I left my favorite skinning knife in the woods the other day. It was the first hunt of the season and I was skinning the squirrels I’d taken. When I was done, I packed them in a large plastic bag which then went into another plastic bag, the outer bag stuffed with snow. I thought this was mighty clever. Hopped up on my own ingenuity, I walked back to the car and drove all the way home before realizing that I’d never picked up my knife after that last time I set it down. Shit! Needless to say, I was too tired to drive an hour and hike out to where I left it, and then drive back before going to work.
Fortunately, I skinned the squirrels on the edge of a powerline right-of-way, so I was pretty confident I could find the spot again. I went back a week later and sure enough, there it was. Right where I’d set it down to pack up the meat.
When I realized that I had left my favorite knife in the woods I was pretty distraught. I have learned quite a lot about cleaning small game since I first started hunting, including what the best tool was, and I didn’t want to have to go back to that first knife set I’d gotten when I started hunting. While I am still far from expert in the matter, I figured I’d write a little post about what I’ve learned and my favorite knives–something I would have found helpful when I was first getting into this stuff.
So, this is the set of knives that I got when I first started hunting. I asked for them for Christmas thinking that it was a well-rounded set with all sorts of goodies, like a cleaver and a knife with a gut hook. It seemed like a great deal and something with a ton of utility.
It was a while before I had my first chance to use it, and even longer before I had anything to use it on save squirrels. For small game, this set is ridiculous. I had no idea what I needed. The only knife I ever really used was the smallest. Occasionally I would use the cleaver to remove heads and feet, but that is done just as easily with a small, sharp blade.
I have never taken a big game animal, but having read about it and watched people on television field dress large game, it certainly seems like that whole process requires no more than a small, sharp blade.
Enter my favorite hunting knife. It is a beautiful little fishing knife that my brother brought back for me from a trip to Finland. It is a small fixed blade with a leather sheath. You can see it above where I left it in the woods. It is the knife at the top of the post as well, if you want a closer look. It is pretty enough that it sat on my shelf for a long time before I ever took it out in the field–but what is the point of owning gear that you are too scared to use? Beyond its beauty, it is the sharpest blade I have ever owned.
And that is why it is my favorite skinning knife. For waterfowl and small game, I have done best with blade that is small, nimble, and incredibly sharp. With a deft hand it is easy enough to break down an animal without any significant application of force. At this point I honestly have no idea why there is a cleaver in my first knife set. Similar to how I feel that no hunter should require a 30 round magazine, no hunter should require a cleaver when cleaning a kill.
Now I am going to move into the realm of supposition, and would love to hear a bit of input from my readers. During the last seven years working as a firefighter I got into the habit of carrying a pocket knife. These days, it feels strange not to have a knife on me. I find myself groping ineffectually at my back pocket when I have something to cut. So, if I have this every day carry knife on me at all times, is there any good reason that this shouldn’t also serve as my hunting knife? I have a whetstone at home and keep it sharp, though I’ve never been able to get an edge to match that Finnish blade. That orange handle would certainly make it easy to find next time I leave my knife in the woods!
Next question: anyone ever used those fancy replaceable blade knives that Steven Rinella used to hawk? I’ve noticed that in more recent seasons of his show he has returned to a more traditional hunting knife, but those things seemed pretty slick. And certainly a good solution if you are not the sort who enjoys spending their time honing a blade. I am naturally something of a minimalist and don’t love the idea of tossing a blade when it gets dull, but I can also see the appeal of being able to just toss on another razor’s edge when necessary.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! You can click any of those knives (except the Finnish one) for a link to the product on Amazon. And if you buy one (or anything else during that session) I get a little kickback, which helps me keep creating content.