As a kid growing up in the North East, we were never too far from the truck or 4-wheeler when harvesting our whitetail.
We never used game bags because we dragged our deer to the nearest open area, picked it up with the tractor or truck, and brought it straight to the barn.
We could butcher the entire animal in a controlled environment. Washing and trimming the meat as we deboned was always the process, we never needed to field dress or quarter our harvests miles away from civilization.
With a 200-pound deer being the largest game we would ever harvest, picking one up or dragging it was always an option. Field dressing an animal that small seemed ridiculous.
Game bags were not a part of my life because we never field butchered or quartered elk-sized big game in the woods. With no need to backpack meat out, there was no need to buy game bags. That was the thought at least.
As time progressed, the normalcy of field dressing became apparent. Especially with Western hunting, where the hikes are longer and the roads are fewer, and the game is larger. Game bags are seen as a must-have.
Are game bags necessary?
Game bags are one of those items that once implemented into your hunting arsenal, they will never leave it.
You immediately see the value of a quality bag and will begin to separate from the idea of a game bag is necessary, to which game bag is the best for your needs.
A game bag protects your meat from dirt and bugs, but these bags also cool the meat you store in them.
The prevention of bugs and larva being on your meat is probably reason enough to implement game bags into your routine, but the cooling factor may be more significant.
When a big game animal is on the hoof, they run an internal temperature of around 100 degrees. When they expire from a shot, that blood stops and that meat stays close to that 100-degree temperature for hours.
If you could imagine leaving a steak out in the sun in 100-degree temperatures, you can see that the steak would spoil very quickly. That is why it is so important to field dress right away and get the meat temperature down as fast as possible.
Game bags allow the meat to breathe and cool without exposure to the insects or elements right from the bone and through the hike back to camp. So, the preservation qualities of a game bag are arguably the most important factor.
How do game bags work
Game bags work by sealing your meat from the elements including the ground and insects. You quarter and debone your kill, take the meat and place it directly into a game bag.
Once bagged, you strap the meat to your ruck or pack, where it can be comfortably and safely transported out of the field.
The bags cool allow the harvested meat to cool naturally without the fear of flies or dirt landing on it. The game bags help save cleaning time and allow you to focus more on trimming and packaging.
If you have ever needed to clean dirt or hair off of harvested meat, you will understand the importance of keeping meat clean from the instant it is pulled from the bone to the minute it goes into the freezer.
Having a game bag set in your pack gives you the best chance of keeping your freshly deboned meat clean right off the bat.
Flies and other insects can also be prevented by utilizing a game bag. Flies are almost instantly attracted to a fresh kill. Where there are flies, there is fly larva.
Getting meat into a game bag as soon as it is removed from the animal gives you the best chance of avoiding any lost meat due to maggots. Once the meat is exposed to maggots or any sort of larva like this, it is no longer suited for human consumption.
With the amount of time and money spent on pursuing a harvestable animal, it is a shame to let it spoil due to negligence. Take the time and make the small investment in a propper game bag to preserve your harvest the right way, the first time.
Do game bags leak blood?
You have to realize that filling a material bag with large chunks of freshly deboned meat means that you will indirectly be filling them with blood as well.
Now, it will not necessarily start as running or pooling blood, but as the meat settles in the bag, it will inevitably begin to pool.
The next question you will ask yourself is, “will this blood leak out of my game bag?”
The answer is no, game bags are designed to keep your meat safe and cool, while also preventing blood from spilling and seeping all over your pack.
Your pack is your lifeline when on a hike out, you do not want all of your gear soaking in animal blood. That could attract flies or even predators if you are camping out. This may be one of the main reasons to purchase and start using game bags.
The only time you would see a game bag leak blood would be if it were not a game-specific bag. Some hunters will use an old-school contractor bag or pillowcase to remove meat from the field. These are easy to puncture and are never the best option for packing out meat.
What are game bags made of?
Traditionally, game bags were old pillowcases that were repurposed. Now, game bags can be made from cotton, canvas, or synthetic materials. The factors that will determine which materials are right for you to depend on how you plan to use them.
Cotton bags are the original game bag. These are pretty inexpensive and lightweight. Cotton game bags are not marketed as reusable, but could potentially be washed and recycled.
The cotton versions are easy to use and durable enough to rinse and repeat at least a few times. These tend to come with a drawstring but are not intended to hang your meat in. They serve their purpose by cooling and protecting your meat but are old fashion when compared to newer materials.
More modern styles of a game bag are either made from synthetic woven fibers or canvas material.
The synthetics are great because they are lightweight, easy to use, and easy to reuse. They are tough enough to pack out meat multiple times and stand up to the abuse of holding heavy meat in or on packs.
The negatives to synthetics are that they are quite expensive. This is not ideal because hunting is already so expensive. It is hard for someone on a once per season trip, or a single tag to purchase a game bag that costs more than that tag itself.
The alternative is a canvas-style bag. These are tough and rugged, they do their job, and they are less expensive than the synthetics. The downfall to a canvas-style game bag is that they are heavy.
The added weight and bulk that the canvas variety adds to your pack may not be with the trade-off of the reusability. Deciding which material you choose could be more dependent on how you will use them more than anything.
If you are looking to keep a set of game bags in your pack for the occasional or single-season tagged animal, the cotton version might be your best option. Considered disposable, they would work great.
For the more adventurous hunter that travels state to state and fills tag after tag, the reusable synthetic versions may be the better option. It will depend on the amount of money new bags for every few animals would cost as compared to the multi-use bags themselves.
Can you wash game bags?
Reusable game bags have their place in the hierarchy. For hunters who field dress multiple animals per year, you will want to wash your game bag so that you can use it again and again.
Game bags that are intended to be washed will be more expensive than single-use versions, but make sense if you plan to use them on multiple animals throughout a season.
If you live and hunt in a state where the availability of roads and vehicles make the time between harvest and butchering short, you may not see the need for a game bag, and that is fair.
The harvest can be loaded up and taken to the barn, butchered, and put directly in the freezer.
The meat may not ever have the chance to be exposed to dirt or insects. On the contrary, if you are in a mountainous or remote location where dragging a deer out is not an option, a set of game bags is necessary.
Say that you live or hunt in one of these remote areas where you can harvest multiple big game animals per season. Maybe you travel across the country and take multiple big game harvests per year. Washing and reusing a game bag will be an attribute you look for before purchasing.
The synthetic and canvas varieties are the easiest to wash out and reuse.
Cotton versions can be rinsed and reused, but they never come completely clean. This will be one of the deciding factors of which bag is right for you.
When you are using a game bag for multiple harvests per year, you will want to have a bag set that can be washed and recycled easily.
How to clean a bloody game bag
Once the meat is all in the freezer, it is time to clean your tools of the trade. For your game bag, rinse it with cold water a few times. Coldwater is great for removing stains, especially blood.
It is also important to try and perform this step as soon as possible before the stain has a chance to completely dry and set in the fabric.
This plain rinse will clean most of the blood and make you a bit more comfortable with the next step. That step is throwing them right in the washing machine.
Because you have rinsed most of the fresh blood off of the bag, you should not have to worry about the washing machine being ruined with blood, or worse, maintaining a stench after the bag has been washed.
It may take a few rounds to get the game bag completely clean, but this will make it clean enough to throw in your pack.
Use a scentless soap or detergent to wash the bag. The same one you would use on your hunting attire will work fine. This will prevent any access scents in your pack on your next hunt.
It would be counterproductive for you to spend time and energy trying to conceal your human scent on your hunting gear, but have a set of game bags in your pack that smelled like a fresh dryer sheet or fabric softener.
Be sure that there is no detergent residue left on the bag though, this could transfer from the bag material to the meat during its next use.
With the amount of money hunters spend on gear, travel, and tags, researching how to properly preserve your harvest should be a top priority. Although a game bag may be an added expense, it may be worth more than their monetary value depending on accessibility to infrastructure on your adventure.
I would suggest purchasing yourself a simple set and use them on your next harvest. Once you realize the importance, the question of “is a game bag worth it?” will leave your mind forever.