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Thread: TAG Bags versus Caribou Gear Bags

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default TAG Bags versus Caribou Gear Bags

    Some of you have read my review of TAG Bags from a hunt I did in Western Alaska a handful of years ago. In short, I hung our moose meat in TAG Bags and in conventional cotton heavy-duty game bags on the same meat pole, in order to assess the performance of each. That year we had unseasonably warm weather, and my experience with the TAG Bags wasn't good. The meat in the cotton bags developed a dry surface ("crust", as some call it), while the meat in the TAG Bags did not. The TAG Bags also stuck to the meat, didn't breathe properly (if at all), and were a general disappointment. I've never lost game meat to spoilage in close to 30 years of doing this, and I am really diligent about meat care. Since then, I have changed my seminar material and the information I have written on this site concerning meat care, to recommend using TAG Bags or other synthetic bags to move meat from the kill site to camp, and to then change out to cotton. You can read those recommendations AT THIS LINK.

    Last spring I was approached by the owner of Caribou Gear, concerning their synthetic game bags. He claimed that his bags perform much better than TAG Bags, and he was so determined to prove it that he sent me a whole box of them. I had been planning another game bag test for these bags for some time, and so when I ended up guiding a moose hunt this fall, I brought the Caribou Gear game bags along. I was very surprised by their performance, to say the least. I thought that because they were synthetic, they would perform similarly to the TAG Bags. This was not the case. The Caribou Gear bags feel a lot like a cotton bag, while TAG Bags have a much smoother texture. The tightness of the weave feels about the same, when you try to blow air through the material, but the texture had me intrigued.

    We killed our moose at 9pm, in a rainstorm. Conditions remained wet and somewhat warm for almost the entire hunt. These are the worst conditions for meat care that you will encounter in Alaska, as it is nearly impossible to get the meat dry. By the time we finished processing the kill, it was about 2am. We worked the animal on a tarp in order to keep the meat clean, however because the moose fell in a sandy area near the water, it wasn't long before we ended up with some sand on the tarp. It was inevitable. To protect the meat from sand, we placed it immediately in the Caribou Gear bags as it was removed from the carcass; it never touched the tarp. Because the ambient temperature was fairly high (upper 50's), I opted to put the bagged quarters inside large contractor trash bags and put them in the river as soon as they were removed from the carcass.

    We probed the meat immediately after the bull was killed, and the core temperature on one hindquarter was 102 degrees. After soaking until 10:30 the next morning (about 8 hours), we probed the meat again and were very surprised to see that it had fallen only to 75 degrees (water temperature was about 47 degrees). So I left all four quarters in the river while we cleaned up the carcass and packed the rest of the meat out. That gave them another two hours in the river, at which point I probed again and saw that the core temperature of our test hindquarter had dropped by 5 degrees to 70. We packed all the meat to camp and built a brush pile, placed the bagged meat on top of the brush for ventilation, and piled more alders atop the meat before placing a tarp over it, to keep the rain off. By morning the meat had fallen off to around 55 degrees and I knew we would be okay as far as bone sour.

    As to the performance of the Caribou Gear bags, they started out very wet, and became more-so once we put the meat in the river. One front shoulder was so wet that it ran blood all over my pack while we were loading it. The bags began to dry while they were atop the brush pile, but became damp again when we floated out the next day to another spot. That night I pulled the bags off to accelerate the drying process overnight, and hung the bags on our meat pole under our tarp, so they could dry (I never cleaned them in the river). The bags were mostly dry the next morning, and I re-bagged the meat with the same bags, as flies were beginning to appear. I had cotton bags with me, but because conditions were so wet, I was reluctant to use them right away, and would only do so if it proved necessary. On our final day, we floated for about eight hours, with the bagged meat tarped in our round boats, to keep river water off of it. When we unpacked the meat at the takeout, the bags were (predictably) wet again, and that night I pulled the bags off one more time, for the entire night. As an additional precaution I sprayed all the meat with citric acid solution in order to counter the effects of the moisture and potential bacterial growth (though there was no evidence of a bacteria issue). At this point the meat did not have the slick surface that it gets once bacterial have really taken hold, but I wasn't taking any chances. By the next day, the bags were relatively dry, but I went ahead and changed out for cotton just to hasten the drying process. The meat was mostly dry at that point though.

    At no point except when we first pulled the meat out of the river did I notice a tendency for the bags to cling to the meat. In fact, even after hanging for several hours, though the meat was not crusted over, the bags still didn't cling to it (as they did with TAG Bags in the previous test).

    I realize that this is only one experience, and in fairness to TAG Bags, I would like to do a future test where we have both types of synthetics hanging on the same meat pole together. I just didn't have them with me on this hunt. In short, I was very pleased with the Caribou Gear bags, and would at this point recommend them over TAG Bags, for their ability to wick moisture from the meat, and hang loosely around it without clinging to the surface. I think the rougher surface of the Caribou Gear bags enhances these capabilities.

    On the negative side, we did end up with two small tears where the bags were lacerated by sharp rib ends. Frankly, this can happen with any game bag though, and I did not see this as an indicator of the weakness of the material. We just tied off the holes and continued to use them.

    Has anyone else had experiences with these bags, and if so, what's your take?

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    I've found that the lighter weight and smaller size of the synthetic bags allow me to pack a second set. I simply change them out each day then wash and dry the dirty set. I'll never pack heavy cotton bags on a remote hunt. My only synthetic bag experience is with TAG Bags for up to 5 days with no problems, but I have always used a citric spray from day one. After returning home I run the bags through several bucket washes before placing them in the washing machine.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    A few years ago citric acid was barely known in Alaska for meat treatment, and it's gratifying to see it being used by many hunters these days. Having said that, this hunt I just completed was the first time I ever felt a reason to actually use it. I've carried it in my pack for over 25 years, but it was not necessary to apply it. This year's hunt was different, with the combined effects of warm, wet weather, and the need to transport the meat all day wrapped in a tarp. It was raining off and on all during our transport day, and we were in a round boat. I could have pulled it off on a cataraft, because of the wide load deck (which allows the meat to be spread out and adequately ventilated), but in a round boat the bags have to be stacked atop one another. It was a challenging situation and though I may have gotten by without the acid, why take a chance?

    That said, I do question whether it's necessary to treat the meat every day. One coating creates the acidic environment that kills surface bacteria. I do understand the need, if the meat is washed in river water every day, as it is with packrafts. Water and game meat have nearly identical pH levels, which is ideal for bacterial growth. The constant splashing the meat gets with the smaller boats may make a daily acid bath a necessity. But in most cases, I believe it is overkill.

    Just my .02


    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    I've never transported meat in a Packraft so I can't speak to that. My experience has been similar to yours in a round raft. I only applied to citric acid on the first day. After that the goal was to keep the meat as dry as possible.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Birdstrike View Post
    I've never transported meat in a Packraft so I can't speak to that. My experience has been similar to yours in a round raft. I only applied to citric acid on the first day. After that the goal was to keep the meat as dry as possible.
    In theory, the moisture that results from the application of citric acid solution should not create a bacterial issue, as the bacteria we are concerned about cannot live in an acidic environment. But it really goes against the grain for me, to leave the meat wet. I'm with you on this one, but I prefer to delay the application of the acid until there is some evidence of contamination, or at least an imminent threat of it. The reason I applied it in our last hunt was because I was concerned about the possibility of future contamination, as we had to transport the meat out of the field, to a vehicle, and to town. Transit time was going to be several hours, during which I would not be able to hang it, or keep it off of a tarp. Meat that's in contact with tarps, boats, or other meat bags tends to collect moisture at the point of contact, which provides an environment for bacterial growth.

    The pack rafters have a whole different set of circumstances to deal with.

    Hope that makes sense!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

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    Would someone please be so kind as to share the recipe for the citric acid solution .

    thx
    Grizz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grizz K View Post
    Would someone please be so kind as to share the recipe for the citric acid solution .

    thx
    Grizz
    It's pretty simple, citric acid and water. You can get the citric acid (powder form I think....) from a pharmacy supplier in small bottles. Dilute it in water in a small spray bottle and spray on the outside of the meat. We have done this with great results. Re-apply every couple days or so just to be safe. The nice part is you just bring the little bottle of citric acid and an empty spray bottle, so not much of any added weight in the gear. Just add water if/when you get something.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grizz K View Post
    Would someone please be so kind as to share the recipe for the citric acid solution .

    thx
    Grizz
    There isn't a recipe for it. It's just a powder that you mix with water. It's food grade citric acid powder.

    We carry it in our store AT THIS LINK. One packet makes two quarts of solution.

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

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    Member Daveintheburbs's Avatar
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    You can also get citric by the pound at most beer brewing stores. Alaska Mill and Feed used to have it with their brewing supplies as well.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daveintheburbs View Post
    You can also get citric by the pound at most beer brewing stores. Alaska Mill and Feed used to have it with their brewing supplies as well.
    That's true. I've also heard that it's available in bulk at health food stores. But that's WAY into the overkill department, unless you have other uses for it, imho. I've carried three ounces of it in my pack for 25 years and only this year, after we got the meat out of the field, did I use it. It's kind of "all the rage" right now, but I'm not convinced that the majority of hunters understand when it's needed (and when it's not). It's not a cure for poor meat care practices in the field, for example, yet I'm reading of hunters treating meat with it multiple times a day, every day. If you can keep the meat cool and dry, it shouldn't be necessary. But warm, rainy, humid days may require it on occasion, as do float hunts involving boats that allow the meat to be continuously bathed in river water. Aside from those very limited circumstances, if you buy a pound of it, you'll end up storing all but three ounces of the stuff for years. Unless you start selling little baggies of white powder to your fellow hunters, that is!

    Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    but I'm not convinced that the majority of hunters understand when it's needed (and when it's not).
    Mike
    I think there is a common misconception that it is primarily used to keep bugs off the meat. Have you heard this before?

  12. #12
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by injun joe View Post
    I think there is a common misconception that it is primarily used to keep bugs off the meat. Have you heard this before?
    Back when Doug Drum (owner of Indian Valley Meats) was doing the seminars on meat care at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show, he advocated treating your game bags with citric acid and letting them dry, as a way to deter flies from landing on them. The problem with this is that the bags don't hold the powder very well, and it dusts off pretty easily. The other issue is that if you're using a proper game bag, you shouldn't have to worry about flies anyway. They can't get through the bags, unless you're using cheesecloth-type bags or the Alaska Game Bags brand, which can stretch wide enough to allow fly eggs through. The citric acid powder doesn't adhere very well to synthetic bags either.

    I do know that citric acid burns flies and potentially kills fly eggs, so while I would not spray the meat as a primary way to deter flies (that's what game bags are for), I would have to say that it will keep the flies at bay for a while, anyway. The problem spots, if you're not using a game bag, are going to be around the end of the femur (the ball that sticks out of the end of the hindquarter, if you separate the femur from the hip socket), and any other raw edges where moisture takes a long time to crust over. The moisture running out of these areas while the meat is hanging will wash away any citric acid spray, and flies will crawl up in there and do their thing.

    This fall one of our meat bags was an Alaska Game Bag. Here's a photo of a fly just about to unload her cargo of eggs on the bloody surface of the bag. You tell me: do you think fly eggs can get through the holes in that material?



    I would not recommend using citric acid alone. Just use a good game bag.

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

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    I agree Mike!! Unfortunately, I learned the hard way awhile back that those bags are worthless. Thanks for posting your thoughts and experiences with other bags. Great info!

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    Member Daveintheburbs's Avatar
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    OK the long version.....

    Based on reading this forum, among other sources, I would say citric acid has been the rage for at least the last 13 years. I have used it often when worried the weather was undesirably warm or the transport time was lengthy. Typically I pour a couple of ounces into the bottom of a dry spraybottle and throw it in with the camp gear. When you need it add water. Once the meat is back in camp I give it a once over and a citric spray, re-bag, then hang. I don’t wait to see how tomorrows weather will turn out unless late in the season. A second application is usually not needed.
    At $6 per lb. vs. $3.25 per 3oz packet I prefer to avoid repeat shopping trips even if I wind up with a good supply. I use it multiple times a year so it is not one of my bigger over purchases. You can always give it away to friends.
    One thing I have heard repeatedly over the years is that it will” burn flies feet”. I have not found that to be the case. Three or four times I have soaked a skull cap or piece of scrap with a strong citric solution and left it uncovered. In each case the scrap was maggot city in no time. Heck, bleach solution did not keep them off of it either.
    It is hard to prove why something does not happen, but I am sold on the idea that the citric spray, along with other common sense methods, has helped keep my game in good condition. It sure the heck doesn’t hurtanything.

    And on the original topic, my only issue with Tag bags has been the tendency of the meat to crust to the bag unless you pull it away while drying. I sure love the reduced weight of a set of moose bags when hiking.

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