I did not begin deer hunting until I was 33 in 1985 and had no real mentor to introduce me to the pastime. So it’s not surprising that when it came time for me to field dress my first whitetail, all I had was a knife that was woefully inadequate for the job. Two years ago, my wife Elaine and I decided to begin butchering the deer I killed and once again I found that the blades we possessed were lacking.
Although deer hunters can obviously get by with just one knife, there’s no arguing that possessing a variety of these useful devices makes performing all the chores related to the pastime easier, more time efficient, and even more pleasurable. Here are the 4 knives every whitetail hunter should own.
THE MULTI-FUNCTION TOOL
CJ Buck, president and CEO for Buck Knives, is a veteran deer hunter and notes that the multi-function tool (what some folks call a tool knife) is a valuable item for sportsmen and a part of the 4 knives every whitetail hunter should own battery.
“In general, for both hunting, camping, and survival situations, the more options a knife has, the better an individual can handle any situation,” he said. “That’s where the multi-function tool knife, which Tim Leatherman created, comes in.
“Specifically, though, a multi-function tool should have the four basics: knife, pliers, and both a Phillips and regular screwdriver. Other possible options that individuals might want would depend on their life experiences.”
For example, a deer hunter might want his tool to include a file, awl, and/or scissors. Regardless of the components, Buck emphasizes that a tool should feature one-hand access so that the device can be operated with that sole hand while the other is committed to the project itself. A good example is the Buck 730 X-Tract; Leatherman, of course, makes numerous tool knives. For more information on manufacturers: www.knifecenter.com.
TWO FIELD DRESSING KNIVES
The simplest, cheapest, lightest knife that can be used for field dressing is a synthetic handled folding lockback with a 3-inch or so blade.
“The beauty of folding lockbacks is that they are perfectly safe to carry, as the blade edge is protected and encompassed,” says Buck. “If a hunter falls or the knife works free while walking, it won’t hurt anyone. The locking blade makes it safe to use.
“A non lockback folder has what is called a slip joint blade, which means the blade can not be locked. When cutting, this type of blade has a tendency to close on an individual’s fingers, making it unsuitable for field dressing.”
I have carried a small Buck foldback knife for some 20 years and have field-dressed scores of whitetails with it. However, CJ Buck says that any knife that folds, even with a locking blade, is not as dependable as a fixed blade. Field dressing can be a major operation, especially if it occurs on rugged terrain or in low light. Sometimes hunters will need a knife that features a longer, heavier blade, which can make performing the task quicker and less stressing on the hands. Of course, fixed blade knives involve compromises as well because they have to be enclosed in a sheath and the blade can puncture through if a hunter experiences a bad fall.
A good example of a small folding lockback knife is the Buck Bantam series, which features blade lengths between 2 3/4 and 3 5/8 inches and one-hand open capability.
For a larger fixed-blade knife specifically designed for field dressing, a good example is the 191 Buck Zipper, which features a 4 1/8-inch drop point, wide gutting/skinning blade.
A quality skinning knife has a drop point blade and “a reasonable belly,’ which means that the edged portion of the blade is rounded as it tapers toward the point, and the point itself is close to the top edge of the knife. A gut hook is another must-have feature as this device aids in the opening of the abdominal cavity without puncturing internal organs. The hook eliminates the knife blade having to come in contact with hair or hide, which can dull the blade. A guard, like that which exists on the Buck Zipper, keeps the hand away from the blade and/or from sliding onto the cutting edge.
ALL-PURPOSE FIXED-BLADE KNIVES
Last year, I came to the realization that I needed an all purpose, non-foldback knife, one that I could put within a sheaf and wear on a belt — the type of knife that would be good for camping, hiking, and hunting. So I obtained the Buck 119 Special, which already has become the favorite knife that I have ever owned.
I’ve used the 119 to field dress, remove the hide, quarter, and butcher whitetails. In fact, when Elaine and I were working up venison in our kitchen last fall, she asked for the 119 when she was trimming away the silver skin just before she began the packaging process.
Ideally, hunters will never be in a situation when they have to use a knife to finish a whitetail, but these situations do occur. For example, a bowhunter who is following a blood trail after dark might need to use a knife. On such rare occasions, all purpose knives with, say, 6-inch blades and longer lengths (10 inches or more overall) are the ones best for the job. These types of knives can even serve as self protection devices and, of course, are handy for odd jobs around a campsite such as fashioning tent pegs. Quite simply, this style of knife can handle a great deal of abuse.
Buck says that his grandfather designed the 119 Special in the late 1940s and it remains the company’s most popular sheath knife. Several companies make these larger knives, and they are another must-have design for the avid outdoorsman.
KNIVES FOR SKINNING
The advantages of fixed blades with drop points and wide gutting blades and gut hooks for skinning and removing the intestines and other internal organs have already been discussed. But this category also excels at removing the hide.
“The drop point is an important feature when a hunter’s goal is to enter and cut the hide without making incisions in the meat below,” says Buck. “A good approach for beginning the skinning process is to make a slit at the knee and use a gut hook to open the hide to begin skinning from the inside. A drop point blade with a good skinning belly is also good at creating that rocking motion during the hide removal process. Don’t run the knife blade over the fur. Doing so will dull any blade.”
It’s true that deer hunters can be successful with owning just one knife. But having a variety of knives can make us more efficient at performing all the chores that we need to accomplish.