Hunting Knives

Yeah, I know it’s ‘Tinker Talks Guns’ but this is related. Trust me.  As I mentioned in my last blog we slaughtered a goat last weekend. We’d hoped to slaughter a deer but having failed to encounter one we helped Joanne harvest one of her goats- a process basically identical to harvesting a deer. We used two knives for the entire process- dressing, skinning and butchering. I want to talk a little about those knives and how they worked; give you some food for thought when selecting your own knives for tasks such as these. This is not a tutorial on skinning or butchering, just a commentary on the knives and how they handled the task.

Here are the knives we used-

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The top knife is a Schrade 49er, and is probably 40-50 years old. I inherited it from my Uncle Jim when he passed away. I found it in the bottom drawer of his tool box with the handle and sheath completely covered in green fur. I removed the mildew, then treated the leather with Fiebing’s Carnuaba Wax cream. The blade was lightly polished and I honed the edge with a buffing wheel.

The lower knife is a Case slip-joint that started life as a trapper. Age is unknown, but I believe I bought it used in the 1980s. It went hunting with me frequently in those days and dressed a couple of deer. Eventually it was loaned to a friend and came back with a broken clip-point blade. I was only mildly annoyed; I think I paid less than $10 for the knife and was no longer hunting so it really didn’t matter. The knife floated around with other random possession until I took up hunting again a few years back, at which point I removed the broken blade and center liner and reassembled the knife as a single-blade- sort of a ‘half trapper.’ All I needed to do to prepare it for work was to hone the blade.

The two knives between them did an excellent job- the only thing they weren’t suited to was severing the spine to remove the head. I used a larger knife for this- it wasn’t suited either but managed the task eventually. I think with a little prying at the joints of the spine I could have managed the task with the Shrade at least as well as I did chopping with the larger knife.

I used the Case folder to ‘unzip’ the hide, starting with a cut at the neck. I used the slightly longer Shrade to core the anus. The point of the Schrade was useful in a number of places, like piercing behind the tendons to hang the animal.  The body cavity was opened with the Case since the spey-blade has a lesser chance of slicing the internal organs. We wound up skinning the animal together, Tony working with the Case folder and me with the Shrade. We were able to get the hide off in one piece with no nicks and very minimal damage to the meat. Joanne, the property and goat-owner, refrigerated the hide to be dealt with later.

Tony cut his finger about the time we finished skinning and had to bow out of the butchering. I used the Shrade exclusively for this (except for cutting the thigh-bones) and even though it’s only 4-1/2″ long it was up to the task. Joints were handled by cutting the tendons and breaking them apart, sometimes inserting the point and popping the joint loose enough to break it.

Using these two knives and minor assistance from a chopper the animal went from ‘on the hoof’ to fully butchered in about 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Neither knife needed resharpening during the process, and in fact show no evidence of dulling- impressive! After the work was done the knives were washed in soap and water and the Case folder was thoroughly sprayed inside and out with WD40.

My thoughts? The Case folder could not do the entire job by itself, with the lack of point being a fatal flaw. If the clip-point had still been there it could have done about 90% of the work, but a stout fixed-blade or a bone-saw would be needed for the joints. It was a great knife for skinning the animal though.

The Schrade 49er could have done the entire job by itself provided a chunk of wood or a mallet to hammer it through the thigh-bones.  It’s a great shape for the work- obviously why this basic blade-shape has been a favorite for generations at least. Enough point for the job, plenty of belly for skinning and slicing, long enough to core the anus. I’d thought I would make myself a hunting knife, but why? This one does a great job and has sentimental value.

Pretty happy with both of these knives- and the good news is if you shop antique malls and second-hand shops you could probably pick up both of these knives for $50 or less. It might be worth doing that; I’ve never used a modern equivalent of these knives that held it’s edge as well as these two did. I know there are some that will, but you’ll spend a lot more money on them.

I apologize for the lack of photos- I lost my iPhone somewhere along the way and no-one else thought to take pictures. I did take a picture of some of the results…

Goat Dinner

Goat shoulder and shank, brined overnight then slow-roasted for six hours at 225-degrees with sweet onions and herbs. Delicious, tender and not at all gamey; very like Ostrich actually. Served with home-made coleslaw and steamed asparagus. Wonderful.

These knives will be going with us again this weekend- possibly with the addition of a bone-saw or hatchet for the heavy work. Hopefully this time we’ll be using them on a deer…

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Opening Day Report- Deer 1, Hunter 0… Goat -1?!

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About thirty years ago I gave up deer hunting. I hunted on public lands and despite wearing the requisite ‘please-don’t-shoot-me-orange’ vest every time I went out on public lands someone would shoot at me. OK, in fairness I don’t know they were shooting at me, but every time I would hear the passage of the bullet- it was that close.

I don’t know if you have ever heard the sound of a high-velocity bullet passing within inches of you, but it’s not a sound you will mistake for anything else, and it is not a sound you get used to. Trust me on this. Panic-stricken screamed obscenities do not help you to locate a deer either. I began to have an excessive amount of sympathy for the deer, and when I found out I could buy excellent venison at Seattle Exotic Meats my days of deer hunting began to come to an end. The final straw was when the temptation to shoot back nearly overwhelmed me.

Decades later we were visiting a friend on her property near Chehalis Washington when she commented that deer had torn the side off of her greenhouse and eaten pretty much everything. “If they can eat my dinner they can be my dinner,” said Joanne. “I’m going to invite people to come hunt them!”

My wife looked at me and said, “Would you like to do that?”

I considered it. Joanne has 45 acres, with terrain varied from open fields to dense brush. Most importantly it is surrounded by a stout 4′ fence topped with barbed wire and posted ‘No Hunting.’ I felt this drastically reduced the chances of some idiot shooting at me, it would help a friend and, when I thought about it I really wanted to.  I said yes. We discussed logistics and a pact was made. Come hunting season I would go and stay with Joanne and hunt her property.

Linda set out a budget for a deer rifle and gear and I bought an appropriate gun and reassured myself that I could still shoot a rifle. I could still put in MOA groups at 100 yards from the bench, so I geared up and started hunting most autumns.

I never got a deer. I saw deer, I even shot at one (and discovered my scope was broken- a clean miss at 50 yards) but I never got one. I have an unbreakable rule- I don’t shoot unless I know exactly what I am shooting at and what the bullet will hit after passing through the animal. On any number of occasions I could have fired but didn’t because either I could not see the animal well enough to be absolutely certain it was legal, the bullet wasn’t certain to end up somewhere safe or I wasn’t certain of a clean kill.

This is especially important as Joanne’s goats roam the property, and some of them are colored very much like deer. A couple of them would certainly have died if I were less cautious. So I never shot, even on occasions where I technically could have.

This is not to say I did not enjoy myself, and a couple of the stories I got were comedy gold. I rediscovered my love of going out in the brush, the pleasure of hot coffee in the blind in the crisp, still hour before dawn on an autumn morning. Watching and listening to the world wake up around me, the birds and small animals moving around, undisturbed by my quiet presence that made me feel like a part of nature rather than an interloper. Not to mention that Joanne is excellent company and a good cook, and ‘deer camp’ was a well-appointed and comfortable home.

I didn’t need to feel bad about not thinning the deer population either; others of Joanne’s friends managed that quite credibly. This helped with the critters eating her plants, and since the agreement is that we split the deer with Joanne it helped provide her with some  much-needed extra meat over the winter. But frankly the lack of success was getting a bit embarrassing.

This year I actually landed the coveted Opening Day slot at Joanne’s, and our room-mate/housekeeper/surrogate kid Tony was eager to go along. He grew up hunting in Pennsylvania and New England and hadn’t been in years. He was eager enough that he flew in from visiting his girlfriend in Boston after midnight on Friday morning, turned right around and headed out to The Happy Hunting Grounds with me at noon.

Friday was less than stellar- we will draw the curtains of charity over the events of that day except to say that I lost my iPhone on the property, and with no reception there was no good way to locate it. This is why there are no pictures from the weekend. We did manage to get the blind built and walk the property examining the plentiful signs of deer activity. Afterwards we had a lovely dinner and a pleasant evening with our hostess. Up at 5AM, coffee and breakfast and out to the blind.

I am happy to report that my streak of no kills is broken and we returned with a cooler full of meat at the end of the day. The shot was very close range- 20-25 feet- and the bullet passed cleanly through the brain-stem; the animal never even heard the shot and dropped in it’s tracks. You couldn’t ask for a cleaner, more humane kill. Even over iron sights it wasn’t a difficult shot, but I was very satisfied with it.

What? How many points? Well, two I suppose; the critter had two horns. Yes, horns. It was a goat after all. No, I didn’t break my rules. I knew I was shooting a goat and did it deliberately in the presence of Joanne and with her full approval.

The only deer we saw this weekend was the traditional ‘Taunting Deer’ spotted crossing the highway as we were making a run for ice. I’ve mentioned the goats, and the herd was getting a bit heavy on males so Joanne decided to slaughter a few. Tony and I had agreed that among other things we would show her how to dress, skin and butcher a goat in exchange for 1/2 the meat. If we’d gotten a deer we would have demonstrated on that; I watched a few Youtube videos and the process is basically identical. Since we didn’t get a deer Joanne pointed out a goat, a large male that was a certified pain-in-the-ass and said, “That one.”

The plan was to lead the animal away from the others and put a .45 through it’s head, but comedy ensued when the critter elected to demonstrate how it had earned it’s pain-in-the-ass status by refusing to be caught. Finally Tony fetched the rifle and I put a round through it’s skull. The other goats found this mildly alarming and ran off a ways. Dehlilah, the leader of the herd, came over to check out Ebenezer, the victim of our efforts, within moments. “You OK? No? Dead huh- tough luck old chap.”  With that she dismissed him from her thoughts and went about her goatly business undismayed by the intrusion of mortality into her affairs.

Skinning, dressing and butchering the animal went to plan, with Tony and I working together and explaining the process as we went along. Linda and her best friend showed up early in the process, watched and kibitzed. Linda was rather surprised that she wasn’t ‘grossed out’ and found the process interesting. “It’s really no different than watching the videos,” she commented.

I realized in the course of things that I hadn’t skinned an animal in thirty years. It was amazing how easily it came back to me. Like riding a bicycle I suppose. I mean, if the bicycle were dead. And made out of meat. We got the skin off cleanly in one piece, didn’t nick anything unfortunate (except Tony’s finger) and butchering was a doddle. Joanne fried up the tenderloins and we all sampled that- tough but very tasty and hardly gamey at all. We cleaned up the area, washed and oiled the knives and put them and the rifle away, split up the meat and socialized for a bit.

Joanne got to keep the ‘grinder meat’ as she actually has a meat-grinder and we got the kidneys, liver and heart which seem a fair split. Tony is particularly keen on organ meat.

By the time we were finished Tony was dying- or at least wanted to. The combination of jet-lag, lack of sleep and hard work did him in pretty thoroughly. We tabled the idea of further hunting or processing another goat. Since Linda had ridden down with Rena she was available to drive us home, which was a bonus.

For the curious the rifle used was the 7.35x51mm Carcano Mannlicher-style carbine I made from the brutally ugly sporterized rifle that I inherited from my uncle. Ballistics are comparable to .30-30, and the round used was a factory round-nose soft-point that I inherited along with the gun. It has non-adjustable iron sights and shoots to point-of-aim at fifty yards. From a bench it can easily produce 1″ groups at that range. I haven’t fired it at longer distances because I’m not likely to get a shot longer than that where I hunt.

Also used for the skinning and prep was an old Schrade 49er discovered in the bottom of Uncle Jim’s tool-box. The leather handle and sheath were covered with green fur when I found it, but it cleaned up and sharpened easily. Held it’s edge through the entire process too- I’m impressed.

Tony was an excellent companion in the bush- moves well and quietly, knows what to look for and when to keep quiet. I’ll hunt with him any time. Despite a rough start and no deer I can’t be unhappy about the results. As I write this there is a shoulder and shank brining in preparation to being slow-cooked with sweet onions and herbs for Sunday dinner. Yep, not a bad opening day at all.

Michael Tinker Pearce,  15 October 2017

 

Reloading- Cost-Effective?

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Late last winter I finally got a press set up and started reloading. Being a newb at it I am very careful and conservative; no hot loads for this guy.
 
I use a single-stage press, examine every cartridge at every stage, look into each casing after dropping powder to insure the charge looks correct (and is actually there.) After seating the bullet I examine it to insure it is seated to the proper depth and wipe off any excess lube. Every 15-20 rounds I weigh a charge even though my powder-measure has never let me down.
 
It’s not a fast process and I make it a little slower than it needs to be, but I enjoy it. If you factor in my time it’s more expensive than buying ammo- for the more common calibers at least. But a lot of the time it’s easier to make time than it is to make money.
 
Reloading is necessary for me- I like old guns that fire ammo that is scarce and expensive. I mean $35-40 a box. I’d splurge and only shoot them once a year, but now I can have a box of fifty for half the price of a box of cheap 9mm and an hour of my time. My time isn’t cheap, so that’s actually a lot more expensive than simply buying a box of ammo- but that time isn’t part of the cost; it’s part of the reward. I really enjoy reloading; it’s relaxing, both mindless and mindful. Like meditation in a way.
 
I also don’t need to do it all at once. Taking a five-minute break? De-prime some .32 S&W long. Or prime it. Or set the powder-measure. Or charge and seat a dozen rounds. You get the idea.
 
It’s also given me the freedom to indulge myself in terms of which guns I buy. A year ago I passed on a lovely .32-20 at a very good price. This year I wouldn’t need to. 9mm Largo? Why not? I’ll just ‘roll my own.’ Last year I couldn’t afford to shoot .45 Colt; this year I’ve fired over 500 rounds of it- and (original) .44 Colt would have been unthinkable.
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Maybe in a strict financial analysis reloading doesn’t make sense, but it’s the intangibles that make it all worthwhile. Cost-benefit is about more than just money, after all.