One of the most overlooked, yet necessary, items in every sportsman’s kit is the basic knife. Every hunter and angler carries one, but they don’t get a lot of consideration.
Some people form a bond with their favorite knife; they grow attached to it. It is an omnipresent companion, almost an extension of themselves - well-worn from years of riding in a jeans pocket or on a belt sheath, and well-loved.
I sometimes wish I had some really heartwarming pocketknife story, but I don’t. I am not that person, but I do confess to having owned some knives that I appreciated more than others. There are a lot of expensive knives on the market, but to me a knife is simply a necessary tool; an expensive knife is just tempting fate - you never lose a cheap knife. Furthermore I am not convinced an expensive knife will do the job any better than a decent quality blade, however I do acknowledge there are blades so cheap, so poor in quality that they are suited for little more than sharpening a pencil.
For the most part I have been fond of some of the Schrade knives, i.e. the Old Timers or Uncle Henrys. There was one I carried for years before losing it, it had the simulated deer antler handles and three stainless steel blades; and then I had a lock-blade folder that I somehow managed to lose as well. So perhaps my personal knife experiences all revolve around losing good ones.
My current deer hunting fave is a fixed blade Old Timer with a drop point and a gut-hook. I’m not sure they make them anymore so I bought a second one which remains in the box as insurance against the day I lose my current one.
What I like about that particular knife is the sturdy carbon-steel blade which is thick and heavy, holds a good edge and is easy to sharpen. Plus it just feels right in my hand.
I am not a big fan of stainless steel (except for “multi-tools” that combine a knife blade with such handy tools as screwdriver tips and pliers), and I don’t like serrated blades, which I feel are difficult to sharpen - these are just my personal preferences, you are welcome to have your own.
Like I mentioned before, a decent knife has been an essential part of every hunter or angler’s outfit since the first time our ancestors started carrying around sharp rocks. The perfect knife is hard to find, and once you do it can be a friend for life.
One important thing to remember about selecting a knife is to make it match its intended purpose; you don’t need a huge knife to dress game, but you want one that fits your hand and is big enough to get the job done.
With that being said, when I teach hunter education one of the portions of the class is about field dressing game. I generally produce a small pocketknife, with a blade perhaps two inches long, and ask if it can be used to field dress a deer. The answer is yes it can, the point being that the sharpness of the blade is more important than the size of the blade.
The main purpose in promptly field dressing a deer is to prevent spoilage of the meat; obviously you will need a sharp knife for that purpose. When doing this, be on the lookout for broken arrows or broadheads; last fall one of the hunters in my group shot a deer that was carrying a complete arrow in its shoulder.
Other things to remember about knives:
Never run with an open or unsheathed knife.
Never try to catch a falling knife. If you drop it, let if fall. This is harder to do than you might imagine, it is almost instinctive to try to catch something if you drop it, but trying to catch a falling knife can lead to some nasty injuries.
Never use your blade as a screwdriver or for any other chore for which it is not designed. You can break the tip of the blade, or ever worse injure yourself.
You are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp knife. A dull blade may cause you to pull, yank or “saw” with the blade, making it more likely to cut yourself.
Never cut towards yourself.
A knife is a tool, not a toy.
Always give a knife back the way you got it; if someone hands it to you open, hand it back to them open. If they hand it to you folded closed, then return it that way. Always hand a fixed-blade knife over handle first. Make sure the other person has control of the knife before you release it.
After hunting season, I usually sharpen my blade, wash the knife in the dishwasher and oil it with vegetable oil or some other edible sort of oil.
Here’s hoping that you and especially the younger hunters in your group have the opportunity to use their blades this deer season.
Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and his column “In the Open” generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at email@example.com