Not very long ago, every boy and man carried a pocket knife. Everyone who ventured into the wilderness had a proper knife, a decent axe or hatchet, and knew how to maintain them. These days, if a kid carried a pocketknife to school, they would expel him and call the law. No wonder woodmanship is fading….
I have several knives. All of them practical…..no Rambo-fighting knife nonsense for me. I do have some large, heavy Bowie style knives that some may qualify as “fighting knives”, but I disagree. I suppose they could be used for self defense, but they have plenty of practical application in the backwoods as well. Usually though, I carry 1 or 2 simple folding knives, and a fixed blade. Here are my favorites:
- Heavy Knife – I have two Natchez style Bowies…one made by the Bark River Knife & Tool Company, the other by Mike Mann of Idaho Knife Works (www.idahoknifeworks.com). I carry one of these often instead of a hatchet. If I will be building blinds, making a shelter, or packing for an overnight trip to the bush, a heavy knife comes with me. They are handy for cutting or slicing around the camp kitchen. Used as a hatchet, they cut saplings, and split smallish firewood easily. They struggle a bit with finer cutting tasks, like cleaning fish and small game. They make a serviceable skinning knife. If I were put in a position in which I could only have 1 knife, it would be one of these hefty Bowies.
- Medium Knife – Here, a good 3″-4″ fixed blade rules. You will find yourself using it for everything from field dressing a whitetail to cutting a steak. Buck, Case, and Schatt & Morgan (www.schattandmorgan.com) are my favorites in this category for a folding knife. My friend Fred Asbell made a gift of my Schatt&Morgan…it’s a phenomenal blade. Light, handy, wicked sharp, and with a handle you can get a good grip on. As for medium fixed blades, the manufacturers are endless. This size knife is also where the neck knives begin….speaking of Fred Asbell, he sells a great selection of neck knives and sheaths(www.gfredasbell.com). More on the handiness of a neck knife later. My personal favorite of a knife this size is an old Ka-Bar that my Grandfather bought in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula back in the 20′s. Aside from having a sheath made for it, it is still as handy and durable as it was way back then.
- Small Knife – These 2″- 3″ blades may be the handiest size of all. Perfect in a small, light folding knife, I have two preferred styles….both made by Case (others make them as well), I like a small Stockman for every day carry, and a small Trapper for small game hunting. The Stockman has a Clip, Spey, and Sheepsfoot blade. The Sheepsfoot I find very handy, as it’s straight edge is very easy to sharpen. The Trapper offers a Clip and Spey blade, the Spey being specially rounded for skinning. Once as an experiment, I took a deer from field to freezer using nothing but a Trapper style knife (although it was a large, not a small). Neck nives are a natural here also. My favorite bunny chasing knife is a small Asbell type that fits under my bib overalls. I never know it’s there until I need it.
- Hatchets and Axes – My favorite hatchets….or axes….are a Gransfors Wildlife Hatchet, that I recieved for Fathers Day at least 10 years ago, and a tomahawk style hatchet called the Shrew Hawk by Ron laClair (www.shrewbows.com) . The Gransfors, being the heavier of the two, usually stays in the truck unless I’m sure I will need it. The Shrew Hawk, weighing about a pound, will fit in my possibles bag and travels with me often. The Shrew Hawk came with an awesome edge….I used it to skin a buck, kind of as an experiment, using the head of the ‘hawk like the Eskimo ulu. I use it often when trimming out branches from a deer stand, splitting the pelvis on a deer, etc. The Gransfors is reserved for heavier work, like splitting kindling, chopping medium sized logs, or building a shelter. The Gransfors is a little more stout and durable, while the Shrew Hawk has the added entertainment value of being balanced beautifully for throwing. Pretty good sport for your down time in camp.
So what do I end up carrying? It depends. Every day, work or play, I carry the small Stockman. I barely know its there. If I’m headed out deer hunting, I will have my Trapper or Schatt & Morgan in my pocket, My Grandfathers Ka-bar and one of the heavy Bowies in my pack. Small game hunting? One of the neck knives, or just the Trapper. Just out “woods-loafing”? It depends on the time of the year and the weather. Always one of the medium sized knives, usually an axe or one of the heavy Bowies. I always throw in my ancient Schrade steel to keep the edge’s up.
In future articles, we will talk about neck knives, sharpening, and maintaining your cutting tools.
If you have any suggestions or comments, fire away. See you down the trail. Until then, shoot straight……