Friday, May 27, 2011

Ice-forecasting Project Uses Facebook to Improve Safety for Walrus Hunters and Whalers

The Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO), an activity of the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook started in 2010, is a resource for Alaska Native subsistence hunters, coastal communities, and others interested in sea ice and walrus. The SIWO provides weekly reports from April through June with information on sea ice conditions relevant to walrus in the Northern Bering Sea and southern Chukchi Sea regions of Alaska.

Excerpts from the Article:

Marine mammal hunters trying to negotiate increasingly finicky ice conditions have a new ally: a National Weather Service project that can shoot weather forecasts and satellite imagery straight to their cell phones.
The idea for the project came from Vera Metcalf, executive director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission. The project allows hunters experiencing climate change first-hand to inform scientists and each other about what they're seeing, such as the thickness and movement of ice, said Metcalf.

The satellite images span several miles off the coast of each village, but aren't detailed enough to allow hunters to spot animals.
To learn more and read the entire article and associated links: The Arctic Sounder
To visit the Facebook page for Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO): SIWO Facebook

Friday, May 6, 2011

Choosing Your Big Game Hunting Knife

Choosing and purchasing your big game hunting knife can be a fun task with just a little research and consideration beforehand. I am the first to admit I like knives and have purchased far too many over the years. Those purchases were usually based on wanting to have something different to try as opposed to really being in need of something new. I am not a knife collector so all of my knives have a history of assigned duties and are not relegated to a display area or stored in my safe.  Not that there is anything wrong with collecting knives. I just can't afford another hobby!

There are many factors that should be considered before you lay down your hard earned money on a blade. Probably the first area of concern should be to decide what your working price range is likely to be.  You may find that to be the easiest component of your quest for the perfect knife, if such a thing even exists.
Choosing your preferred hunting knife will come down to how you intend to use it, preferred platform configuration, blade material, blade shape and length, sharpening and edge holding characteristics, handle material, balance, cosmetic preference, and as mentioned previously the cost factor.

Once you have established if you are able and willing to spend, $50.00, $150.00, $500.00, or $5,000.00 you can start down the path of other selection concerns. This is probably as good of place as any to say that I understand fully that specialty knives can be used for each area of big game hunting chores. Likewise, general configurations can also be chosen to optimize performance over a variety of areas in most instances thus reducing the number of blades one carries with them on an outing. Neither approach is right or wrong just two different ways to get to the same destination. The next area of consideration after price is likely to be choosing a construction platform.
Knife platforms generally fall into two main categories which are fixed blade or folding.  There are also hybrid categories such as the flip blades and the interchangeable blade systems. The sales pitch for these is of course a multi-functional knife approach. If you like those as options a little research will provide a variety of considerations in various price ranges.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not used or tried the replaceable blade or flip blade knives that are on the market. For me personally, they are not a knife that interests me. They may however be exactly what you are looking for making it the perfect choice for your purchase so they should not be discounted as an option.
I have used the more traditional folding knives and fixed blade configurations for hunting.  While I own both types I have come to prefer a fixed blade hunting knife.  For me, there is no other platform to consider when it comes to big game applications. This does not mean it is the correct choice for you it is simply what I prefer. My basis for convincing myself this is the right choice for me is reliability, ease of cleaning, maintenance, and design strength.

Folding knives are an attractive option for those looking for a multi-purpose knife that will be utilized for hunting but will also be carried for everyday use as well. For most people a fixed blade knife will not perform that function as well as a folding knife simply because they are larger and are carried in a sheath. A fixed blade sheath generally extends downward and can often get in the way of everyday chores, chairs, and vehicle seats. They also tend to stand out with daily wear clothing. The other plus to a folding knife is it is often more compact and offers more carry options. These would include carrying a folder in your pant or jacket pocket or even in a small sheath on your belt.  The folding knife sheath is generally much shorter than a fixed blade sheath. Attention should always be given to assure the folding knife has a locking feature to assure the blade does not close accidentally while in use. The pivot area of the blade should also be examined to assure it is robust to help eliminate, as much as possible, any inherent weakness of a pivoting area.
How you intend to use your knife will to a large degree help to determine blade size and configuration. I generally bone meat where allowed and find that I can also break down and skin big game animals in the field easily and efficiently with a 4” blade. A larger blade is not needed by me for this type of task. This size blade works perfectly in performing caping chores as well and is why it is my most preferred knife in a clip point blade design.

I do not like serrated blades on big game hunting knives and avoid them in my selections. I have used 4” clip point blades on game ranging from javelina to moose without issue. I offer this as background information in case you experience difficulty in deciding on blade length and configuration.
The main blade types available include clip point, drop point, and skinning profiles. Modified versions of these three basic designs are also available. The clip point blade is the style you likely will remember seeing on the Bowie knife. When looking at a clip point blade from the side you will notice the blade tip appears slightly upswept but the main feature is the concave area on the front portion of the blade spine that leads to the knife point. This is a good all around blade in my experience and is the one I generally prefer in most instances. It works very well in performing field dressing, skinning, boning, and caping duties. The sharp tip of the clip point blade allows you to get into tight places when caping such as the tear ducts, around antler bases, and also when detailing the face.

Top knife shows a serrated blade section. Middle knife is a drop point. Bottom knife displays a clip point profile
Drop point blades are recognized by a convex area on the front portion of the blade spine that leads to the knife point. This makes the knife point less defined when compared with a clip point blade. This is also a versatile design with regard to field dressing and skinning.  It falls short on performing caping duties in my experience and is therefore less desirable for my needs when the goal is to pick a one knife does-it-all blade design.

Skinning blades are recognized by their curved trailing point when viewing the blade from the side. The blade tip noticeably curves upward and the spine of the knife curves upward. This gives the blades working surface a larger belly for skinning. This blade configuration is more specialized but can efficiently field dress and really shines in the skinning department.  It does not however offer the general characteristics you would usually want when performing caping duties.

There are of course other blade configurations besides the three previously listed. These include spey point, spear point, needle point (dagger style), and sheepsfoot blades. While they have a niche they are however not generally considered as general purpose hunting blades.

Gut hook style blade with a drop point
Choosing blade composition is a consideration when making your purchase. You will in general have two broad categories from which to choose. There are also hybrids such as ceramic or modern Damascus steel (pattern welded carbon steel or Damascene) blades.  Choices for most knives will normally be either carbon steel or stainless steel as an option.  Some manufacturers will offer you the same knife model in either blade composition choice.
I am not a bladesmith and don’t want to impart that I have a great understanding of metallurgy. The Rockwell hardness of a knife blade is typically between RHC 56-62. Blades that have a content of greater than 13% chromium are normally considered stainless steel. Quality knife manufacturers use a variety of steels ranging from carbon material like 1095, CPM M-4, A2, O1, D2 and stainless steels such as 154 CM, 440B, and N680.  Many other types of steel are also utilized.
Higher amounts of carbon in steel increases hardness while a higher amount of chromium improves corrosion resistance, wear, and hardenability. Regardless of the material utilized heat treating is what helps to further develop the blades properties. Each steel material does of course have its own inherent properties such as hardenability, ductility, and toughness.

I have used various blades made from stainless and carbon steel and can offer an anecdotal level of information. In general, carbon steel and stainless steel blades each have their advantages.  Stainless steel of course is less prone to rusting while carbon steel blades will rust more easily. That in and of itself is not a problem it just means you must be aware and give your carbon steel blade a little more attention.
Stainless might be a better choice for those who will primarily use their knife in snowy, wet, or humid environments but especially so for those who frequent saltwater environments. Blades that are made of high carbon steel are often said to hone more easily and hold a better edge. I have found both stainless and carbon blades that have worked very well for my intended use.

If you just remember to treat your carbon steel blades like a blued steel hunting rifle they will serve you well.  Things like cleaning your blade thoroughly after use, drying the blade, storing it in a dry location, and applying a wax such as Renaissance ® as opposed to oiling the blade. Waxing a stainless steel blade is also a good idea. Bolster, guard, and pommel luster can be restored by polishing with a product such as Simichrome® from time to time and can also be waxed. When storing your knife it should not be left in the sheath.
Handle material is an important consideration for a working knife. For my way of thinking a big game knife should have a handle material that is easy to clean and maintain. Exotic wood looks very pretty but I generally lean toward the phenolic resin, rubberized material, bone, or stag handles. I find these wash up well and are very durable in my experience. One thing that I particularly like about the rubberized material is when you add blood to the equation the knife remains very controllable.  This is also true when the knife becomes wet from rain or snow.

Top knife is a Randall that shows a curved blade compared with a Buck Woodsman 102 clip point (bottom)
Hopefully this will give you some food for thought before making your big game knife purchase.  Don’t worry too much because if you are like me you will most likely want to try something different before too long. What is my favorite knife?  I love my Randall Model 4 and also my Knives of Alaska Bush Camp for various chores. The knife that has seen more use on big game than any other continues to be my Buck Woodsman 102. It does it all and has never let me down. It goes to show you that you do not have to spend a lot of money to find a quality knife that will fill your big game needs.