Transporting Deer and Elk

Elk and deer travel very well, given proper conditions. Safe, efficient and humane transportation requires thoughtful preparation, careful handling and proper design.

Some key points to remember:

  • prepare the groups for shipment well in advance. Sort them into same size/age/gender groups, and allow them to establish social relationships before loading, preferably for a week or more.
  • provide sufficient floor space to allow all the animals to lie down at one time. A useful calculation method is to multiply the actual length of each animal by its actual width, then double that area. This calculation applies to antlerless elk or deer. Adults in velvet need triple the area, rather than double. Adults in hard antler should ideally be individually penned.
  • provide bedding material, preferably sand plus sawdust, or wood chips, straw or plenty of hay.
  • trip length will govern how the animals are fed and watered.

On trips of twelve hours or less, the elk or deer should be well fed and watered before loading, then further feed and water is unnecessary during transport. For the first several hours, they are unlikely to utilize any feed or water provided. For trips longer than twelve hours, fresh hay plus water should be provided every four hours. The easiest way to accomplish this, if the outside temperature is near or above the freezing point, is to push “flakes” of small square bales into their compartments, then hose down the hay and the animals each time you stop. This will provide all the moisture they need for trips up to forty-eight hours in length, and will cool and calm them as well.

For trips longer than forty-eight hours, provision should be made to stop and unload the animals for a twelve hour or more rest, feed and water break. Moist feed, such as silage or root vegetables may also be used as a water source.

Transport compartments should always be well ventilated, particularly in warm weather. Air intakes should be positioned to avoid exhaust fumes, and to avoid direct drafts at eye level, particularly in cold weather.

Loading and unloading

Deer and elk should be loaded and unloaded as smoothly and calmly as possible. Always load and unload in small groups of 4 to 8 animals. The ideal loading chute for elk or red deer is four feet wide, eight feet tall, with a solid roof and sides. It is two eight foot long sections, with an angle of 30º to 45º between.

An adjustable-height loading ramp allows any size of truck or compartment to be safely loaded. The pins fit into grooves on the underside of the ramp, allowing the back end of the ramp to slide as the height is adjusted. If large tractor-trailers with four foot tall loading doors are to used regularly, extend the ramp to twelve feet long to lessen the slope of the ramp. Keep a supply of plywood pieces near the loading chute, and nail them on the inside of the door opening to cover any spaces after the truck is backed in tight. Truck doors may be slightly different shapes.

The sweep doors in the crowding pens before the loading chute should move most animals on to the truck. If they stop or balk in the loading chute, try one or more of these techniques:

  • rattle a large sheet of plastic behind the animals. Various noisemakers will work as well, as long as they are not accustomed to the noise;
  • walk at the group with a large shield in front of you, and push them on with that;
  • install two or three sweep doors in the loading chute, and use these to push them on.

Never beat the elk or deer with any tool, and use any type of prod with great caution.

Unloading is best accomplished with patience. Let the animals unload themselves. This may be particularly necessary when handling older males, who occasionally decide they are happy to stay put in the trailer. A sweep gate in the trailer will work well in such cases. Deer will unload easily from the side door of a large livestock “pot”, given a slow hand and an easy touch.

Trailer / compartment design

Elk or deer may be transported in almost any type of conveyance built for larger livestock, but a few details can improve handling quite markedly, and reduce injuries.

Walls should be smooth and free of any sharp protrusions. Floors should provide adequate footing, padding and absorption. A layer of sand overlaid with wood chips or sawdust works well.