It didn’t take the first hunters long to figure out a sharp stone made masticating that mastodon a lot easier. We’ve since advanced from that knapped obsidian to some truly space-age steels, including some that are formed from powdered metals and fused by lasers. Things are, pun intended, cutting edge in the world of making meat. Still, it doesn’t take a NASA scientist to take game from the field to fork. Instead, a few sharp knives and, in one case, a battery-powered saw blade, make modern hunters’ lives easier.
ONTARIO KNIFE COMPANY: HUNTER
As part of an affordable combo pack paired with a clip-point folder, this handy fixed blade serves many purposes once a buck or bull is on the ground. The wide, sharp gut hook zips open a hide quickly without getting clogged with hair. I particularly like it for slicing seams down the inside of all four legs. The modified skinner blade has just enough belly to make peeling hide a lot easier, though it is a little big for detail work. The 7CR17 steel has a low carbon count, great for resisting stains and corrosion and good for holding an edge, though not exceptionally hard. Still, considering it’s a two-pack at a great price, The OKC Hunter is great, go-anywhere choice.
While replaceable blades are a relatively new phenomenon in the world of hunting knives, the heavy-duty scalpels that make up the edge portion of this caping knife have been used by taxidermists for 30 years or more. What Havalon did was build that blade into a capable, and more importantly, safe folder for the big-game and bird hunter. Now elk guides around the West are pulling apart bulls in record time, thanks to a razor-sharp blade that can be replaced in seconds, rather than the stop-and-sharpen that seems slow-mo in comparison. The Piranta features a trim, 4 ½-inch ABS handle with rubber inserts for a solid grip.
$55; Havalon.com; BUY NOW
RYOBI RECIPROCATING SAW
Back at the shop that serves as my skinning shed during hunting season, I reach for my reciprocating saw surprisingly often. Mostly it gets used to cut a skull plate for horns that are going to hang on the shop wall or removing the head from a skinned and hanging critter. Though I prefer to use a knife, I do admit to getting lazy sometimes and sawing through the forelegs when I’m in a hurry. For big pigs, a sawzall is great for cutting ribs as well. Like I said, it gets used a ton and saves me the sweat of cranking on a hacksaw. Go cordless and equip it with a 12-inch demolition, bi-metal blade with five to eight teeth per inch for best cutting performance.
DEXTER 8-INCH BUTCHER KNIFE
While this wide, 8-inch blade might seem like overkill at first, it’s the best knife I’ve found to break down bigger cuts such as roasts into steaks and chops. For perfect, evenly cut steaks, just pop the top sirloin and bottom round roasts into the freezer for 30 minutes or so to firm them up, then go at them with this knife. Check with your butcher. I’ll be he’s got several Dexter knives in his arsenal. High in carbon and alloy, the exclusive Dexsteel is virtually impervious to stains and sharpens quickly with just a swipe from a diamond hone. The handle is food-safe polypropylene and fits comfortably in the hand, something I really appreciate after several hours at the cutting table.
$35; Dexter1818.com; BUY NOW
SANI-SAFE BONING KNIVES
With an animal hanging, I always have these two boning knives—a 5-inch straight blade and 6-inch curved blade—close at hand. I also throw at least one of them in my bag if I’m traveling to a hunt. They’re so invaluable I consider them a must-have for anyone who cuts their own meat. This particular pair has cut bear, antelope, deer, elk and countless game birds. Flexible with a fine tip, they both can carve steaks from the bone without leaving a scrap behind and can peel silverskin like paper. I’ve touched them up a few times, but for the most part the high-carbon steel blades stay sharp enough to go through one deer-sized animal. I really like the handles, which clean up easily and are hi-viz white so I always know where one is on the cutting table while I’m working with its mate. Perhaps their best attribute is their price. You can probably find each one for less than 20 bucks if you do some smart shopping online.
$23-25; Dexter1818.com; BUY NOW
BUCK 110 FOLDING HUNTER
Sure, it’s no fun to just have one knife, but if pressed I’d reach for a Buck knife, specifically the 110 folder. Truthfully, there’s not much you can’t do with the 3 3/4-inch clip-point blade, from gutting an elk to slicing a chunk of steak from your plate. Its 420 high-carbon steel has been heat treated to reach a Rockwell hardness of 58, meaning it has a fairly durable edge that takes a hone relatively easily, but is also resistant to corrosion. Today’s models have a tough Dymondwood handle with brass bolsters that retain the 110’s classic looks. You’ll own this knife a long time, and chances are your father and his father carried one, too. It’s a workhorse and, best yet, it’s made in America by a family-owned company.
$77; BuckKnives.com; BUY NOW
WORK SHARP GUIDED FIELD SHARPENER
No matter how good the steel, a knife’s going to go dull at some point during the field-to-fork process. Of all the ways to put an edge back on it, I like this field sharpener the best. With five stages, from heavy-grit diamond plate for reshaping nicked blades to a three-stage ceramic honing rod, it’s got everything needed to take a blade from blunt to razor-sharp in just a few strokes. There’s even a leather strop for a truly keen edge. Smartly designed guides help the knife owner get just the right bevel for the job. Like a solid, little brick in the hand, the GFS is too heavy for the go-light backcountry hunter. If that’s you, I’d suggest the $20 Retractable Honing Rod from WorkSharp.
$35; WorkSharpTools.com; BUY NOW