Cue the pitchman: “How many times has this happened to you?

You’ve just bagged the king of the forest and it’s time to start the messy process of field dressing. You reach into your pack, pull out your favorite hunting knife and begin to cut. But wait, your knife is dull, making the job that much more messy, difficult and potentially hazardous. It would be a pleasure to have a nice sharp knife for a change, wouldn’t it?

That would make a nice intro for an infomercial, but let’s face it, we’ve all been there. The reasons we wind up in the field with a less than sharp knife are numerous and varied. It may be neglect or forgetfulness. Or, like many, maybe you’re a bit intimidated with sharpening your own knife. Whatever, keeping a keen edge is not as difficult as you might think.

The best first solution is preventive maintenance. At the most basic level, you should always keep your knife clean, dry and lightly oiled. Dirt, grime, lint, blood and flesh collect moisture that causes rust and corrosion. And if it’s on the cutting edge, it will make it duller. At the very least, clean it after every use and every season.

Do you remember the last time you put an edge on your knife? Probably not. Maintenance also means periodically touching up that edge. How much and how often depends on the type and amount of use it receives.

As to the tools, you have numerous options. For years I used a Lansky kit, which includes three sharpening stones – coarse, medium and fine – as well as a clamp and guide to ensure the proper angle. It still takes some elbow grease and time, but it works. More recently, I’ve been using a Work Sharp power sharpener. Once it’s properly set up, you simply run the knife across the power-driven belt a few times and it’s done, almost. To get the best edge out of any sharpening method, you need to finish up with a steel.

More fundamental methods include using diamond sharpeners, sharpening stones or ceramic rods. The basic technique involves running the blade across the stone in a cutting direction, the same number of times for each side. It’s important you maintain a consistent blade angle. You can find more detailed directions online. Keep your knife sharp, and it will be ready when you need it.

Unfortunately, we aren’t always as conscientious about our tools as we perhaps should be. Maybe you’re away at camp, and after several uses your knife is starting to dull. Maybe you’ve used it for other chores around camp. Or maybe you just never resharpened it after last season. Regardless, there are a few steps to salvage the situation.

I sometimes carry a small, collapsible pocket sharpener, made by Buck Knives. It’s not much bigger than a large pen, weighs only a few ounces and can be used to put a quick edge on my blade. I also use it periodically when skinning and boning game to keep my edge keen. Several companies also make ultra-small pocket sharpeners with fixed carbides that you draw your blade through to restore the edge. At least one I found also has a tiny collapsible steel for finishing the job.

There are even a few ways to create a workable edge without the proper tools. One is to use the top edge of a car or truck window, just as you would a steel or sharpening rod. As with any sharpener, keep light pressure and a constant angle. You can even use a flat rock, which works better if it’s wet. And you can use a leather belt or nylon strap (like a web gun sling). Add some water and very fine dirt to create a paste in a small area, then draw the blade backward as you would with a strop. Field dressing your knife may not get it to the point where it will shave hair, but it will make the process of field dressing your game easier and safer.

There is one more solution should you find yourself in need of a sharp blade. Dig a little deeper into your pack, coat pockets or however you carry equipment and pull out that spare knife you always carry.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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