Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Knives for Elk Hunters

I'm Not Always Prepared

Occasionally I have to laugh at myself. Although I attempt to follow the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared,” sometimes I am not.

On one of my breaks from the Army, I returned home to guide hunters and pack mules in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area of Montana. We had excellent weather during the Thanksgiving hunt—cold, snowy and lots of elk. Most of the hunters filled out on the first or second day, giving the guides a chance to hunt on their own. Those days are exciting. No babysitting. No hym-and-hawing if its big enough or old enough or large enough or too far to walk. You just line out and do it.

In the excitement, I forgot an essential item in my day pack.

Another guide, Rocky Heckman, and I tied our horses at the confluence of Biggs Creek and the North Fork of the Sun River and split up.

Skinning elk on the west side of Haystack Mountain, White River, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, about 1980.

Elk were everywhere. With zero temps and more than a foot of soft snow hunting wasn’t hunting. Days like that are reminiscent of Lewis & Clarks journals. You just go out and get your game.

Instead of simply killing an elk, I did some playing; seeing if I could outwit elk. If I didn’t there were always more to try my luck at. I finally found a dry cow bedded down, snuck up on her, and dispatched her still lying down.

When I got to her I found that my essential item—a knife—was back in camp. I notched my tag with my teeth, stuck it in her ear and returned to the horses to see if I had a knife in my saddlebags, but that wasn’t to be. I debated and finally went to Rocky’s horse to rummage in his saddlebags. As I dug around, a voice behind me said, “Freeze or you’re a dead man.” It was Rocky.

I knew it wasn’t good etiquette to fondle another guys goods, and explained the situation. Rocky had his knife, so we saddled up and rode to the dead cow.

What I used to carry while guiding elk hunters.

When we got there, Art Stevens, the outfitter we worked for, was nearly finished gutting the cow. Art didn’t say too much, just kinda grumbled and completed the job. He picked up his 7mm and moved off. His hunter lagged behind and told us that he and Art had stalked to within 15 yards of the cow. Art finally told the hunter, “Well, that goddamn elk is dead!”

Brian and I skinning an elk in the dark.

The knife set that a guided hunter needs and uses will be much like the knife set I first used as a guide. It consisted of one knife, a steel and a saw. At the time, Buck knives were the rage. I never liked Bucks. They held an edge well, but the steel was so hard, sharpening in the field was a pain. Knives bought then--or now for that matter—are usually Gerbers. Gerbers are quality knives at reasonable prices.

My original steel was a Buck. It worked well and sharpened many knives. I have since moved on to steels and stones made by Diamond Machine Technologies. They are lighter and sharpen faster. The DMT sharpeners are diamond particles embedded in plastic. They don’t need oil, last for years, and are less than half the weight of a traditional steel.

My present set of elk knives.

My original saw was a Knapp Sportsaw. It still is. I have received two as presents, but the original that I bought in 1972 is sharper than the newer one. One hasn’t been out of the original packaging. An elk hunter needs a saw, even if you only use it on the pelvis and breastbone. Rock-and-knife is hard on rock, knife, hands and isn’t easy.

Over the years my arsenal of knives I carry has grown. A hunter may only need to gut, skin, and cape one elk all season. A guide may have to do four or five in one day. Specialized tools makes for easy work.

My brother, Brian, and I gutting and caping a bull.

I use a US Navy Mark 2 for all the tough work. It has a stiff spine, holds an edge reasonably well and is made of a softer steel than most knives that translates into easier sharpening on-the-job. It has a long, heavy blade that makes cleaner cuts through deep meat like the loin and neck when I’m quartering an elk. It also looks cool.

I use a Gerber skinning knife that a grizzly hunter gave me in 1980. (See story here)

I also carry one or two pocketknives that work great for caping. Small blades with blund tips work best around horn bases and eye sockets. I have also followed the advice of many taxidermists and used to carry a couple kitchen paring knives for caping—that’s what taxidermists use. Kitchen paring knives are cheap, made of soft steel, and are short and easy to use while caping. And, if you lose it, you're not out more than $1.29.

My saw assortment. the old one out of the sheath is still the best. The ones I use have been cutoff so they fit in a saddlebag better and because I don't intend to saw keyholes in elk.

One other essential for hunters inexperienced with gutting and caping elk is a 10 or twelve foot piece of light rope. Whole elk can weight over 500 pounds. If you find yourself gutting an elk alone, the rope can be used to tie a leg over to a tree while you work on the stomach area. In real steep terrain, you can use the rope to keep the elk from sliding down the hill—unless that is what you want.

My sharpening kit.

Keep the essentials at hand.



carroll4212 said...

ok other than my knife is probably too small, I can't find my saw since my son took it hunting 2 yrs ago, I'm ready to go in the mountains again.
Of course, I need some archery practice also and oil my boots.

Dennis A Carroll said...

Thanks for the comment.
I have an extra saw if you need one.
Have a great day.