Taking Care Of Number One

Common Sense Tips
Knowing this, relegating knife safety to simply being careful and “lucky” isn’t the best approach. There are some simple steps to staying safe.


Take great care when skinning around elk pedicles. The hide at the back of the head and neck is very thick and tough, and the temptation to use leverage on your knife blade can result in slippage and a nasty cut.

1) Use a really sharp knife. A dull knife is a dangerous knife, because you’ll end up “reefing” on it and increasing the likelihood of losing control of the blade.

2) Always cut away from your body, never toward it. As in NEVER.

3) Always pay full attention to the blade; be methodical and slow.

4) A knife is not a pry tool and shouldn’t be used as such.

5) Use extreme caution and good communication while working with someone else. You can predict your movement but not the other person’s. When your instincts begin to tell you that you’re starting to work too close together, you’re right.

6) Use the right knife for the job. Different knives are better for different applications; use them appropriately.

7) Take breaks to avoid muscle fatigue/loss of dexterity and always reposition yourself or the animal for optimal angles and safety when taking care of game.


A multi-tool is handy for changing blades on a Havalon and for holding hide when skinning around tricky areas.

8) Beware of the new breed of knife, such as a Havalon. These little knives with the replaceable blades are awesome, but they’re very thin, and break easily and often when used inappropriately. Do NOT use these knives for tough/prying-type work as you’re likely to snap a blade under pressure, and what happens then is akin to an elk hunter’s Russian roulette.

Playing Doctor
In the event that you do cut yourself, there are steps that can be taken for first aid even if you’re in the backcountry. Your first move should be to sit down and put direct pressure on the wound. The sitting helps to relax and keep your excitement level and heartrate down, and the direct pressure stems the flow of blood while your body’s natural clotting mechanisms go into action.

Some hunters may take daily aspirin or anti-clotting medications such as Coumadin or Pradaxa. With aspirin, the clotting might be delayed, but with the other meds manufactured to prevent clotting, the bleeding can be very difficult to control, especially in that setting. I recently witnessed a patient on Pradaxa who sustained a small laceration from a fall in the foyer and the bathroom of his apartment looked like a scene from a multiple homicide.

When the bleeding has stopped, it’s time to clean the wound as best as possible. Many places in the West don’t have gin-clear, fast-moving streams handy to irrigate the wound, so use the best solution available to clean it. Cool water is best, as it help with vaso-constriction to stem the blood flow.

Once the wound is clean it should be covered and dressed with the cleanest available material. If a first-aid kit with bandaging supplies isn’t handy, you should use the cleanest, driest fabric that doesn’t have a build-up of human bacteria on it. You might have a backcountry sewing kit, but you might reconsider the idea of sewing shut a dramatic-looking cut. Most emergency room physicians would agree that sewing a laceration shut in the field increases the chances of debris and bacteria being trapped and could result in a nasty infection. The scarring could be worse, but the danger of infection far outweighs it.

Last is immobilizing the laceration as much as possible, even splinting it if necessary. Immobilization keeps the irritation of the wound lower and promotes healing.

Then, seek medical attention as soon as possible. The wound will be professionally cleaned, irrigated, abraded if necessary, and checked for infection. Most physicians can handle smaller lacerations requiring sutures in office or at an Urgent Care, so it’s often unnecessary to go directly to the ER, thus avoiding costly co-pays and deductibles with insurance plans. Use common sense and judgment on this; a physician will likely refer you to an emergency room only if it is beyond his or her level.

Also keep in mind that many physicians will not want to do sutures if more than six hours have passed since the incident, though this is a bit variable. If you know that it’s been much beyond that, you may want to go to the ER, because they will likely have to abrade the sides of the laceration before suturing the wound.

Like most problems we encounter - health or otherwise - the best treatment is prevention. Use serious precaution and safety when handling knives in the field and be one of the lucky ones who just get to hear about other hunters’ death-defying mishaps.