When I worked as a hunting and fishing guide, I learned early on that when someone showed up with a great big, genuine artificial Bowie blade strapped to their hip, I was more than likely going to have a lot of issues on the hunt. In all my life, I have never used anything more than an Old-Timer with a two-inch blade for gutting and skinning … and have seen many a city slicker sicken themselves as soon as they begin cutting into the innards of a fresh kill, releasing all manner of fecal matter and other less than desirable “products” into the meat and the surrounding air. Perhaps more amazing still to me, was the number of people who had absolutely no idea how to prepare their blades, much less to care for them or to properly sharpen their blades for individual usage.
Mind you, some people tended to think I was a bit hypocritical … and let me preface that by saying I was not always the kindest or most gentle of guides, but I very rarely led an unsuccessful hunt either. Stringing pack horses is a chore in and of itself. Adding a string of dudes on to a string of pack horses will give any cowboy more than a little bit of concern for the duration … or should at least. As such, I generally had a very wide selection of small blades strategically strapped on my body … ten or twelve would probably have been a good average. However, they were always small and always sharpened excessively thin.
The reasoning was very simple, as in a string break, there is no telling what portions of the body will remain free or mobile and which portions will be trapped where, and it may very well be necessary to cut yourself out of the ropes and leather in short order if you are to have any hope of surviving such a string break … much less preventing your charges from becoming seriously injured or even killed. As such, I placed the blades accordingly, so no matter how much of my body may have been trapped under a horse or in my tack and gear, I would have a very thinly bladed slicing knife available to free myself with.
Thicker blades or a heavier edge would have required chopping, which may have only made the situation worse in many instances. The thinner blades were designed and maintained for slicing through rope and/or leather in a hurry … though they were equally well suited for skinning which helped on many more occasions. Fortunately perhaps, I have only personally experienced two major string breaks, and no knives were required on either occasion. Still, it is always better to have the tools and not need them, than to need the tools and not to have them. Though this does bring to mind how different types of blades should be sharpened differently for different purposes.
I have quite an affinity for blades personally, and my collection includes everything from pocket knives to sheath knives (including more than one Bowie knife … even some genuine artificial ones and some that are just prettied up) to swords and even the occasional B’atleth for the geeks who may be interested in homesteading … though these are also amazing fighting weapons and far superior to more simple swords in my humble opinion. My problems rarely stemmed from the fact that somebody had an affinity for the Bowie knife, but that they actually believed that this was a viable tool for the great outdoors and hunting or fishing. These are incredible weapons for armed conflict, but they serve a very limited purpose for hunting and fishing. Generally, the person proudly brandishing a Bowie knife had very limited experience in the woods, and that would be the cause of my problems.
Skinning knives should have a very thin, even edge on both sides of the blade, allowing it to sever or slice with the same relative ease as would be accomplished with a razor. To commence skinning any game, a small, counter incision should be made from left to right, allowing for a small blade to be inserted and slice the skin cleanly without cutting into any of the innards. Much of the smell that can be nauseating to the uninitiated can be avoided in this way and furthermore, it will reduce the possibility of contaminating the meat, as the waste residue on the meat will also cause the meat itself to go bad more quickly. Once the long vertical slice has been made, the skin should be peeled back slowly, with the skinning blade serving no other purpose than to separate the skin from the meat cleanly, without leaving excessive amounts of hair on the meat. Trying to shop or whittle with such a thinly sharpened edge will inevitably result in the steel edge “turning” or folding and requiring the blade to be sharpened much more frequently.
Chopping Knives, Cleavers
Heavier and larger blades should be sharpened with one thinner edge and one thicker edge, the thinner edge being used for finer work and the thicker edge for whittling and other work requiring more durability and rigidity of the blade. In the case of heavy knives or cleavers designed for chopping, some people prefer equally thick edges on both sides of the blades, though my personal preference is for one side to be sharpened at about a fifteen degree angle and the other side a little thicker. Which side depends on whether the user is right handed or left handed as well, as both will chop slightly different and from different angles. However, the varied edge allows one side to be more efficient at chopping through meat and the other side more efficient for chopping through bone, without having to worry about the steel edge turning or folding during use.
Hatchets and Axes
I prefer to sharpen both my hatchets and my axes with a varied edge the same as chopping knives and cleavers. This holds true for these as when I chop wood, I tend to notch the wood, making separate types of cuts with each stroke, one down from the right and one down from the left, ideally taking the entire chunk of wood in between the strikes to be removed with the second strike. If in turn, the unfortunate event arises when I need a weapon that is effective against another person, this configuration also allows for the axe or the hatchet to work equally as well under such circumstances, though firearms are generally a much more viable option for personal defense.
Fighting Blades and Bayonets
The aforementioned Bowie knife generally tends to fall under this category, and to be perfectly honest, I do not know many people who are ever going to get into a hand-to-hand combat scenario where they need either of these weapons. However, in the unlikely event that they do, the finely sharpened Bowie knife is going to turn quickly, and unfortunately, also leave a very neat and clean cut that the doctors will easily patch up. Both humans and animals have a striking ability to survive multiple stab wounds, and this is even more pronounced when an exceedingly sharp blade is used. In the unlikely event that I do find myself having to use a knife for hunting, I want it to be relatively dull so that it has to rip and tear its way through, creating a more severe wound cavity that is not so easily healed.
As was previously noted, it is imperative to have the proper tools for the job, but it is also imperative to know and understand how and why to maintain those tools so that they can perform the requisite job function when it is time to put them to use.