How to Properly Use a Skinning Knife
As Ancient Man discovered millennia ago, regardless of whether you choose to hunt small game, medium sized game, or truly large game, you still have to deal with the arduous task of removing the hide from the carcass after harvesting the animal.
Fortunately, unlike Ancient Man, modern hunters are able to choose from a wide range of skinning knife designs made from a wide range of modern blade steels instead of chipped flint or obsidian.
However, simply purchasing a modern, high tech, skinning knife is not particularly useful if you are not knowledgeable about how to use it. We hope that our short post here will help you wield this modern tool with the ease of a professional butcher.
What Type of Blade Design Should I use?
Now, the first thing to be aware of is that some animals such as squirrels, rabbits, goats, and deer have loosely attached skin whereas, other types of animals such as pigs have very tightly attached skin.
Thus, when skinning an animal such as a rabbit or a deer, the hunter can grasp the edge of the skin and pull it away from the carcass while using the tip of his skinning knife to slice the thin membrane that attaches the skin to the muscle tissue.
For small game, you need to proceed in this manner in order to remove the delicate skin from the carcass without ruining the meat. This is why, it is best to use a skinning knife designed for small game. (We’ve rounded up a list of the best skinning knives for small game in 2020 – click the link to check it out.)
Here’s a video on skinning a rabbit (graphic content ahead!)
However, when skinning an animal with a tightly attached skin such as a feral hog or a Wild Boar, then the skin must be literally carved away from the carcass because it is attached to the muscle tissue by a thick layer of coarse, tough, fat.
Therefore, knives with either Drop Point or Clip Point blade designs are usually best for skinning animals with loosely attached hides. This is because most often, only the tip of the blade is employed when skinning these types of animals.
Knives with Trailing Point blade designs are usually best for skinning animals with tightly attached hides because they have deeper bellies and thus, longer cutting edges which better facilitates a long, slicing, stroke.
Something else you should be aware of is that when skinning medium to large sized game animals such as feral hogs, Whitetail Deer, Elk, or Moose is that these animals are covered with a course hair that will quickly dull the edge of the sharpest knife.
One solution is to carry both a folding knife and a fixed blade knife so that you can use the folding knife to make the initial cuts along the abdomen and the legs and around the neck.
This helps to preserve the edge of your fixed blade knife for the task of actually removing the hide from the carcass.
Does the process itself change for different types of game & how do I do it?
Not really. Regardless of what size game you hunt or what type of skinning knife you choose to use, the process of removing the hide from the carcass is pretty much exactly the same.
For instance, you will first need to make an incision along the abdomen extending from a point between the front legs to the anus. But, you must also be careful to not pierce the membrane in which the internal organs are contained.
Then, once the abdomen has been opened, you will need to reach inside the carcass toward the neck and use your knife to sever the throat so that the entire membrane can be removed intact.
Next, you will need to use your knife to cut a circle around the anus so that the entire membrane can be removed completely and then the skinning process can begin.
Now, the hide can be removed with the carcass laying on the ground or hoisted off of the ground via a convenient tree limb.
Either way, once the internal organs are removed, you will need to make incisions around the extremity of each leg and around the neck and then make additional incisions down each leg to the chest and abdomen as well as from the neck to the abdomen.
From here you will need to grasp the edge of the hide ether near the neck or near the groin depending on whether the animal is laying on the ground or hanging.
Then you will need to pull it away from the carcass while using either the tip or the entire sweep of your knife to slice the hide free from the carcass.
Then, once you get started, you can work from head to butt, butt to head, or belly to back; whichever suits you.
You can watch the video below on how to field dress a medium-sized buck. But warning the imagery is very graphic.
But, the main concept to keep in mind is that different types of game animals require slightly different methods in order to remove the hides from their carcasses and thus, they require different blade designs.
Also, keep in mind that short blades tend to work best on small game while medium sized blades tend to work best on medium sized game and large blades tend to work best on truly large game species.
Also, because it is sometimes necessary to resharpen a skinning knife in the field, both diamond hones and ceramic whetstones are particularly handy because they do not require lubrication prior to use.
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