Top 3 Post-Hunt Packing Tips For Orion Coolers
My top priority once I’ve harvested an animal in the field is meat care. That process starts with getting it off the animal and getting it cool, dry, and protected from bugs. Then it transitions to getting it processed and/or stored for transport. Followed by getting it home and into a freezer. If everything goes well, the process ends with delicious meat on a dinner plate.
Once you own and start using an Orion in your everyday life you realize that it helps getting to a hunt, during life in camp and the journey home. In this article I’ll focus on getting home, as that’s where the performance of an Orion really shows its value. These are my top three packing tips for keeping that meat cold and safe for a long journey home.
1) Pack It Cold.
I like to think of a cooler like it’s a rechargeable battery. A fully and optimally ‘charged’ cooler means that the cooler itself is cold when cold stuff fills it. Heat is energy, whether it’s cold energy or hot energy. If the cooler is hot when cold stuff goes into it, that means cold energy is going to leave the stuff and go to the cooler body to cool it off too, and some of that ‘battery’ is discharged. Ultimately when things stabilize (nature likes things to be equal), that means the overall sum of cooler and stuff will be warmer and the battery weaker. If the cooler is cold when cold stuff goes into it, no energy needs to transfer, everything stays equal, and the battery stays fully charged. It’s then the insulation’s job to keep that battery charged as long as possible from the outside.
What all that means is if you can, get your cooler as cold as possible before you fill it. If there’s a walk-in freezer or refrigerator in camp, put your cooler in it the night before you leave with the lid open. If there’s no cooler or freezer but it’s cold at night, just leave it out, empty, with the lid open. If it’s hot but there’s a cold hose in camp, fill it with cold water and let it sit a few hours, then dump it before you head to the processor. If you have a bag of ice to spare, throw it in and close the lid and let that ice melt down and drop the interior temperature before you put frozen meat in it. There’s a lot of ways to get the inside of a cooler cold before you fill it, the important thing is to keep that in the back of your mind and do whatever you can.
The other important factor of packing it cold is the temperature of what you put inside. If you put hot contents in a cold cooler, and/or on ice, that’s still heat energy vs. cold energy and no matter how good your cooler is it can’t start insulating until the temperature of the internal contents stabilizes. Not all ‘cold’ is created equal – just because something is frozen doesn’t mean it’s not on the hairy edge of melting. Zero degree ice is just as solid as 32 degree ice but has far more cold energy stored up. The colder the contents, the more charge that battery is going to have.
2) Pack It Dense.
Now that we’ve done the best we can putting cold things into a cold cooler, the next factor is packing density. Dead air space is not your friend when it comes to maintaining cold energy. It counts as ‘stuff’ you’re adding to the cooler. If it’s 70 degrees out when you’re packing 10 degree blocks of meat into the cooler, it means there’s 70 degree ‘stuff’ in the cooler too, you just can’t see it. The more cold stuff you pack in, the less 70 degree air there is around it. Think of frozen meat packs like cold atoms in the battery. The more you pack in, the more charge your battery has. They help keep each other cold. They like to be cold. Help them be cold!
Once you’ve packed everything you need to pack and the cooler still isn’t full, fill that dead air space the best you can with ice. Ice as cold as you can get. ‘Wet’ ice is near 32 degrees and will want to slide out of your palm when you put it in your hand. Avoid it if you can. In ice machines that means digging down under a few bags to get the good stuff (that hasn’t been exposed to the warm air that comes in every time somebody opens the door to get a bag out and we’re trying to get rid of in our cooler). Good, cold ice is that frosty ice that sticks to the palm of your hand and almost burns it. That’s what you’re looking for in a perfect world.
If I’m packing meat that’s been sealed in plastic, I’ll use ice just because it’s usually the easiest to get and if it melts, things don’t get soggy. If my meat is wrapped in paper, I’ll use ice if I have to, but I’ll go the extra mile to find dry ice. Dry ice vaporizes as it melts, cooling air around it faster, and it doesn’t make anything soggy since no liquid is produced.
3) Don’t Open It to Check.
My third most important tip is to have confidence in your cooler. It’s designed to do a job, it’s good at it, let it do it. If the air outside is warmer than inside the cooler, every time you open the lid of a cooler you let energy out and discharge more of the battery you made. Cold energy from the contents will once again have to cool down the fresh air that came in until they’re equal and the cooler can go back to doing its job of holding that temperature (which will now be warmer).
For added insurance, do what you can to put coolers inside of a vehicle and out of direct sunlight. Pack coolers themselves densely against one another. Pack sleeping bags around the coolers. Think of the cooler as a giant meat pack of itself now.
No matter how much I say not to open it, it’s still tempting, and you’ll do it just to make sure everything is OK. That’s OK if it helps you sleep, and eventually you’ll build up confidence in your gear and you’ll stop doing it.
Real World Case In Point: Newfoundland Moose
Most of my drives home after a big hunting trip are only around 2.5 days -easy work for an Orion. My longest drive home so far was from Newfoundland back to Tennessee. It was seven days from the day I packed the Orions with moose meat in Newfoundland to when I opened them to unload them into my freezer in Tennessee.
For that trip with Dad we brought seven Orions to fit two bull moose (Six Orion 65’s and one Orion 85). We didn’t know if they’d be processed or just quartered, and you always want to have enough cooler space. In the end, a processor was able to get them processed, but not fully frozen by the time we picked them up. The meat was in that pre-frozen crunchy to the touch kind of state. So off the start I broke Tip #1 and what I was packing wasn’t as cold as I’d ideally want it to be. That’s life. Luckily it was fairly cold at night in Newfoundland so the coolers themselves weren’t hot when packing the meat inside.
Since all the meat was vacuum-sealed in plastic bags, the next stop after the processor was the Esso station to get ice. Once nice thing about very cold but not frozen meat is that it packs very dense since it forms to the cooler body, leaving very little dead air space. In each cooler there was just enough room left on top for one 10 lb bag of ice. We spread a bag in each cooler and closed the lid. I had to stack and power-squat the coolers from the tailgate into the bed of the truck – Six 65’s in the back, two stacked under the cap up against the cab and one down in front of them towards the tailgate. The 85 went on a hitch haul – in the sun, not the best, but nowhere else to put it.
From there it was a drive to a ferry, overnight ferry ride, couple days of driving to Vermont, couple days to South Carolina and another to Tennessee. I never opened a cooler in the back of the truck, just the 85 on the hitch haul since it was convenient. This photo was taken in my driveway right before unloading the meat into our chest freezer. 90% of the ice loaded at the Esso station in Newfoundland was still there and the meat was still in that semi-frozen crunchy state.
Even with the less than ideal condition to start with, a ‘cooler battery’ I’d put around 80% charged to start, by the time we got home a week later it was still 75% charged. That’s performance that’s worth every bite. Bon appetite.
Quick video below:
~ Damon Bungard