So many times when people see my blades on the various forums I use, they comment on Nessmuk and his seemingly legendary knife style…but in a way I find it a bit misleading and wanted to discuss it here with people who may know more about the history behind the man, and the knife, separately.
My background concerning blade use was that of a deer skinner at a local meat processor in Illinois in 1993 when I started on my 16th birthday. I was handed an aluminum scabbard with 4 knives, two Forshner Skinners, 1 6″ boning knife, and one boning knife that had been ground down to the point of looking like an ice pick. I was then given a few hours of instruction and let loose on literally a mountain of deer flesh. I skinned from sun up until sundown for 3 LONG deer seasons at that place as well as working the pigs, cows, sheep and ostrich when it wasn’t deer season…fast forward nearly 20 years, and I’m still skinning…only this time its pigs, on the weekends for a local outfitter I guide for part time.
Now until about 5 years ago, I didn’t know such a thing called “bushcraft” existed…when I was a kid, we just called it “roughing it” and it was something we did often….my knife of choice, once I learned how amazing a sharp skinner could be, has always been a skinner for the past twenty odd years.
Now that I’ve been showing my face on youtube, and visiting various forums concerning blade work and posting skinning of various critters videos around the internet, my blades often get referred to as a “Nessmuk Style Knife”. I think its kind of misleading.
I dont use a skinner because its trendy or in vogue on bushcrafty forums. Nessmuk didn’t either. He didn’t use his skinner to process firewood, that much I can bet a large sum of money on. Skinners are meant to be SHARP, and stay sharp for when you need them. That’s why in the illustrations which are nearly as popular as his name, you see a total of 5 cutting blades…2 on his jack knife, 2 on his belt axe and his skinner. He used that style of blade because it is hands down the best blade design for skinning animals.
Its been widely published that by the 1850′s buffalo populations were already on the STEEP decline in the US as commercial meat and fur hunters were decimating the population of bison on the open range. By the 1880′s there were only a few hundred left. It was during that time that the skinning knife style that we use today came into play. Any knife can skin, but only a skinner can do it as quickly. One animal and you may not perceive a noticable difference, but once you skin 70-80 animals in a day, you’ll readily notice the time it has saved you over the non skinning blades.
I dont think it would be too far of a stretch to assume that Nessmuk, being the industrial fellow that he was, either commissioned a knife very similar to ones being used in the west at the time (and he was in his prime during the buffalo rush) or simply walked up to the local hardware store and bought it…maybe put a new handle on it, which was pretty common for that era.
Now, I certainly dont take away anything from the man’s pioneering spirit. I’m sure HE didn’t refer to his blade as a “Nessmuk” knife. But I honestly do sometimes wonder about the background of the people who call a skinner a “Nessmuk”. I dont think there is any harm meant, but I do feel as though its out of ignorance (lack of life experience). GWS skinned with his skinner, he didn’t Nessmuk with it.
Now, I get it, because GWS is a bushcraft icon, he gets the blade named after him. But to call a skinning blade a “Nessmuk” just sounds a little phoney to me…as if the person saying it only knows its a “Nessmuk” because they are on a bushcraft website…not because they’ve been doing much skinning lately…lol. But go to any meat processing website, magazine or catalog and they will basically have two styles of skinning knife. A 5″ and 6″ blade are most common. The 5″ will be referred to as a sheep skinner and is usually more curved and has a thinner belly than the 6″, commonly called the beef skinner.
A typical hunter will process a few animals a year, a good skinner will average 6-10 deer an hour, if already field dressed. That isn’t with any fancy tricks like golf balls and winches or air hoses and inflation…thats just good knife work and a whole bunch of pulling.
I would love to see more hunting, skinning, home butchering and preserving pics and vids on the various bushcraft and survival forums, and I think its a positive start to realize that Nessmuk carried a SKINNING knife. Get out there and see for yourselves why a skinning blade is so damn useful to an outdoorsman, but more specifically to a hunter.
I guess my whole point is this: Nessmuk didn’t invent the skinning knife, he simply carried one.