Although I honestly came up with this title on my own, I have to give my
friend, the late and most assuredly great Finn Aagaard, credit for first using it. Finn
used it on an article he did years ago for the NRAs American Hunter magazine. Finn had a habit of doing
that. I would be out on my trap line, 60 miles from my nearest neighbor, and come up with
an idea for a great story. Then, the very next time I flew into town to pick up mail,
there would be an article by Finn on the exact subject. Since we held similar views on so
many subjects, my article then seemed superfluous, if not redundant. I used to kid him
about it, and said it had to be a case of great minds thinking alike. Finn
said that, knowing us, fools seldom differ was most likely the case. But Finn
was no fool, and he and his wife, Berit, were both adept with hunting knives.
I also have amassed my share
of time behind a blade. Skinning, fleshing, caping and butchering are the primary uses to
which a hunter applies his blades, but there are myriads of other camp chores in which
knives are utilized. Over the
years, in a search for the mythical, chimerical, all-around hunting knife, I
have literally worn out dozens of blades. Most were simple, proven, practical blade
designs. Although I still keep looking, I have yet to discover the perfect, do-everything
A skilled and determined
user can accomplish amazing chores with virtually any sharp edge, but a blade specifically designed for a task makes cutting
chores faster, safer and easier. One look in any butcher shop or professional kitchen
should convince you of this. But I dont know of any hunters who would care to pack a
roll of butchers knives along on a hunt. Most of us choose a knife or two that fit
our purpose and make do. I can tell you what has worked for me over the past four decades.
Undoubtedly the first choice
everyone makes is whether to carry a fixed blade or folder, and there are strong advocates
for both. Arguing over which one is best is like debating whether you prefer pistols or
rifles. Like pistols, folding knives have the advantage of portability. By that virtue
alone they become indispensable for most of us. Except for when Im on a commercial
airliner, I always have at least one good
pocketknife with me. For hunters who only field dress their game, they are all that is
serious cutting chores, however, the simplicity, strength and
durability of a fixed bladed knife is best.
In order to find a useful
hunting knife today, you have to wade through all the current fanciful, artistic and
tactical (whatever that means) blade shapes as well as the hype surrounding
each new steel alloy. Contrary to what many custom knifemakers would have you believe,
there is no magic involved. Knives are one of mans oldest tools, and every size and
shape imaginable have already been discovered and used.
My friend Kuzan Oda, a
revered Japanese master bladesmith, tells a story of attending a large knife show where
two famous makers were arguing over who stole whose current design. Finally someone
suggested adjourning to a local museum where a thousand-year-old blade, virtually
identical to the one they were arguing over, was on display.
Grinding, forging and heat
treating steel has also been around for centuries. Still, its inevitable that each
time a new steel alloy comes on the market, there will be custom makers who make
outrageous claims about how, without sharpening their blade, you can skin a herd of
animals and still be able to shave the entire worlds Muslim population. Later, after
factories adopt the same alloy, they discover another new wonder steel.
I dont mean to pick on
custom makers. Like custom rifle builders, they can give you a unique product specifically
tailored for you and your purposes. Nearly half of my using knives are custom built. I
once even designed a knife and had John Nash, another knife-building friend, build one for
me. The folks at Damascus USA then built me a second one using their beautiful steel.
Benchmade currently makes a very similar blade, called the Model 180 Outbounder, which is
every bit as useful.
A number of factors
including the alloy, fineness of grain and heat treatment affect the sharpness,
strength, wear resistance, cutting and edge holding ability of a knife. Super hard steels
are great until they need to be sharpened in the field. Every blade is a compromise, and I
prefer a thin blade that retains a sharp edge yet is reasonably easy to resharpen in the
field. Although custom makers who specialize in building a single style may disagree, good blades can be made by forging, casting or grinding.
We can again look to see
what professional butchers use. If super steel blades existed, they would be the first to
use them. Instead we find them using basic, proven designs built of fine-grained steel
treated to a moderate hardness. Stainless steel is common in the food industry although
many users (myself included) find plain carbon steel blades are easier to sharpen and
longer lasting. Butchers also use thin blades. Thick knives may make good pry bars but are
second-rate cutting instruments. Due to the fact that hunting knives are often required to
serve multiple tasks, they are typically built of thicker steel than butcher knives.
When I am hunting or
guiding, I carry two folding knives at all times. The first, my Swiss Army knife
with can and bottle opener, screwdrivers, awl and a single blade is always with me.
Depending on the size of the quarry, I also carry a second folder capable of most field
dressing and daily camp chores. On my belt I also wear a small fixed blade knife that sees
the majority of use.
If I am hunting deer-sized
game, those are the only blades I carry; but when Im hunting or guiding for larger
game in the wilds of Alaska, I pack more serious cutting tools in my backpack. The first
is a folding saw that is both useful for clearing camps as well as sawing bone. I also
pack a suitable professional quality butcher or skinning knife. They not only make short
work of skinning chores but are also large enough to field butcher the largest moose.
Because I also cape and flesh trophies for clients, I carry another small, razor-sharp,
locking blade folder and a dozen single-edged razor blades in a small Tupperware
I wish I had a dollar for
every custom maker who assured me his or her blades would never require sharpening during
a hunt. I have yet to find a blade that will stand up to a thick, wet, dirty moose hide.
It would dull a laser. So will a large bear hide. I begin each trip with all my blades
shaving sharp, yet inevitably I am required to resharpen them during the hunt. For this
chore I carry a small carbide scraper as well as a two-sided, diamond-coated stone. They
quickly allow me to touch up a dulled edge and wrap up another successful hunt.