My How To: Flying Cross Country with Elk Meat

KayakMacGyver

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I live in North Florida and really like to fly when I’m hunting, for a variety of reasons. Overall, it’s cheaper if you plan for enough out and it saves me 2-3 days of travel time that I can then allocate to hunting. However, getting meat home is a logistical challenge, for sure. I drove my first two Elk home after flying one way and decided I really wanted to dial in a good system for flying an Elk home, affordably.

I think I accomplished this for about as cheap as one could expect to, give or take around $60. This is how I did it:



1) Fly Southwest = 2 Free checked bags

2) On the flight to, I packed 50 lbs. of gear and food into a rolling Coleman 70qt. cooler as my first checked bag. The second checked bag is my bow. The rest of my hunting equipment was in my hunting pack (Sitka Mountain Hauler 6500), which I brought as my carry-on, and included a collapsible soft-sided cooler bag.

3) When I arrived at my destination, I purchased a 70 qt. cooler from Walmart for $50. Walmart is the best because if I don’t use the cooler, I can return it.

4) Most important step. Shoot an Elk

5) After hanging meat and allowing to cool, debone all the quarters and place them into heavy-duty contractor bags, then completely pack in ice inside the cooler for as long as possible.

6) Pack a box with as much gear as you can fit inside and ship it home to yourself via USPS. My box weighed around 25 lbs. and cost me $60 dollars to ship home.

7) Just before boarding the plane, remove all the wet ice and dry the cooler with a towel.

8) This step is optional and not always possible. Add 5.5 lbs. of dry ice per cooler (the maximum amount allowed by TSA). Based on all the research I’ve done on this topic, I would have been 100% comfortable shipping the meat home without ice in the cooler for up to 18-24 hours. Dry ice was convenient and cheap insurance for me, though, flying from 100 degrees Phoenix to 100 degrees Florida.

9) One cooler is going to serve as the second checked bag and can only be a maximum of 50 lbs. I packed a rear quarter in this cooler, which weighed 44 lbs. + 5.5 lbs. of dry ice.

10) The other cooler is going to be an overweight item. Southwest charges a $75 fee for this up to 100 lbs. I was able to pack a rear quarter + a front shoulder and 5.5 lbs. of dry ice, which came out to approximately 83 lbs. I didn’t have a scale but could have saved myself some headache with my carry-on if I could have added the max weight to this cooler.

11) Stuff a rear quarter and bag of tenderloins/backstrap/trim in your carry-on pack, 44 lbs. and 35 lbs. respectively. Southwest doesn’t have a maximum weight limit on your carry-on bag and meat is totally acceptable through carry-on. However, know that you will more than likely get searched going through TSA (I’m even TSA pre-check) as meat and dry ice both look very suspicious on an X-Ray.

12) My personal item was soft-sided cooler, which I had packed with 4 shanks. We like ossobuco a lot, so I went the extra mile here. You could shave some weight off your carry-on pack to make this work.


Summary:

All in, I’m at $200 not including the hassle and stress of putting all of this together on a time crunch. This includes a new cooler, a box shipped home, and one overweight/extra bag. This was a full-grown Cow Elk, which produced the same amount of meat as raghorn I shot last year in Colorado. Obviously, a large Bull is going to require some additional weight/expense, along with the antlers.

I have checked antlers before on a plane and you’ll have to plan on an additional $100 or so to accomplish this. The expense here is the overweight/oversize fee + bubble wrap/tape/cardboard to package it up.

I hope this helps some folks traveling across country to hunt the West.



KMG
20210919_053135.jpg
 
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wllm

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Nice work.

I'm going to be giving this a try *assuming I find an elk* in Oct.

Protip, If you MIL lives in the state you're hunting you might be able to find her a round trip ticket for the same price as your baggage fees. Happy wife + 100lbs of elk meat. ;)
 
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wllm

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I have checked antlers before on a plane and you’ll have to plan on an additional $100 or so to accomplish this. The expense here is the overweight/oversize fee + bubble wrap/tape/cardboard to package it up.
Did you cut the plate and split the rack or the whole thing?
 

Bob-WY

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Years ago I had this "problem" and got a bit creative to solve it.

Look at the cost to upgrade your home-bound trip to first class. That bought me 2 free checked bags, but each could now weigh 70 lbs. I had 5 boxes of meat each with just under 50 lbs. I shipped home a box of "stuff" (laundry, boots, backpack, even split antlers)

With the increased baggage limit, the first class upgrade cost me a small amount - which I probably made up for with free food/booze.
 

KayakMacGyver

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Did you cut the plate and split the rack or the whole thing?

Whole thing. This was a dead head raghorn 5x5 and I didnt have any sentimental value with it. Depending on the size of the rack, cutting might be the only option.
 

KayakMacGyver

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Years ago I had this "problem" and got a bit creative to solve it.

Look at the cost to upgrade your home-bound trip to first class. That bought me 2 free checked bags, but each could now weigh 70 lbs. I had 5 boxes of meat each with just under 50 lbs. I shipped home a box of "stuff" (laundry, boots, backpack, even split antlers)

With the increased baggage limit, the first class upgrade cost me a small amount - which I probably made up for with free food/booze.

Which airline was this? Southwest doesn't have a first class, unfortunately. I feel like every other airline charges you for checked bags, so I'm really interested in how the math would work out AND be able to fly 1st class. That sounds very enticing.

My goal here was to do it as cheap as possible, but it was definitely a pain and physically uncomfortable.
 

CJnGA

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Which airline was this? Southwest doesn't have a first class, unfortunately. I feel like every other airline charges you for checked bags, so I'm really interested in how the math would work out AND be able to fly 1st class. That sounds very enticing.

My goal here was to do it as cheap as possible, but it was definitely a pain and physically uncomfortable.

Not sure about other airlines, but Delta does two checked bags free with First Class. They also have ways to get extra baggage allowances by having one of their co-branded credit cards or by having 'status' with them.
 

Slm864

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Are all of your flights non stop or have you had flights with connections? I just wonder about the possibility of losing one of those coolers of meat with a connecting flight.
 

KayakMacGyver

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Are all of your flights non stop or have you had flights with connections? I just wonder about the possibility of losing one of those coolers of meat with a connecting flight.

I drive 5 hours north of my home to fly out of Atlanta for direct flights pretty much everywhere I travel out west, or at least within a reasonable driving distance. I have done the connecting deal for AK, and it does add some worry but I think airports have gotten a heck of alot better with their baggage transport these days.

The biggest pain on a connecting flight would be getting my carryon into the the overhead multiple times. I usually pack it very heavy, regardless of meat, and that is usually the worst part of it all.
 

Mallardsx2

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I flew a very large shark home from California one time. It was a giant mess. When they told me my cooler was too heavy I took it outside the doors and dumped 20 pounds of ice out of each of the 4 coolers on the sidewalk and wheeled it back in and said "how about now?" lol

True story.
 

LCH

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It sounds like you got the meat home via airline about as cheap as possible.

I got my bear home from Alaska for a similar amount a couple years ago. I purchased 3 collapsible coolers off Amazon that I used to replace the foam padding in my rifle case on the flight there. No extra bag fees on the way. On the return flight, I had about 50 pounds in each cooler. I carried one cooler as my carry on, checked my pack with one cooler inside, checked the 3rd cooler (as my 2nd bag), and my rifle case (with dirty clothes as padding) was my extra bag. I took my hide to a taxidermist in Alaska, he shipped it to Moyle, Moyle shipped it to me.

I still think for most hunts, driving a decent mpg rig out/back is the cheapest option. That's not always possible or practical though.
 

Jwill

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Nice plan and execution! Ferrying gear, coolers, etc. from rental car to check-in and baggage claim to the vehicle at the end of the trip is usually my least favorite part... Though I think a 5hr drive on top of that would be be equally bad. ;) As I've gotten a little bit older, I've moved the needle slightly toward more convenient and away from minimum cost.

I prefer to get all the meat in coolers under the plane and try to get all checked items under the weight limits. Usually I'm able to get the meat vac sealed and frozen, so that eliminates any need for ice or dry ice and that shuffle. Also, I think shipping stuff back is more trouble than it's worth, I'd rather pay for another checked bag. For antlers finding a taxidermist to clean up the skull and ship back eliminates that hassle too.
 

homers

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You can get the airline credit card (even the $0 annual fee ones) that usually gives free bag(s)
 

3855WIN

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Whole thing. This was a dead head raghorn 5x5 and I didnt have any sentimental value with it. Depending on the size of the rack, cutting might be the only option.
Where do you live? I grew up in Panama City, but have been gone for many years. I think you’re a boat captain. Some of us might need to fish with you one day.
 

2rocky

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I will say for Cont. 48 hunts with 2 or more people sharing gas, that pencils better than flying on most occasions.

Solo Trips with little travel time I'd rather use air for scouting trips since weather is nicer and you have to pack less.
 

Jdp010

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Nice write up.

I brought 1/3 of a processed moose on Jetblue from BOS to LAS in Oct '20. 50# even in each of two duck-taped coolers as checked bags.

The ticket counter agent and supervisor at BOS were not going to let me check those coolers as my meat was not packed with "dry ice". I am unsure if they truly were referring to dry ice (Frozen CO2) or if they were lazily referring to frozen gel packs. I finally convinced them that processed moose grind that is frozen doesn't need any additional coolant for a non stop 5 hour flight.

My guess is that some of this is highly variable based on airline, employee and region of the country.
 

Chromanz

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I sent my wife with moose meat (steak, summer salami, jerk) to the airport so she could see the in-laws.
The security guys stoped her. She showed them the meat and the pics of the moose. They said that the coolest thing the had seen all week and let here go.
 

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