Story and Photos by Jason Houser
Read anything in a magazine, on social media or on a forum that has to do with trapping or predator hunting and the topics will often be about fur prices, the best trap to hold a particular animal, what set works best to catch a beaver when the water is frozen or which caliber of rifle is best to drop a coyote in its tracks at 200 yards with a 5-mile per hour crosswind.
OK, maybe not these exact topics, but you understand where I’m going with this.
These are all good topics, but they often become old news, and frankly everybody has their favorite set, trap and rifle round to get the job done. Besides, getting the animal is only half the work, maybe not even that much. The real work begins in the fur shed when the animal is still warm to the touch.
Now that your coyote, coon, mink—or any other furbearer for that matter—is hanging in the fur shed, most trappers and hunters already know how to skin, flesh, stretch and dry the pelt. But what are you going to use to get the hide off the animal and get the most value for your hard work?
It all starts with a quality knife that will hold its edge. The last thing you want to do is keep having to sharpen your knife; especially if you have a lot of fur that needs your attention.
To have a knife that will hold its edge for any length of time begins with a blade made from quality steel. If you have ever heard, “You get what you pay for,” nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to knives.
If you try to save a buck or two on a second-rate knife, you will be stomping the floor in disgust more than you are skinning. It is best to purchase one quality knife that will last for several seasons—maybe even a lifetime—than have to purchase multiple knives over the course of your skinning career.
In the long run, you will save money.
So, what makes a quality blade?
The type of steel used in the blade ultimately dictates how the knife will perform. When a blade is made, different types of steel are achieved by the different types of additive elements, along with how the blade is rolled and heated—also known as the finishing process.
There are five things to look for in a knife:
All of these things are good in a knife but unfortunately you can’t have them all in the same knife. You need to know what your knife will be used for and then purchase one that has the metal components that fit your needs.
As a trapper and predator hunter in the fur shed, you will need a knife that will hold its edge, over a knife that is known for its hardness and its ability to not lose form when subjected to stress and applied force.
An example is the Spyderco knife I use at times on some of the tougher animals, like coyotes. The metal used in the blade is called CPM-S30V. CPM-S30V contains 1.45% Carbon, 14.00% Chromium, 4.00% Vanadium and 2.00% Molybdenum. Once all the ingredients are mixed and fused together, the outcome is a strong knife blade that will hold its edge.
Most blades will have their metal material codes stamped into the blade, normally at the ricasso. It is a simple task to google the metal material to see what its strengths and weaknesses are. Or you can visit our steel guide in the resources section of this site.
Seldom can you find a knife that will hold its edge and be easy to sharpen when needed.
Is a folding knife better than a fixed-blade knife? There are several pros to each knife.
The fixed-blade knife is often known for being tough. This is great if you need a knife while hunting or trapping and happen to have one on your hip. Because there are no moving parts, they are hard to break and cleaning is a breeze.
Folding knives are usually smaller with slimmer blades, which makes it easier to work around the face and other delicate parts of the critter you are skinning. And, because they can fold, they are approximately half the size of a fixed-blade knife.
I use both folding and fixed blade knives when skinning, for different purposes. When I’m working on a bigger, tougher critter like a coyote I start with a fixed blade that has a gut-hook. The blade’s design makes for easy work on these bigger animals and I can use the gut hook to make a clean cut from ankle to ankle.
When I get down to the ears and face, I switch to a knife with a slimmer blade. This allows me to perform the delicate work on the face without making any unnecessary holes that I would have to repair later.
Besides the traditional knives that many are accustomed to, scalpel knives are liked by many outdoorsmen. The blades are replaceable, which means you never have to re-sharpen. Simply pull out the old blade and replace with a new one.
I have used several brands of such knives over the last few years, and the one I keep going back to is the Razor-Lite from Outdoor Edge. Unlike some knives with replaceable blades that can be tough, even dangerous to remove, this knife is easy to handle. With the push of a button, the old blade comes out and the new one can be locked into place. And the 3.5-inch scalpel sharp blades are some of the toughest I have used.
Taxidermists have been using surgeon’s scalpels for years for the fine detail work involved with their craft. Trappers and predator hunters are just now beginning to realize their value in the fur shed.
Many trappers choose to use a small fillet knife in the fur shed. This style of knife has the strength to work on the biggest of animals but, with their small tips, work well from the neck up. I have witnessed many trappers use fillet knives, but I have yet to try it for myself.
From what I have seen they do a good job.
The choice is really up to each person, and their individual wants and needs. Look over all possibilities and choose the one that best suits you.
Whether you want a fixed-blade, folding knife, scalpel, or a combination of the three, there is a knife out there for you. I have used dozens of different knives over the years, and the ones mentioned in this article are what work best for me.
Through trial and error, you might find a knife—or knives—better suited to your taste. K&G
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Jason Houser has been involved in the outdoors from a very young age. Growing up in an outdoor family, he has had the opportunity to spend much of his time doing what he loves. Jason has a been a fulltime freelance outdoor writer since 2008 and is currently the host of two shows, Bone Wild TV and Trapping Across America TV, both air on the Pursuit Channel.
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