January 7th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Before heading out on a trek, hunters need to ask themselves a simple question: How many knives do I really need?

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGEN

When it comes to hunting knives, what do you really need? The question is straightforward, but the answer can become complicated by thoughts of what you want, rather than what you actually need. Personally, I own dozens of knives. They are great tools, and serve a range of purposes. But when I go afield, I keep it simple.

On all the hunts I’ve been fortunate to embark upon around the world, I almost always take only one knife afield. This knife has to be able to withstand punishment and perform to my liking, and it’s also got to be lightweight. When scaling granite peaks for mountain goats and sheep, ounces can feel like pounds after a few days.

When you get an animal down, the field dressing, skinning and quartering begins. Each of these tasks can be completed with one knife, and once you know the connective tissues and how to work a knife around them, you can even leave the saw behind.

When you get an animal down, the field dressing, skinning and quartering begins. Each of these tasks can be completed with one knife, and once you know the connective tissues and how to work a knife around them, you can even leave the saw behind.

MANY KNIVES ARE DESIGNED for specific purposes, but for hunting, I don’t feel as if I need multiple knives. On a recent hunt, I met up with a buddy in Alaska. It was his first trip to the Last Frontier, so he wasn’t sure what to fully expect. He cracked open his gun case and inside were six knives, including one with a heavy, 12-inch-long blade and a ball compass on top. I laughed. He didn’t. “What are you doing?” I quizzed. “I didn’t know what knife to bring, so I brought a bunch,” he smirked.

We were going on a grizzly and black bear hunt across open tundra. About the only thing we needed a knife for was carrying out routine tasks, and to skin and butcher any bear we killed. In my opinion, a person needs only one knife for those tasks.

As with all fly-in hunts to remote drop camps, weight is a concern with bush plane pilots. With strict weight limitations, and given the fact we were going to be gone for over a week, I wanted to take all the weight we could in food, clothes and essential gear, not knives we’d never use. When my buddy asked what knives I was taking, I held up one, a 3-inch-bladed Kershaw knife, specifically their Skyline model. “No, really, what knives are you bringing?” he asked again.

“Oh, I forgot this,” I smiled, holding up a compact sharpening steel. I explained how all skinning, field dressing, caping and deboning can be done with one knife, and that it doesn’t have to be big. I’ve broken down numerous deer, elk, bear and African game with a 2-inch blade, and many with a 3-inch blade. Using bigger blades than that is fine, if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but if you’re just embarking upon the world of hunting, big, bulky knives aren’t necessary.

This year marks my 40th year of big game hunting, and I’ve always kept things simple with my knife choices. You look for a knife that fits your hand, keeps an edge, and is constructed with a handle that won’t slip when covered in blood, fat or water.

You don’t need big, long blades when it comes to handling game in the field. Knives with 2-, 2.5- and 3-inch blades are enough to handle breaking down deer and elk-sized game. The author has used the orange-handled Kershaw Skyline knife to skin and quarter everything from brown bear to deer, elk to Cape buffalo in Africa.

You don’t need big, long blades when it comes to handling game in the field. Knives with 2-, 2.5- and 3-inch blades are enough to handle breaking down deer and elk-sized game. The author has used the orange-handled Kershaw Skyline knife to skin and quarter everything from brown bear to deer, elk to Cape buffalo in Africa.

I know many hunters who take their personal-carry knives afield, and that’s great if that’s what they like. Some folks prefer fixed blades over folding knives, and vice versa. Personally, I like a fixed-blade knife with a handle that’s easy to clean of dried blood and gut content.

A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR when choosing a hunting knife is getting one with quality steel that’s easy to attain an edge on. While softer blades may dull more easily than hard steel, they are easier to regain an edge on when in the field. Knowing the anatomy of the animal you’re breaking down, and using the knife to cut, not saw or force through bones, will help in maintaining an edge on your knife. All cuts are easy to make and should not be forced, especially through joints and cartilage.

Animal fat can quickly dull a knife, which is why it’s critical to have a quality steel to easily hone that knife. At the same time, cutting through cartilage, tendons and ligaments can be tough on knives, making quality steel even more important. Having a blade you can hone in the field – one that reacts to a good steel – is important in regaining that edge in order to continue safely and efficiently breaking down an animal.

While it’s occasionally unavoidable, try to refrain from cutting through hair and into dirt. Sometimes big animals like elk, moose and bear are impossible to move around by yourself, meaning a cut may slice through skin and hit dirt, which dulls a knife. When cutting the hide, do so from the skin side, not down through the hair. To do this, make a small hole where the cut will begin, then get the blade inside the skin, cutting upwards through the hide. This will help keep an edge and should allow you to get through multiple animals before having to sharpen your knife again.

When your knife does become dull in the field, sharpen it right away, for a dull knife leads to bad cutting techniques, and that’s how accidents happen. When hunting, I rely on two simple yet very effective sharpeners. In my daypack, I’ll take one sharpening steel afield to touch up the knife while breaking down animals. My favorite is Kershaw’s Ultra-Tek blade sharpener, a 600-grit oval steel that’s very lightweight and works wonderfully in quickly regaining an edge. When back in camp, if I need to further sharpen the knife, I’ll use a whetstone or a Work Sharp guided field sharpener.

Rarely do I take a compact folding saw afield when deer hunting, for a deer’s skull – the only part of an animal I use a saw on – isn’t so heavy that it needs to be split, like moose, caribou and elk do. When quartering big game in the field, I don’t use a saw to split the pelvis or remove the legs, neck or ribs – that’s all done with a knife.

Having the right knife to get the job done is important. Here, the author removes the cape from a mule deer in spike camp using the same 3-inch bladed Kershaw knife he relied on to gut, skin, quarter and debone the buck.

Having the right knife to get the job done is important. Here, the author removes the cape from a mule deer in spike camp using the same 3-inch bladed Kershaw knife he relied on to gut, skin, quarter and debone the buck.

ONE WORD OF CAUTION when embarking on a big game hunt where you’ll be breaking down an animal in the field, and that’s to be aware of the state’s recovery laws. Most states require a proof of sex to accompany the meat from the field to camp or home. This is usually best retained by keeping the genitals attached to one hindquarter, and/or bringing the head of the animal out. When bringing the head out, if sawing off the antlers to cut down on weight you’re packing out, cuts are often required to be made below the eyes, so the eyes are intact. Some states require the meat to stay attached to leg bones, too, meaning complete boning out of meat while in the field may not be legal.

If you will be transporting game heads across state lines, know that multiple states require the brain to be removed from the skull. This means you’ll need a saw to cut through the brain cavity, so be prepared. Prior to heading afield, make sure you know the meat recovery and transport laws of the state you’ll be hunting in.

Find a knife that works for you and familiarize yourself with how it handles. Practice at home, rubbing fat and blood on the handle and getting it wet to see how it performs. Once you know what a knife is capable of, as well as the anatomy of an animal and how to disarticulate its joints and muscles, you’ll see why a simple blade is all that’s really necessary. ASJ

Elk hunting in the backcountry can be demanding, yet to break down an animal, all you need is one quality knife and a sharpener, maintains the author, here reaching the end of the trail with a pack string carrying his bull out of the woods.

Elk hunting in the backcountry can be demanding, yet to break down an animal, all you need is one quality knife and a sharpener, maintains the author, here reaching the end of the trail with a pack string carrying his bull out of the woods.

Editor’s note: For copies of Scott Haugen’s comprehensive DVD, Field Dressing, Skinning & Caping Big Game, send a check for $20.00 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. This, along with his many books, can be ordered online at scotthaugen.com.

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September 19th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

How To Choose The Proper Style Of Knife For Each Specific Hunting Task 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY TOM CLAYCOMB

When I was a kid, there were probably five good knife companies. These days, there are too many to count. And while there are several great designs to choose from, it can be confusing as to which works best for what, and how much to spend and why.

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.

Two of the best designed and constructed skinning knives on the market are made by Diamond Blades. The Traditional Hunter (top) is, hands down, the best design. Notice how the spine is slightly ground down, giving it not only a drop point for skinning, but also a semipoint so you can cut the pattern.

Two of the best designed and constructed skinning knives on the market are made by Diamond Blades. The Traditional Hunter (top) is, hands down, the best design. Notice how the spine is slightly ground down, giving it not only a drop point for skinning, but also a semipoint so you can cut the pattern.

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.

There are four or five decent boning knives on the market. Whichever one you buy, make sure that it has this exact shape. You don’t see wood handles as often anymore, but they are more comfortable.

There are four or five decent boning knives on the market. Whichever one you buy, make sure that it has this exact shape. You don’t see wood handles as often anymore, but they are more comfortable.

CLIP-POINT KNIFE

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.

DROP-POINT KNIFE

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.

For caping out big game heads and skinning the feet and toes on bears, you’ll want a caping knife. I prefer one like the Cub Bear from Knives of Alaska because of its distinct point and narrow,  short blade.

For caping out big game heads and skinning the feet and toes on bears, you’ll want a caping knife. I prefer one like the Cub Bear from Knives of Alaska because of its distinct point and narrow, short blade.

CAPING 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.
BONING KNIFE

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.

I favor a thin fold-up knife. I don’t like thick, bulky ones, and most of Puma’s fold-up knives are thin and sleek.

I favor a thin fold-up knife. I don’t like thick, bulky ones, and most of Puma’s fold-up knives are thin and sleek.

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

Knives of Alaska makes several excellent products. The Legacy (top) is a skinning knife with a shorter blade and a full handle to give you total knife control. The Pronghorn is a clip-point style that makes it ideal for difficult initial incision cuts. (RON SPOMER OUTDOORS PHOTO)

Knives of Alaska makes several excellent products. The Legacy (top) is a skinning knife with a shorter blade and a full handle to give you total knife control. The Pronghorn is a clip-point style that makes it ideal for difficult initial incision cuts. (RON SPOMER OUTDOORS PHOTO)

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.

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