Tips & Tactics

Freeze & Fly Your Trophy

Freeze & Fly Your Trophy

By Dave Graber

Photo: Dave Graber poses with his trophy of a lifetime, a mountain lion from Arizona. Dave shares a cost-saving tip that will help deer hunters fly home with their frozen capes as carry on luggage.

Recently, I had a successful mountain lion hunt in Arizona. Like successful deer hunters who travel by air, I had to figure out the best way to get my trophy home and to the taxidermist.

The cat was completely skinned with the exception of leaving in the skull and tailbone. I wanted my taxidermist to do this delicate work.

After rolling the skin tightly and placing in a plastic bag, the hide, skull and tail were small enough to fit into a small cooler.

I checked with UPS and they wanted $274 to overnight it to my house! So, I checked with my airline and, it turns out, if packaged properly, I could treat the cooler as a carry on or a checked bag and only pay an additional $25 (some airlines don’t charge any extra). The decision was a no-brainer!

I purchased a 21 1/2” long x 8 1/2” tall x 13” wide Coleman Party Stacker cooler. It cost me about $25, but it’s a cooler I can use for many years.

This fell within the TSA requirements (22” x 9” x 14”) for carry-on luggage.

To leave room for packs of dry ice around the lion, I placed 6-inch long chunks of 2x4 wood inside the cooler with the skin, then froze the entire cooler.

After freezing solidly overnight, I removed the wood and replaced it with packs of dry ice, which you can purchase at most Walmart or grocery stores. The Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration allow up to 5 pounds of dry ice (not regular ice) in an approved cooler.

Make sure NOT to use a Styrofoam cooler, as they are too airtight and not TSA-approved for dry ice. You want the cooler to be slightly breathable because dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and could cause an airtight container to burst.

When it came time to catch my flight, I duct-taped the cooler shut and was allowed to bring it on board the plane as a carry on.

Bear in mind, you should not allow dry ice to melt. If there is any liquid, you will have to check your cooler, which is a hassle when you go through security.

Security will likely ask you to open the cooler, so make sure it is taped shut in a way that is easy to open and tape shut again.

The Captain was notified I had dry ice, but I was able to stick my cooler in the overhead compartment without any issues. 

When I arrived back home, my prized skin was still frozen rock solid and transferred easily to the taxidermist’s freezer.

—Editor’s Note by Tim H. Martin

Although Dave Graber’s tip was about a mountain lion, deer hunters transporting frozen deer capes can use his idea.

You can fly home with your trophy buck’s cape and antlers if you do it properly.

On the way to an outfitter, I roll up an empty duffle bag and bring it inside my checked bag. If I take a buck, I use the duffle to bring my antlers and frozen cape back home as a checked bag. The cape is rolled tight in a plastic bag and small box packed with reusable ice packs. Dave’s idea about dry ice is even better. I stuff hunting clothing around the antlers and cape, and wire or zip-tie the duffle shut. The downside is, if the airlines lose it, it’s irreplaceable.

Make sure to tape something to the tips of the tines to prevent injuries to baggage handlers. Small pieces of small-diameter PVC pipe are perfect for duct-taping to antler tips.

At the outfitter, you’ll have to remove the deer’s cape from the skull prior to freezing and packing. Click here for an article about that, also by Dave Graber.

Read up on TSA requirements each year prior to your departure, and use Dave Graber’s dry ice tip to save a lot of money on getting your trophy home.

TSA Requirements for Dry Ice Carry On

Purchasing Dry Ice

Some destinations, such as Canada, may inspect your hides and skull cavities to ensure no spinal column fluid, brain matter or muscle tissue remain. Many states are taking measures to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, so be sure your capes and skulls are as clean as possible before departure.

—Photo Courtesy of Dave Graber

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Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd