One of my fondest childhood memories is learning from Grandpa Edgar how to sharpen the Schrade folder he gave me. I still remember him telling me, "Just spit a little on that stone … there you go," he would say. "Now tilt that blade so it's almost flat … " I must've been seven or eight years old at the time, and I remember getting that thing so sharp I could shave the downy little hairs off the back of my scrawny little arm.
Years later, when I lost that Schrade somewhere in a hayfield, I almost cried. I replaced it with a cheap folder that seemed hard to sharpen and easy to dull. But it didn't really matter, because I mostly just used it to slit open packages of noodles when I was out backpacking and camping.
Fast-forward again. I was becoming an adult-onset hunter, and I needed my first real hunting knife. I knew knives, like those used by Jim Bowie or Crocodile Dundee, might be a little unwieldy when field-dressing a deer, and that 4 inches was about the maximum blade length for a good hunting knife. More and more, hunters with nothing to prove are using blades 3 inches or less.
One neighbor showed me his favorite hunting knife. It was an old jackknife not so different from the one Grandpa Edgar had given me. One of its blades was about 3 inches long, but my neighbor told me that for field-dressing he preferred the other one. This blade was about 2 inches long, and he demonstrated its sharpness by shaving a patch of hair off the back of his arm. Hmmm ...
Studying the catalogs, I even saw expensive fixed-blade knives with 2½-inch blades. I wanted one, and I still do.
But for my first real hunting knife, I settled on a Buck 110. It's not too big for deer, but it's big enough for anything. And while fixed-blade knives might be sturdier, this one's sturdy enough. In an online forum on the topic of "favorite knives," I once saw this post: "A Buck 110. Why? Just two words: Gene Moe." So I Googled, and later you should, too.
And speaking of Alaskan grizzlies, I splurged on the Cabela's Alaskan Guide version. It arrived from the factory razor-sharp, and I've kept it that way ever since. Its blade is made from S30V, one of the modern "wonder steels" that's harder than most and holds an edge better than nearly all. I've used it to field-dress and butcher several deer, and it's not even broken in yet. I plan to keep this knife for a long, long time—and it was worth every penny.
Al Cambronne is the author of Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter's Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison. His most recent book is Deerland: America's Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness. On Twitter: @AlCambronne.