How Big Of A Cooler Do You Need For Hunting?

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Video cooler size for elk

Hunting is about more than successfully harvesting your target. One of the most satisfying parts of hunting is using the wild game to feed your friends and family. But the best hunt can turn to disaster if your wild game fails to make it to the table unspoiled. Because of this, many hunters find themselves asking the question, “How big a cooler do I need for hunting?”

Whether at a remote hunting camp, traveling to another state, or simply hunting more than a few hours from home, you will eventually need to transport wild game. Not only will you need to transport the game, but you will also need to keep it cool enough to prevent spoiling. This will require a large enough cooler to transport the meat in various processed stages, as well as ice to keep it cool. Let’s take a look at what that might mean before you purchase the best hunting cooler out there.

How To Calculate What Size Hunting Cooler You Need

First, you need to figure the density of your meat. If we go by venison as the standard density of meat for any similar game species, based on this chart it has a density of 1 g/ml.

From there, we use a simple calculator and some helpful advice from Practical Self Reliance, to get an estimate that one quart will hold two pounds of meat.

Put in a different manner, for every 100 lbs. of game meat (deboned), you’ll need a 50 qt. cooler. Just cut the total weight of all your meat in half, and that’s the size cooler you need!

Calculating Hunting Cooler Size

Hunting Cooler Size By Species

Recommended Cooler Size by Species

1. Whitetail Deer and Antelope

Whitetail deer and antelope may not be genetically related or found in the same hunting areas, but they share one crucial trait-size. An adult of either species is close enough in size to place both in the same category in terms of the cooler size needed.

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A small whitetail deer or antelope can easily fit inside an 80-quart cooler whole with hide removed. If quartered, you can get away with a 65-75-quart cooler, depending on whether it is a doe or buck. If you can butcher and debone the animal, your cooler size can be as little as 50-60 quarts.

2. Mule Deer

Although the typical mule deer averages 15-20% larger than a whitetail, they can grow much larger, up to 300 lbs. vs. 200 lbs. for a white tail. This means your cooler will also need to increase in size as well.

A smaller mule deer may fit in a cooler whole. However, the average hunter is after trophies, not dinks. This means that you will almost always need to process your harvest. A quartered mule deer, with bones in place, typically requires a 105-quart cooler. If deboned, this will drop to a 75-80-quart option.

3. Black Bear

Even as the smaller of the bear species, an adult black bear is an extraordinary animal. The size of their head, body, and paws leaves hunters in awe. They easily exceed 300 lbs. Many hunters believe that this means they will require a supply of large coolers to transport their prize home, but you would be surprised how wrong they are.

It would be impossible to transport a bear whole. Therefore, processing is necessary before transport. However, once processed, bears are much smaller than they appear. The hide made up much of their mass, followed by the head. They also contain a large percentage of body fat verse usable meat, allowing a quartered black bear to fit in a 150-quart cooler. For deboned meat, you can use a 100-quart cooler.

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4. Elk

Anyone who has ever seen an elk in the wild knows they dwarf almost any other North American big game species. The 100-quart cooler you used for a mule deer may not even fit ½ of your elk meat regardless of how you prepare it. Large coolers (yes, coolers, multiple) will be needed to avoid wasting a lot of your meat.

Most hunters will quarter an elk for initial transports from the hunting location to the cabin or base camp. However, due to the size of these quarters, only some will fit into an average cooler. Even if you could, lifting the cooler after it loaded would be impossible. Once quartered, storing the meat will take 3-4 150-quart coolers. If completely deboned (and around 270 lbs. of meat), you can use one 150-quart coolers for an average elk.

5. Moose

Only a few hunters are lucky enough to harvest a moose. If you are saving, the meat is a necessity. But moose yield a lot of moose, so be prepared with several large coolers.

The average moose can weigh as much as 1600 pounds and be over 6 feet tall. Dressed, it will weigh approximately 950 pounds and yield almost 500 pounds of usable meat. A field-dressed moose is not being transported in coolers. Even when quartered, most coolers are too small for the meat to fit. Moose are so large that many hunters install a freezer in the bed of their truck or on a trailer for transporting the meat. If you fully process the meat, a minimum of 5-6 150-quart coolers will be needed.

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Again, if completely deboned (and around 500 lbs. of meat), you can get away with two 150-quart coolers.

What About The Other Stuff?

Hide and Head

Regardless of what species you are harvesting, you may want to save the hide. You may want to keep the head if it is a buck. If so, consider having another cooler on hand. Preserving the hide and head the same way you preserve the meat will protect it for mounting.

Odds and Ends

Unless you are an experienced butcher or utilize a guide who performs this service, chances are you will not end up with perfect cuts of meat. In most cases, the above estimates are based on packing quartered or processed meat with enough room for ice. There is minimal leeway.

With this in mind, it is recommended that an additional smaller 45 or 50-quart cooler be on hand for scraps, heart, liver, and any other odds & ends you may find remaining.

Please do not overdo it….

It may be easier to take the largest cooler available. This could be a mistake that costs you dearly. Extra room in the cooler makes it harder to keep items cool. Adding more ice will make it heavier and harder to move. Plus, unless packed correctly, your meat could stay healthy before reaching your destination.

My Final Thoughts On Hunting Cooler Size

Hopefully, this information helps you better prepare for your next hunting adventure and the triumphant return with a freezer full of wild game. Field to the table – no better way to enjoy all the aspects of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Also, for a blog about How Many People A Deer Will Feed, we have the key information!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>