the elk”? But that’s only a small part.

Learn Your Hunting Area

What does that take?

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bull elk at duskTime and effort. I’ve been learning my local public lands since I moved to my current State in 1992 and had to learned new areas when I moved in 1997.

Where is the access? Where are the trailheads? Where can I get more than 440 yards off the road? (most hunters won’t get 1/4 mile off the road – you know this if you read my book).

wary elk herd during 2018 hunt seasonWith 1.5 million acres in my back yard, I’m still learning the area and I make sure to explore new areas every year.

Knowledge of many areas comes in handy when you show up at a spot and somebody is camped or parked there. Not perfect, but I have other places to go.

What’s else does it take?

Learned to Shoot and Sight in a Rifle

target shooting with muzzleloaderWhat does that take?

Many trips to practice and many boxes of ammo and/or powder, primers and bullet, targets and hundreds of cleanings.

One inch groups at the range will never translate to 1 inch groups shooting at live animals on the mountain.

I think most sad hunting stories (missed chances and wounded animals; Not recovered) are due to lack of shooting practice and unrealistic confidence of shooting skills, especially in realistic hunting situations and conditions.

We all hope we will be heroes when called upon, but we will fall to our lowest level of training. Shooting is a perishable skill and it takes time and effort to maintain proficiency.

Ever hear someone say they didn’t have time to make sure their rifle was sighted in? I have… and it’s ridiculous.

Fall down on the mountain and bump that scope? Better test it before you shoot at a live animal. Why chance it or leave that doubt in your mind?

One morning I came across 3 young men that told me they missed (5 or 6 combined shots) a running elk at about 500 yards. When I asked what was their hold over at that distance (assuming they were sighted in at 100 or 200 yards), they said “what’s hold over”? I’m glad they missed…

What’s else does it take?

Acquired a Permit

What does that take?

You must first pass a hunter safety test. Check with your state’s wildlife agency (or with the state you want to hunt).

Some permits are rare and use a lottery system. Others can be bought over the counter. Some are a kind of hybrid of both types, where people that didn’t get tags last year have preference points over those that did. Check with your State (they don’t make it easy).

When buying or applying for a permit/license/tag, The first thing the state will ask you is “what unit you want to hunt”? So you have to know something about the area and how that relates to a unit name or number on the state’s hunt map.

Yes, you have homework.

What’s else does it take?

Acquire and Prepare Gear

What does that take?
I am a minimalist when it comes to gear, but there are things you will need and other things that will be nice to have.

You will be (or should be if you are serious) outside in the mountains all day. You need appropriate clothes and boots.

Most prefer camo, but we also have to wear orange or pink to make sure some idiot doesn’t shoot us. Wear brown, green or tan and wear white in the snow.

Main thing is few animals will see you unless you are moving… They will smell you., so always pay attention to the wind.

Ok, we have clothes on…

compare water filter to 2 liter water bottleCan you stay outside all day without food or water? Not a good idea, so pack food and water (water filter). And put it into some kind of hunting pack.

Some packs and water bottles are noisy and that is not a good idea so pay attention to those details.

I also have a pack frame for packing out meat, but almost never use it. It is always in the truck, but me and the elk are on the mountain.

Do you know exactly where you are going and how to get back? Ok… So you probably need GPS and headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries.

I think everyone should have a range finder unless you promise yourself to never take shots over 300 yards. I have tested people on judging distance. Many people are off 100 yards at 300 yard distance.  How many inches is that with your rifle? In a 20 mph crosswind?

Binoculars are useful and if you can handle the bulk and weight, a spotting scope and tripod. I no longer carry a spotting scope, but still take the tripod as a shooting platform or for pics and video.

If you actually shoot something, now what do you need? Game bags, butchering kit and I carry a small tarp to keep everything thing clean if the snow hasn’t fallen yet and as emergency shelter. That bone saw thingy in the butchering kit is almost worthless. I carry a machete to remove feet. Not to whack through big leg bones, but to separate at the knee joint.

Are your knives sharp? I finally bit the bullet and got a good knife sharpener.

I also carry a drag line; 50 feet of paracord can always be useful. Sometimes you will need to tie legs out of the way for butchering and I have been on steep slopes in snow where chord was used to safely repel down a steep, slick slope going from tree to tree.

Chem lights, flashing fishing bubbles or some other lights are useful for packing meat out in the dark and marking each meat pile.

I don’t try to pack a load all the way back to the truck. I leave one light near the kill site, then move one load 100-300 yards at a time depending on terrain. Hang one light over that load and return for another load.

Lights save lots of time in the dark. So I move one pile towards the other, then start moving that pile down the mountain towards the truck…

Same amount of steps (more lifting pack off the ground)… But I am not exhausted at the truck with a long hike back to the kill site with an empty pack.

Plus you don’t know what is happening to any of the meat if you can’t see it.

Always Be Bear Aware in Grizzly Bear Country. Carry Bear Spray.

You will have 5 trips for an entire elk. Four quarter bags with plus back straps and loins and other meat (including heart, liver and tongue) you have trimmed.

Leave hind quarters by themselves, add backstraps, loins and other meat in the bags with the shoulders. You can pack a quarter bag at a time plus you have one more trip for your day pack and rifle.

Think about it carefully… How much and what else do you need if you left your truck before daylight in the morning and get the last load of meat back in the truck at 1:00 am?

I have used an ice fishing sled in the snow when I had help to go back to the truck and get it. Better have a thicker rope on the sled.

Many like to use 4 wheelers and side by sides. I Don’t. I park the truck and get off the road. I don’t care if the truck gets beat up or scratched.

What’s else does it take?

Put in the Time and Miles During the Hunting Season

100% organic grass/browse fed elk in the freezer - successful elk hunt 2019What does that take?

It takes what it takes. My earliest successful hunt was on the 1st day and my longest was on the 21st day.

Most successful hunts were between 5 – 7 days, but I have also eaten tag soup after 15 and 18 days, but I didn’t hunt very many days on other unsuccessful seasons.

Looking at hunting statistics, the average hunter hunts 4-5 days and success on general season hunts are about 25%. That means average hunter needs to put In 16-20 days. (But you would know that if you read my book).

But what’s a day? Good question…

All days of effort can not be equal. Walking a 100 yards away from camp for an hour in the morning and just before dark may be good enough, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I have been successful on half-days, but usually after putting in many more full days to locate elk.

Earlier I talked about how I pack out an elk, but not how long it takes.

Butchering quickly with clean cuts takes practice… Do your best, learn as you go. But Do It Yourself.

I butchered and packed 240+ lbs 1/2 mile to truck in 6 hours (no help butchering, help packing). I have butchered and packed (alone- also 1/2 mile) 140 lbs in 7 hours. Keep in mind I was 65. Two younger guys should be able to pack 1 mile in that time. I have passed on shots because I knew it was too far for me to pack by myself.

(I have another post on How much meat to pack out on an elk? )

Butchering for me has been mostly in the dark and it’s usually brutal cold… Your hands will be frozen by the time you finish butchering – yes, at first you can warm your hands on the warm body, but later it’s all cold, wet meat.

You may have grand ideas of perfectly butchering and de-boning all the meat in the field. But cold hands will make cowards of us all.

I may or may not leave the hide on a quarter. The hide will keep the meat cleaner, but if it were warm, it would prevent the meat from cooling. I figure when my hands are freezing, I can leave the hide on. It’s a little heavier, but I need to get moving.

Take the ribs if you have time, but at least cut off most meat if not. I always take heart, liver and now also take the tongue. Hint take the tongue early, before rigor mortise sets in.

At home finish butchering and package for freezer. You can wait until next morning to finish butchering and packaging if the meat is in a cold place 30-40°(don’t let it freeze!)

The garage in the back of the truck is fine. But don’t let the dogs or cats lick it.

When it was too warm, I have kept the game bags (quarters) in my garage overnight in large gear tubs.  The meat was on top of bags of ice, but not down in the melt water. Tubs were full of gear, but this was an emergency so it all had to be dumped out to cool the meat.

What’s else does it take?

Package and Freeze the Meat

What does that take?

elk hind quarter Depending on how much butchering you did in the field, you may not need to do too much more. I have de-boned meat in the field from shoulders, but always leave the bone in on hind quarters.

Bone in may be heavier, but it is easier to pack a bone in hind quarter than a loose, floppy bag of meat.

So finish removing the hide and start cutting. It takes a band saw or hack saw if you want to make cuts through bone for some of the traditional cuts you see with beef.

I cut backstraps and loins into various thicknesses and vacuum seal.

I usually save a few “ham steaks” (thin cross section cuts through big muscles in hind quarter) and cut everything else up as roasts and meat to grind.

I still prefer to put 4 to 5 lbs of meat in a gallon freezer bags. If for roasts, leave in big chunks, if for grinding, cut into long strips.  It’s quick and easy and gets the meat in the freezer as fast as possible, but is still ready to grind or for roasts straight out of the bag.

If packaged in consistent flat vacuum sealed packages, an adult elk will require about 7 cubic feet of freezer space. If you quickly cut hunks of meat off and fill gallon size freezer bags, you may need a little more space because everything will not fit as close together.

Be careful to give gallon bags space. The unfrozen meat in bags can fit tight before freezing, then be hard to separate after freezing.

Best freezers for long-term meat storage is a non-defrosting chest freezer. Defrosting freezers heat up to get rid of the frost. And upright freezers lose all of the cold air every single time you opent the door.

What’s else does it take?

Grind the Meat

What does that take?

Yes you have to have a meat grinder, but hand grinder is all you need (in fact I a prefer hand grinder). I sold my electric grinder because it was unnecessary and too loud.

I guess you could chop meat up very fine with a knife (our older ancestors obviously had knives but not grinders).

Need a good butcher or de-boning knife?

You need to save fat trimmed from a brisket or pork. Or ask the butcher to save fat trimmings for you. Most will do this free of charge.

Grind fat at the same time you are grinding the meat, or grind meat first on large grinder plate and then regrind with fat for even mixing.

I like the meat and the fat to be almost frozen. Freeze you bowls and grinder parts too. Ground meat is really the only thing that can go bad. Keeping everything cold prevents bacterial growth and also keeps the fat solid. It mixes better. Move quickly and keep hands and utensils clean.

Want 10%, 15% or 20% fat? Do the math.

  • 2 oz of fat to 16 oz of meat will give you 18 oz at 11.1%
  • 3 oz of fat to 16 oz of meat will give you 19 oz at 15.8%
  • 4 oz of fat to 16 oz of meat will give you 20 oz at 20%
  • 1.6 oz of fat to 14.4 oz of meat will give you 16 oz at 10%
  • 2.4 oz of fat to 13.6 oz of meat will give you 16 oz at 15%
  • 3.2 oz of fat to 12.8 oz of meat will give you 16 oz at 20%

Every grinder I have ever used works best with long strips of meat (not cubes). You can spend a fair amount of time removing facia and tendons, but again, most grinders I have used will trap most of this in front of the grinder plate, so if only grinding 10 lbs of meat at a time, you can usually wait until you have finished to clear it out. If grinding more meat or tough shanks, you might need to open the grinder and remove it.

Cooking and Preparing an Elk Burger

You know how to form patties and cook burgers properly. But think about it… do you really want to pack the meat into a tight ball or do you want to simply collect the”strands” of ground meat after they fall out of the grinder and loosely pack them together.

Sometimes I just add salt and pepper to the meat and sometimes I spice it up a bit with garlic, Italian type seasonings and maybe some red pepper and/or smoked paprika. Top that with roasted green chilies.

We all have our favorite ways to eat Burger. I would even bake my own buns if I were a better baker (Next time – maybe- talk is cheap).

Mayo and pickles were homemade (both are too good and too easy not to try)…

Many don’t like mayo, but big hint here… Mayo (or butter) will keep bread from getting soggy from all that good meat juice.

I use lettuce and tomato from the garden when available. I usually have lettuce in the house during winter, but not this year.
Used an iron griddle today (also have variety of cast iron skillets I sometimes use) because I was too lazy to shovel snow to get to the grill.

I prefer a nice sear to the outside, but rare (but not cold) in the middle. It helps to let the meat warm up to room temperature before cooking.

Hint: 10 seconds in the microwave can make sure center is not cold, but you have to put back on the fire or in the skillet to crisp and char the outside again.

Damn my burger was good. How was yours?


FYI: If you click on product links on any of my posts and buy something, I get paid a small commission (costs you nothing extra). Good Luck on your hunt.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?