Knives: Keep ‘Em Sharp!

I see it all the time. Dull knives. Unhappy hunters. Botched butchering jobs.

Don’t be that guy. Learn the proper way to sharpen a knife and then do it! Regularly. Alternatively, buy one of the “replaceable blade” knives. But always keep a sharp knife and you’ll look — and function — like a competent hunter.

Knife sharpening is a mystery to many, but here’s the secret: Chose an angle and stick to it! Too many hunters roll a knife when dragging it across a sharpening stone. That produces a rounded “edge.” You want a flat-bevelled, sharp edge. And you get it by maintaining a constant angle between the blade and the sharpening stone.

You can understand this concept when you study some of the knife sharpening tools on the market. Most include some feature that almost forces you to hold your knife at a consistent angle of 20- to 25-degrees. That’s the key, the whole key and nothing but the key. Establish the angle of the stone in relation to the blade and stick to it. Do not tip the knife from a 25-degree angle to a 30- or 15-degree angle. Maintain one angle throughout the sharpening stroke!

There are many types of knife sharpeners on the market.
There are many types of knives and knife sharpeners on the market.

I generally sharpen all my hunting knives at the end of the season, usually in late winter. I also double-check them at the start of each new season, just in case. And then I carry a “touch-up” sharpener of some kind in my hunting truck and/or hunting pack. My favorite for years has been two ceramic sharpening sticks mounted in a plastic frame that can be set to 22- and 25 degrees. The knife is merely held straight up and down, then pushed down the angled sticks. This makes it pretty easy to maintain that consistent angle.

For seriously dull knives, I use a series of stones with ever finer grit. The coarsest grits are for removing a lot of steel in a hurry to establish a new or proper angle. The medium grit smooths off the rough stuff, and the fine stone establishes the final edge. A right angle clamp holds the knife while long metal rods inserted through holes in one angle of that clamp establish the correct 22-degree angle for the sharpening stones.

Once I’ve established the proper edge on any knife, I try to maintain it with regular use of the touch-up ceramic sticks, using the same angle on them as I did with the stones. Consistency is important.

Generally I can field dress one whitetail and either bone it or skin it without needing to touch up the blade, but if I do a quick touch up halfway through the operation, the blade retains peak sharpness and the work is easier. When the deer is done, I again bring the edge to a fine point. My knife is then ready for the next job.

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Knife Sharpening Systems!



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