For most of his 60 years, Chris Peterson has been hunting elk and, when successful, packing them out on his back in boned-out quarters, sometimes over the course of two days.
“Elk hunters enjoy pain, sadomasochistic I guess,” joked the Middleton resident. “And we hunt steep country.”
But even sadomasochistic elk hunters would like it to be easier to pack meat out.
“I hate making more than one trip up and down that mountain if I don’t have to,” Peterson said.
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He thought he had the answer when he bought a portable winch, but that proved to take too much time and effort. He still had to go back to get the winch and gas, and the process was slow. Discouraged and sitting around the campfire in 2000 after a three-day pack trip to haul out two bull elk, Peterson had a game-changing idea.
“I used to help the neighbor deliver newspapers,” he said. “And I was always amazed that on Sundays he would have that pack so loaded that I was surprised he could ride a bike.”
Why not use the same kind of packs to haul out elk meat, he suggested. So he posed the problem to his wife, Adrienne, who — after some measurements to ensure they were big enough to carry an elk quarter — sewed up three newspaper carrier-type bags. She made them out of Cordura fabric and with clips and webbing to hold the load and cinch it up tight to the wearer.
“My husband wanted to make sure they held up well,” Adrienne said.
“We’ve used the same packs for more than 15 years and probably packed out a ton of meat in those bags,” Peterson said.
Other elk hunters took notice of the unique bags, so Peterson’s son — also named Chris — and the rest of the family suggested that since Peterson was retiring, he should sell the bags as a business. That’s when the company Pack Out Bags was born.
“It’s not making us rich, but it’s paying for itself,” Peterson said.
“It’s pretty steady from the middle of the year to the end of the year,” Adrienne said. “The word has gotten out a little bit.”
The bags sell for $89.95 and are available in either camouflage or fluorescent orange material. An additional $6.50 is tacked on for shipping. The bags are cut and sewn in Idaho.
“The hard part is trying to keep the price down,” Peterson said. “Hunting is so expensive anyway. We shopped around to find the lowest-priced materials we could.”
Making the bags out of cotton or a cheaper material didn’t make sense to Peterson.
“If you’re going to put your name on the bag, make it good,” he said. “I don’t want them falling apart the first time you use them.”
The bags are fairly light, said Chris Jr., and when folded up can fit in the palm of your hand. So the bags are easy to throw into a backpack or fanny pack to always be handy. No need to go back to the truck to get a frame backpack or game cart. Plus, the bags can be loaded in the front and the back to help balance the load. The bags can also be thrown in the washing machine after a trip.
Peterson said the easiest way to load the bags is to bone out the elk, put the meat in game bags to keep it clean, and then hang the bags from trees with baling twine or rope that you don’t mind cutting. Then fit the Pack Out Bag around the bags, step underneath the load and cut the strings. Otherwise, it can be hard for one person to lift the loaded Pack Out Bag high enough off the ground to get under it. A video on the Pack Out Bag website demonstrates the technique.
“It’s a chore to get underneath them,” Peterson said. “That’s a big load.”
He admitted, though, that not everyone probably wants to or is physically able to carry out half an elk.
Photos on the Pack Out Bag website show that the bags can also be used for hauling other heavy loads, as well.
Although advertising has been by word of mouth, they’ve sold bags around the Northwest, Florida, Colorado and a few to Canadian buyers. Although the family approached a patent attorney, he told them it wasn’t a unique enough design to qualify.
It’s become a small family business. Chris Jr. stars in the videos on the website that his wife built. Chris’ brother takes care of orders when the rest of the family is gone. Otherwise it’s their mother, Adrienne, who fills the orders.
“Even if we don’t get rich off of it, it’s fun anyway,” Chris Jr. said. “One of the good things about it is there’s not a whole lot of overhead.”