Everybody who skins animals has opinions. Searching for things like “best skinning knife for small animals” brought up all sorts of hits, none of which correspond to the solutions I have found are the best for me, so I thought it would be fun to do a post on what I use to skin the squirrels. And I’d like to hear what other people have come up with and why.
Some people seem to like really big knives to skin small animals!
There are a fair number of people who claim that using a Ka-Bar or some other sort of tactical knife works well for small animals, but I don’t have a clue what they are talking about. I have big knives and they are nearly useless in this context unless it is your only choice.
With that out of the way, I have four recommendations of blades I have personally used and which I can recommend for processing squirrels - boy, talk about specific terms. But these would work on larger animals too; say, badger, coyote, fox, raccoon, or whatever. If you have a moose maybe you can use your Ka-bar.
The first one keeps me in paleo territory: the flake of rock, in this case, dacite:
I skinned about 3/4 of a squirrel with this flake (you can see hairs on it) and it worked pretty well, although it was not quite as sharp as the obsidian flake I talked about here. This flake was sharp enough to make the initial cuts pretty easily. However, it lost its edge fairly quickly and I ended up switching to another flake which didn’t work as well. Since I am not an accomplished knapper and I had no more flakes handy I finally finished up with a knife.
Knives are nicer than flakes for gutting and butchering IMO. Their blades are longer (usually) and that allows you to poke around inside body cavities to separate connections more easily.
Here is the knife that I have skinned the most squirrels with:
This is a Mora 120 wood carving knife. It has a short blade (2.25 inches), as you can see. It is capable of taking an extremely sharp edge and it holds it fairly well even though the center layer of the laminated blade is carbon steel. It is easy to sharpen, too and that’s something I appreciate. A lot has been said about Moras, but in my book, there is a good reason for that. As you will see, I like them although they are not the only knives I like. Another Mora which is a great skinner (and like most Moras, almost dirt cheap) is this one:
This is the small Mora 2/0 paring knife with a 3 inch blade. These things are available on Amazon for fifteen bucks shipped. Including sheath. Again, capable of taking an extremely sharp edge, very precise and also easy to sharpen carbon steel. I like carbon steel, but I have found that despite all the care I take with my carbon steel blades I have to clean them up regularly; I’m not talking about washing and drying them, which I do every time I use them. I mean going in with some sort of abrasive and removing the corrosion that will inevitably arise in crevices or hard to reach areas like where the blade meets the hilt. Here’s a Mora that is not so susceptible to that:
This is the Mora Precision, which has a 3 inch stainless steel blade. This blade is very good and it seems easy to resharpen. Again, this is not an expensive knife at around fifteen bucks with a plastic sheath. I like this one a lot for kitchen work; it is wicked sharp and it feels very good in the hand, plus I am one of those oddballs who actually likes finger guards.
But here’s a bigger one that isn’t a Mora, doesn’t have a carbon steel blade, and is a fine skinner just the same:
This is the Cold Steel Roach Belly, and it cost me $12 including shipping! Sheath included! Cold Steel makes some knives that are just great bargains, and this is one of them. I’ve carried a CS folder for twenty years and I like many of their products. But the Roach Belly is in a class of its own when it comes to bang for the buck. The 4.25 inch blade is very sharp out of the box, but better yet, it seems to be easy to keep that way. I have ended up using this knife to disjoint and cut up the pieces after skinning. I have skinned with it and it works great, but I prefer the shorter blades for skinning these little animals. It helps that I am a fan of the historical roach belly design, but this knife is a bargain.
I’d be curious to hear what other people use for these tasks. Some people online have recommended folding knives (Opinel, for instance, makes knives with very sharp blades) but for me they are a deal breaker here due to the gore that gets inside them, the resulting cleaning that is necessary, and the possible rusting or swelling of wood that you might encounter as a result of the prolonged water contact, as well as the bacteria that can accumulate. When you remove the guts from an animal, your hands get bloody, and if you use a knife to cut through any attachments (diaphragm, etc.) it gets covered with blood from your hand. For me, wearing latex gloves is a must to keep this off my skin, although an awful lot of people don’t bother. But glove or not, the knife will get messy, so that’s a consideration. Fixed blade, stainless steel, plastic handled knives do have considerable advantages. Of course, I am doing this regularly, and most people don’t do that; it would be different if you did a couple a year.
For all that, I have used the Mora 120 wood carving knife for more than 50 squirrels now. It just feels good in my hand and I don’t mind cleaning it up.
Or...you could get really serious and use this:
(Edited to include blade lengths.)