David Draper is truly living the hunter’s dream — getting paid to hunt, cook, and write about it.
The newly minted editor in chief of Petersen’s Hunting has been in the hunting industry for 20 years, first in corporate communications at Cabela’s, and later a freelance writer for several industry publications. He’s known for his high-quality practical advice (see 10 Best Gear Items to Make the Ultimate Bow Camp) and his mouth-watering game meat recipes (like this ridonculous venison patty melt!).
Draper’s whole life has prepared him for this role. His dad was a hunter, and he learned to cook early on in life, “not the best things,” he admits, “but mac and cheese and frozen pizza.” Somewhere along the way, he realized that there’s a lot more you can do with game meat than just adding the traditional can of mushroom soup.
His initial forays into developing delicious recipes coincided with two movements that raised general interest in game meat and allowed him to carve out a name for himself as a go-to resource for all things food- and processing-related.
First, the hunting community shifted from being trophy-driven to being food-driven. Second, Americans started caring more about what they put in their bodies. “People used to eat processed food because they were busy and it was quick and easy,” he says. “Then we realized that it was probably killing us with obesity and cancer.”
Enter the slow food movement, which advocates eating healthy, local, farm-to-table foods.
Hunters have been eating this way forever, at least when it comes to their meat. And in the past few years, even citified people are coming around. “We have this protein that’s organic and has never had anything injected into it,” Draper says. “It’s been eating in alfalfa fields out in the wilderness. It’s the best meat you can get, the best protein available, and we have access to it.”
If you’re going to source your own protein through hunting, and especially if you’re going to do your own meat processing, you need a way to keep the meat cold. “I’d always wanted a walk-in cooler,” Draper says. “I do a lot of hunting in September, and we always have to worry about the temperature. When it’s hot, you can’t age the meat — you have to butcher it the day you catch it. Or you can stuff it in coolers with ice, but then they get wet. It’s not an ideal situation.”
Draper had heard about the CoolBot from his sister who sells vegetables at a local farmers market. She used one to build her own walk-in cooler about five years ago.
He decided this was the year to build a walk-in meat cooler of his own, one he could take with him up to camp. “I go places to hunt, and I wanted to take it with me,” he says. “I worked with the staff at Store It Cold, and now I have this kick-ass mobile walk-in cooler that all my friends are jealous of.” (Don’t be jealous, friends. He’ll let you hang your meat in his cooler. Or, you could always build one of your own.)
The cooler is a 6’x10’ enclosed trailer, tall enough for Draper to stand up in, with 4” insulation on the walls and the door. Like the folks at Botany Bay Farm, Draper has an inverter to run the cooler off of his truck battery while driving and a generator to run it in camp.
He also built a hanging system with butcher hooks so he can hang the meat to let it age. This hanging system was actually the most challenging part, specifically, how to build the rack without compromising the structure (i.e., pulling the ceiling down).
Working with Brian Murphy, Store It Cold’s CEO and an engineer by trade, Draper came up with a solution. They used ¾” galvanized pipe to create a box structure that they mounted to the floor. The structure has three cross bars across the top supporting gambrels ordered from Amazon. They also lined the interior with fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) and rolled out a vinyl wood floor so it will be easy to clean.
This set-up allows Draper not only to keep his meat cool so he can age it, but also to do all his own processing, which he really enjoys. “I take great pleasure in it. I like to mess around with different cuts. During hunting season, meat processors is always packed, so they don’t have time to do any customization.”
Another big advantage, he notes, is that you don’t have to rush. “Butchering an elk is at least a two-day process,” he says. “You can have 420 to 560 lbs of meat from a mature 600- to 800-lb bull elk. Now, with the cooler, I can do one quarter one day, then come back for the next quarter, without having to lose meat to rotting or spoilage. This is what every hunter wants — the ability to make the end product of that meat the best you possibly can.”
The DIY route also increases Draper’s yield significantly. He once did an experiment to see exactly how much of a difference home processing makes. He had two antelopes — he did one by himself and took one to a processor. When all was said and done, Draper got twice the meat from the animal he butchered himself compared to the animal he took to the processor!
So far, he says, the system is working great. The first animal he hung was an elk a friend had caught. “It was warm over the weekend when my buddy killed the elk,” he said. “He showed up Monday morning with the meat. I had turned the cooler on a few hours earlier, and by the time my buddy got there it was down to 34°F. The meat cooled down very quickly. It really is the perfect solution for hunters.”
So, what about that favorite cut?
Are you sitting down?
Most people think the best thing to eat on an elk is the backstrap (equivalent to the ribeye on a cow). But for Draper, the best part is the shank. “It’s my favorite cut on any game animal,” he says.
Yep, this cut that often just gets thrown away is the wild game recipe expert’s favorite part. What’s his secret? Slow cook it in a tomato sauce to make a ragu. “I’ll trade you the steak for the shank any day,” he says.
We’ll be checking back in with Draper in the next few months to see how the cooler stands up to its first hunting season. For now, be sure to read Petersen’s Hunting and follow Draper on Twitter and Instagram. Also, if you’re into off-roading, check out Wheels Afield, another Petersen’s publication.
Want to build your own walk-in meat cooler?