A knife is a tool, and you must choose the correct one for each speciﬁc job. While you can dig a hole with a spoon, a shovel works a lot better, and the same goes with knives.
Also, I don’t jump out of helicopters with a tactical knife clenched in my teeth to cut oﬀ the heads of the bad guys. I just like to hunt and ﬁsh, and gut, skin and cut up what I kill, so my advice comes from that perspective.
LET’S DISPEL A MYTH. Just because you skinned your ﬁrst bear with a certain knife doesn’t automatically mean that it is the best skinning knife. In fact, it may not even be a good skinning knife. It just means that it has some sentimental value.
Years ago, the Idaho Press Tribune ran a photo of a 12-year-old boy who had just shot his ﬁrst deer with an old Winchester .30-30. Beside him in the photo were his dad and granddad, who’d shot their ﬁrst deer with the same riﬂe. Do you think you could ever convince that kid that a .30-30 isn’t the best deer riﬂe? I wouldn’t even try.
So if your favorite uncle – the one who taught you how to hunt – entrusted you with his knife on his deathbed, then carry it and be happy. Who cares what I say? Just don’t try to tell me that it is the best design for every task.
Hunters can justify carrying four diﬀerent knives. These are: a clip point to cut the pattern (the initial cut when skinning), a drop-point knife to skin, a caping knife to skin around the eyes, ears and lips, as well as the feet of bears, and a boning knife to bone out your game.
Do I always carry all four? No. When I’m hunting hard in the mountains, I usually only carry two: a knife to skin my animal and a boning knife. I’ve skinned more than a hundred deer with a clip-point knife, because it’s a versatile choice. However, if you want to keep the hide or mount the head, it’s best if you use a drop point.
Let’s brieﬂy review each style of blade, and why they are best for a speciﬁc task.
The tip of this design sweeps upward and comes to a deﬁnite point, which allows you to stab into the hide and cut a pattern. The pattern is the initial cut you make down each leg, around the hocks and up the belly before you start removing the skin. You can skin your animal with a clip-point knife, but due to the shape of the blade, they have more of a tendency to cut holes in the hide while skinning. If you’re just skinning your deer so you can cut it up, then it doesn’t matter if you skin it with your clip point knife.
If I could only carry one knife, this would be it.
A drop-point knife is less likely to cut through the hide, and you can skin faster without being as careful. You’ll notice on a drop-point knife that the tip doesn’t sweep upwards like a clippoint knife. Although I can’t explain the mechanics of why, you’ll simply cut through the hide less often while skinning with a drop-point knife than with a clip-point knife.
If you plan to mount the animal head, you’ll want to carry a caping knife. A caping knife has a shorter, thinner blade with a deﬁnite point. This allows you to make intricate cuts around the eyes and lips of your trophy, as well as when skinning the feet on bears.
When I was a kid, we’d use a hunting knife for this job, but while working in beef production plants, I discovered what a real boning knife could do. I took what I learned there and applied it in my outdoor world.
To get a clean bone (which means to remove all the meat) you’ll want a semi-ﬂexible knife. You don’t want it too ﬂimsy or you won’t be able to control the blade while working. I favor a 6-inch boning knife, but have buddies who favor a 5-inch blade. I favor a semiﬂex, but some people prefer a superﬂex blade. It’s a matter of preference.
A SOFTER METAL BLADE is easier to sharpen, but it doesn’t stay sharp as long. A harder knife is more diﬃcult to sharpen but will keep an edge longer. Again, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, just personal preference.
If you’ve hiked in 7 miles and shoot an elk, it’s nice to have a knife that will hold an edge long enough to skin him so you don’t have to carry a sharpening stone. For that reason, I favor a knife that is hard and will keep an edge but that is not insanely hard. Something of the hardness of a Knives of Alaska knife is perfect.
What about straight blade versus fold-ups? Again, it’s a matter of preference. I like both, and sometimes interchange at the drop of a hat. However, if you choose a folder, make sure it has a locking blade so it doesn’t close on your hand while working, although nearly all folders are lock blades now.
There are several good manufacturers on the market. Choose which brand you prefer, and then pick one with the task-speciﬁc designs that I’ve listed above. And after you’ve made your selection, happy hunting! ASJ
Editor’s note: For more on this and other knife-related topics, see the author’s e-article “Knife Sharpening” (available on Amazon Kindle), and check out the YouTube videos on RonSpomerOutdoors.