Must Have Knives For The Outdoors
Growing up, we rarely processed our own whitetails at the end of deer camp. No one really felt the need to, as the family farm where 90% of our hunting took place was located only a few miles from (in my opinion) one of the greatest butchers in the U.S; Schmidt’s Meat Market of Nicollet Minnesota. It was just too easy: shoot, field dress, load deer into the pickup and drop off at Schmidt’s. There were however a few years that we would do the work ourselves, gathering in the large tractor shed and working together to butcher that seasons wild harvest. Everyone had a station, and while I don’t remember all of the who-did-what of it, I do know that my grandfather would be busy at the end of the line, frying up deer hearts and scraps of meat, while my father would be at the front of the line, skinning and quartering deer with his fixed blade Buck and a filet knife. Between them, the rest of us kept busy carving, packaging and labeling everyone’s haul of venison.
I’ve always looked back fondly on those hunting camps from years ago. Those memories, and the increasing amount of time spent hunting far away from the family farm has led me to move away from having my wild game cut up by someone else and increasingly taking that responsibility on myself. As I set to work breaking down quarters into individual cuts, I start to imagine all the family meals that we will receive from the animal. Quite often I’ll even have a cookbook with me, paging through recipes and labeling packages with specific dishes in mind, like bone-in roasted antelope shoulder or braised whitetail shanks.
I’ve learned to really love the process, and if you are interested in butchering your own wild game as well, I would highly recommend it. To do this you will need the right tools. In this post, I’ll share the knives I’ve gathered together as I’ve gone from someone who took their deer to a butcher, to becoming the butcher myself.
Dexter Boning Knife: $11.00
I haven’t had the 6-inch boning knife long, but so far I am impressed. The high-carbon steel blade has remained sharp and I’m looking forward to removing the meat from the bones of a few whitetail and pronghorn this fall. Dexter provides knives to professional butchers and it shows; this is a knife designed strictly for its function with little concern given to unnecessary aesthetics. It holds an edge very well, sharpens easily, is comfortable to hold, easy to clean and is amazingly affordable. I picked up this one on Amazon for around $11.00.
Old Hickory Butcher Knife: $12.00
Chances are, either your parents or grandparents had a full set Old Hickory Knives in their kitchen. I know mine did. When looking for a butcher knife, I wanted one that was big enough to cut the roasts off a whitetail, but not as big as the huge butcher knives used to break down steers at the slaughterhouse. This knife, with its seven-inch blade and hickory handle meets that need nicely. Made in the USA, the Old Hickory line of knives just seem “right” in the hand. Like what a knife is supposed to look and feel like. Another very affordable knife, you should be able to locate it on Amazon for right around $12.00.
Mercer Paring Knife: $15.00
This little paring knife, with its high-carbon German steel 3.5-inch blade really is a workhorse. It’s crazy sharp right out of the box and makes short work of small game, waterfowl and upland birds as well as any vegetables you want to add to your wild game stew. This is probably my favorite knife of the whole lot, it just does so much so well, and for $15.00 the price can’t be beat.
Guide Gear Fillet Knife: $5.00
After my Rapala fillet knife mysteriously disappeared off my boat, I picked up this one for $5.00 at a discount store thinking I would use it once or twice before replacing the Rapala. After a spring and summer of filleting panfish and bass, I’m still using it. Besides fish, curved filet knives work great for carving up turkeys and waterfowl as well as boning out deer. As my father will attest to, they are perfect for trimming up a deer heart, just prior to being lightly floured and fried hot and fast in butter.
Condor Nessmuk: $43.00
Of the blades in this group, this is the one I take into the field most with me. It’s a classic skinning knife with a design made famous by George Washington Sears, who wrote wilderness survival books and articles under the pen name of “Nessmuk” in the 1880s. Suffering with tuberculosis, Sears immersed himself into the outdoors as a way to combat the disease. Due to the illness taking much of his strength, he became an early pioneer of what would become “ultra-light” hiking, hunting and camping. Part of his kit was a modestly sized fixed blade knife of his own design. No outlandish Bowie or “pig sticker” to impress upon others or chop away at tree limbs with, the knife featured an ergonomic shape and deep belly, making it suitable for both food preparation and skinning large animals. The history attached to its unique shape is no doubt one of the reasons I carry the knife so often, but as a functional tool it really preforms. Besides skinning big game, I often use it as my all around camp knife, especially during meal preparation tasks. Like Sears, if I was to only take one or two knives into the field with me on an extended hunt, his namesake knife would be one of them. $43.00 on Amazon
Gerber Take-A-Part Shears: $17.00
Game sheers have become indispensable to me in processing smaller game like waterfowl, upland birds, squirrels and rabbits. I even use them to help remove the small and often slippery fillets from panfish. These Gerber sheers work really well and the functionality really shows through in the design; the orange rubber handles make it easy to spot and hard to forget in the field, the serrated blades cut through small bones like butter, and cleaning is easy due to the pivot pin that can be released to separate the blades. A steal for $17.00 on Amazon.
Vaughan Pull Saw: $20.00
For the last few seasons, I’ve increasingly made it a habit to remove venison shanks and ribs bone-in, to be used in preparations that bring out the fantastic flavor that would otherwise be lost if they were the grind pile. To do that you need a saw, and I’ve found that using a Japanese style hand saw works extremely well for the task. An interesting thing about Japanese saws is that they cut on the pull stroke. Cutting on the pull stroke, rather than the push stoke found on most American style sawblades makes for a thinner, more controlled cut. Something I like to have when packaging up what have become some of my favorite cuts of meat on a deer. Find a saw like this on Amazon for around $20.00