Deer Down! Now What?

At 71 years of age, the author has to have a solid plan for game removal before he ever pulls the trigger. He offers readers several methods for getting a deer to the truck.

John Trussell | July 30, 2022

A green limb and a piece of rope is just one method for pulling a deer out of the woods.

Dragging a deer out of the woods used to be a fairly easy process for me, but when you get older than 40, you might notice that you get winded quicker than you did as a young man.

Last fall I was hunting on Piedmont NWR in central Georgia when a nice 8-point buck walked out and started feeding under some white oak trees. It was a blackpowder hunt, and when I fired my 50-caliber CVA rifle, the buck fell over and staggered, letting me know it was probably a good hit and the buck wasn’t going far. When the buck ran off, I noticed another buck, maybe a 6-pointer, was still standing under the oaks and had not run off when I fired.

With the price of meat in the store constantly going up, here was a chance to really stock up and put two bucks on the ground, but did I want to drag two deer out of the woods? I was hunting in a remote section of woods about three-quarters of a mile from my truck and had to cross a creek with a steep, 10-foot drops on both sides. 

When I was younger, killing two deer and getting them out of the woods was no problem, but I’m at a different stage in life now. I had killed deer in the section of woods for 25 years and usually took a deer out every year, so I was very familiar with the task at hand. I knew it would take me about two hours to get the first buck out. I was hunting by myself and knew that pulling the buck up the steep creek bank was going to be tough. Making two trips with two different bucks, even with my deer cart, was going to be exhausting. The thought process was running through my mind when I took one last look at the buck, eased down my rifle and watched as he walked away. As Toby Keith says, I ain’t as good as I once was.

I tracked down the 8-point buck and gutted it on the spot. Then I started dragging it out of the woods, but the going was hard. This section of woods had been burned off in the spring and the ground was bare with no leaves or pine straw to help the deer slide over the ground. 

If you have ever hunted Piedmont, or one of our state WMAs, you know that many of the roads are closed to vehicle traffic to ensure a good hunting experience, so it’s sometimes a challenge to get really close to a deer you’ve killed. It cans often mean a lengthy drag to get a deer out of the woods. Luckily, I was prepared and had put my deer cart in the truck. I bought it a few months earlier on the GON Classifieds for $25, and it was in great condition with plastic rim covers over the spoke wheels to prevent bushes from interfering with the rotation of the tires. It took 20 minutes to walk back to the truck and retrieve the cart, and soon I was back at the buck’s location to load him up.

As you could expect, the buck had stiffened up and loading it on the cart was a challenge by myself. The buck was dead, but not done with me yet. I had one hand on an antler and the other hand on a back leg and swung it onto the cart. However, in the process, one of the antler tines buried itself about 2 inches in my left forearm. The sight of blood doesn’t usually alarm me, but seeing my own blood being spilled, well, that’s another matter!

The antler scraped up against my muscle and peeled back the skin and bled quit a bit. Seeing my skin peeled back with the antler tine buried under it was unsettling to say the least. I carefully pulled out the antler tine and let it bleed out a bit before I washed out the wound with some Gatorade I had. Then I started the long haul back to the truck. 

Then another bad break of luck. The wing nut came off the wheel, and I now had a useless cart. Digging through my pockets and fanny pack, I came up with a key ring that I was able to bend open and place into the axel slot and got the cart operational again. 

When I reached the high banks of the creek, I had to unload the buck and slide it down into the creek, pull it up the other side, load it back onto the cart and continue to the truck. Once I got to the truck, the tailgate was too high, and I was too tired to lift it by myself. So, I improvised by pulling the buck over onto a small mound of dirt close to the road. Then I backed my truck up the mound, which was about the same height as the tailgate and easily managed to slide the deer into the rear of the truck. 

I sometimes carry an 8-foot, 2×6 board to accomplish the same thing. You place the board on the ground and the other end on the lip of the tailgate and slide the deer up the board. Another method to load a deer is to purchase a small crane that fits into your trailer hitch and then you crank and lift the deer. Once lifted, you just swing the deer onto the rear of the truck. These lift devices are available at many sporting goods dealers. Harbor Freight has a fold-up, 1/2-ton pickup truck bed crane for $120.

 Once I got to the Piedmont check station, I noticed that Carolyn Johnson, Assistant Refuge Manager, was assisting with the deer weighing and aging process. I showed her my bloody arm and told her I was attacked by a dead buck and wanted to apply for the “Piedmont Deer Hunting Purple Heart award.” She is all business and just smirked as she walked away, but I’m sure she appreciated the humor. Today the wound is all healed up, but I have a 2-inch scar on my arm to remind me of the day I went toe to toe with a dead buck!

Getting a deer out of the woods is not rocket science, and we have all done it many times. If you are hunting private property, you can often drive an ATV or truck close to the deer and get a hunting buddy to help you load it and the deed is done. In public-land woods, where you often must drag a deer some distance, you need a plan in place for when you shoot one. 

I will sometimes just take a short piece of rope, wrap it around the doe’s neck or the buck’s antlers and start pulling. Make sure you adjust the rope length so that the deer’s head is about 6 inches off the ground when it’s pulled along the ground. This angle helps to get some of the weight off the ground and helps the deer slide better over the pine straw and leaves. To reduce tension against my hands, I cut a 12-inch piece of green limb and tie off the pulling end of the rope to it. There are many various deer-drag body harness rigs on the market, but I prefer the homemade variety.

There are several models of heavy plastic tarps or heavy-duty slide carts that just lay on the ground and the plastic provides a slippery ground surface to help the deer glide along. These are called jet sleds or deer sleighs, and some look like snow sleighs and basically work the same way.

Another method to get a deer out of the woods is to cut a 6- to 8-foot strong limb and attached the deer’s legs to it. Then you and a buddy lift the entire deer off the ground, place the limb on your shoulders and walk out. This method is tough on your shoulders but does let you move faster. For safety, make sure you are wearing plenty of blaze orange.

I’ve used all these deer carrying methods and prefer a two-wheeled deer cart. There are many different models, like Cabela’s Game Cart at $120. They reduce the weight and energy required to move a deer and are highly recommended. They usually require a trip back to the truck to retrieve the cart.

In addition to the deer cart to get a deer out of the woods, make sure you have basic safety equipment with you anytime you hunt, especially if you hunt alone. I always have a container of water or Gatorade, a cell phone with extra batteries, a hand saw, a first aid kit, a space blanket for an unexpected overnight stay in the woods, plus a few personal items.  Having plenty of liquids is very important because if you become dehydrated, you’ll start to cramp up and you’ll be lucky to get yourself out of the woods. When hunting alone, I normally hunt from the ground because I’ve had a few bad experiences with climbing stands. I’m like Toby Keith, and at 71 years old, I’m not as good as I once was and that’s the cold hard truth!

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1 Comment

  1. PMc on July 30, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    At 70 I understand the Toby Keith thing. 15 years ago stand placement became more and more important to me…I now place a lot of choice on how I am going to get a deer out of the woods than I use to. A few years ago my Brother in Law & I went to using a side by side with a winch to get the deer up and out of that bottom. Last 2 years my brother in law [Lincoln County] has used a side by side with a winch mounted in his tilting bed. You strap the deer’s neck, hit a button and it drags the deer into the bed of his Polaris. The bed is the same height as a truck’s tailgate. I live on a hill [Cherokee County] and shoot deer out my backdoor. Last year I struggled to get the 2 wheel cart up the hill to my truck so over summer I reinforced the bed of my side by side and added an eye bolt to the bed – then bought a lithium battery operated winch to put in the bed when I need it vs. a permanent mounted winch.

    Not sure what the next step is for me after I can’t punch a button to drag a deer into the bed.

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