As a guy who commonly writes about knives I came to realize decades ago that huge knives were not needed for 90 percent of deer skinning and gutting. I also found that almost any steel knife would do, provided that it had a sharp edge. and that steel blades would outperform knives made of stone, bone and wood (although these work too).
However, I had never investigated the lower limits of blade length. I decided to take three knives with the shortest blades that I owned to try out on a deer hunt at Georgia’s Hard Labor Creek State Park. I was shooting an original Brunswick Rifle that used a patched round ball. My knife/knives would need to cut the tough cotton patch material (no problem for any of them) as well as work up the deer.
All the knives were provided by the manufacturers. The larger knife on the left is a pocket-clip, lock-back folder distributed by Horton that is made in China, the central knife is a small lock back also imported from China and sold by Buck while the fixed-blade neck knife is made by Hartsook Knives in Kernersville, N.C. (www.hartsookknivesinc.com). None of these knives were recommended by their makers for processing deer. These are ultra-lightweight knives made of good steel designed to handle general cutting chores.
Two problems arose with these knives. One was anticipated, but the other was not. The short blade lengths required more cuts, so the skinning and gutting tasks took longer, both outside and inside the animal. When working blind inside the carcass I seriously found myself wanting a longer blade. The other problem is once a knife was put down, it was easy to lose it in the leaf litter. I had enough trouble finding them once they were put down in the daylight. It would have been very difficult to recover one of these tiny knives in the dark if it was put down or dropped.
The hatchet shown in the top photo was used to chop the pelvis and ribs to open the carcass. Meat cutting with these knifes was a pain. Yes, they were sharp and would cut, but there was not sufficient blade length to be efficient. They were acceptable for working off the hide from the skull plate were a scalpel might have been used, but not for all-around deer cleaning and processing.
These can work. Throw one in your survival kit as a back-up, but take something with a bit longer blade for serious work.