Visit bushcraft websites and you’d think the world revolves around the Scandinavian knife bevel. Over the years bushcraft has somehow morphed into hiking and camping. A guy takes a knife and makes fire sticks and then batons a small branch into two pieces and declares his knife a genuine bushcraft knife. Truth is, however, that outside the industrialized world not many people think the same way. In fact, tell someone your knife is an excellent woodcarving knife and he’ll wonder why you brought it into the brush. You see, deep-rural folks are looking for a knife that will gut, skin and debone a deer or hog, maybe an elk or moose. They want a knife that cuts through fur-ridden skin without snagging; a knife that stays sharp so time isn’t wasted having to re-sharpen it. Granted a lot of dudes shoot their animal and then truck it to the butcher shop. But in most parts of the world—and around places where men are particular about who fillets their game—all the work is done by one or two fellows.
A couple of weeks ago my son, Jason, shot a large feral hog sow with a head shot. Jason has been shooting since he was about five years old and he was hunting with his old man even before that. Along with Jason was my son, Matthew, who first spotted the pig and then called it up. Matthew spent the first five years of his life living in a cabin in the woods and is as adept at bushcraft as any man. In fact, I’ll take it a step further. In my life I’ve only known two men who could complete the process of butchering a deer or hog from gutting to producing professional fillets and various other cuts of meat using nothing more than one knife. Heck, I can do all that but I’m by no means an artist like Matthew. His cuts are made with such geometric precision you’d swear they were done with a bandsaw. The other fellow I knew was my grandfather, Trinidad M. Valverde Sr. My granddad was a master butcher, master carpenter, master woodsman and regional ethnobotanist. He passed away when I was 24 years old but I spent my youth with him and got my start in the woodsman’s life from his tutelage beginning at about the age of four.
After much effort we were able to bring the sow to the compound where we hoisted it up on a heavy A-frame for butchering. Matthew went into the house and brought out a basket full of knives. For whatever reason he started out with a Mora knife but after a few seconds he said, “Dad, this knife doesn’t work.”
“Try one of mine,” I said and then handed Matthew one of the knives I’d made for him.
Matthew's number one hunting knife
We learned a valuable lesson that night that I’d like to share with you. If all you’re going to do is tote along some packets of freeze-dried food and your tent or hammock; and your woods experience amounts to a few nights sleeping under the stars making fuego with ferro rods or fire steels then you’ll be fine with what has become known (incorrectly) as a bushcraft knife—or a pocket knife for that matter. On the other hand, if you’re off to some foreign land or maybe into a real wilderness area where you’ll have to hunt or trap your food and then you’ll need to butcher it and prepare it and cook it you’ll need a different kind of knife. This is where the stout blade with a deep secondary bevel works best. I no longer see any reason to make woodcarving knives since I can buy them for ten bucks a copy from Brother Ragnar at his Ragweed Forge. But when it comes to hunting knives or what some call “survival knives” or “camp knives” then I make my own. I make them from 1080 or 01 steel 1/8 inch thick at the spine. Blade lengths range from 3 ½ inches to four-inches. The handles are always Micarta that I made from old jeans, brown canvas or cardstock. I’ve also made general purpose knives from 15n20 steel at 3/32” spine widths. The steels mentioned are excellent for all-purpose knives (hunting, butchering, camp-craft etc.) and when mated with secondary bevels at from 40-45 degrees they will cut through fur-ridden skin like a Scandi knife cuts through a piece of wood. And no, I don’t sell my knives.
Here are some of Matthew's hunting and general purpose knives.
Below are some of my favorite general purpose knives
So then where can you buy a knife that would make a good hunting/general purpose knife? First, I must admit that I’m not that experienced with using store bought knives since I always make my knives. I’ve never even handled an ESEE knife but it seems to me that the ESEE 3 would make a good all-purpose knife. I think that general purpose/hunting knives should be no thicker than 3mm (1/8”) at the spine. Granted, I also make big choppers. But those blades are simply hatchets made in the form of a knife. I use 5160 steel for those blades. They work for building camps but if I’m going to carry one of my choppers I’ll always carry a carbon steel pocket knife for carving or butchering. (More on that in an upcoming post) The ESEE 3 has a 1/8” blade. The ESEE 4 is IMO too thick at .188” and so I don’t think I’d find it all that interesting.
There are scores of “hunting” knives and again I admit I’m not familiar with any of them other than what I’ve seen in photos. Nonetheless, I prefer blades that have a basic, simple, no frills design. I don’t care for gut-hooks. I don’t like “tacti-cool” motifs. I’m not into sweeping distorted blades that look like something out of a sci-fi movie or what Rambo would carry. In other words, I’m not into the bizarre nor do I find those models practical or even aesthetic. Some folks go ape over the tacti-cool stuff but those mutations are like the old “California gunstocks” of the late 1950s and 1960s with their flaring Monte Carlo combs and exorbitant cheekpieces and white-line spacers and box-like forends and diamond inlays. Jeez, I hated those styles even as a kid. It wasn’t until Ruger came out with the classic model 77 design back around 1967 that things started to settle down. Until then I was on a steady diet of Jack O’Connor and Warren Page who understood stock design and acquired their rifles from the likes of Al Biesen and Jerry Fisher, Dale Goens and a fellow named Milliron. Well, knives are as crazy these days as rifles were in the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps that’s why I prefer simple, reliable designs like ESEE and a few others. But again, I’ve never handled an ESEE. Maybe someday.
For now I’ll settle for my own handmade knives with secondary bevels. They’re perfect hunting knives and “around the camp” knives. Also I’m a stickler for proper heat treatment and tempering. My personal knives work. I’m content.