Bargain knives for the small game hunter

Back in the day there was no such thing as a decent cheap knife. Cheap knives had loose blades, came apart during use, and had no edge out of the box. Surprisingly, I’ve found some really decent knives under $20 in the past few years and wanted to share my findings with my readers. These aren’t for the knife snob or to hand down to posterity. I’m approaching this subject from the perspective of a small game hunter / fisherman / general outdoors forager on a budget.

A trio of budget knives

We’ll start from the left. That is a 4″ fillet knife from Wal-Mart, costing just under $7. Came out of the package shaving sharp and works well for its intended use. The handle has grippy inserts, a very nice feature when cleaning fish. In addition, it works really well for dressing small game. It is my knife of choice for deboning small game. It comes with a blade cover and is a great knife to throw in a backpack. I’ve been using it for a year and have been very happy with it. It holds a decent edge and is pretty easy to resharpen.

The middle knife is a Imperial Trapper I bought from Amazon for $8.29 about 3.5 years ago. These are made in China and have stainless steel blades – a major departure from their origin. In spite of that, it comes in super sharp and has been my favorite small game knife in the time I’ve had it. The blades don’t lock, so keep that in mind while using it. Again, it holds a good edge and resharpens easily.

The last knife I’ll admit seems like a gimmick. I got one as a gift a couple years back and was pleasantly surprised. The blade has a thumb opener, flicks open smoothly, and stays in place with the liner lock. There is no slop or wiggle in the blade. It comes sharp and features a strong pocket clip. The blade is a tad on the heavy side for small game dressing, but still gets the job done. The blade is great for wood carving, mushroom harvesting, and camp chores.

In addition to being a decent knife, it has a bottle opener, a flashlight with a magnet, seatbelt / cord cutter, glass breaker, and firestarter. The firestarter works very well, I use it when starting fires to cook over when camping and hiking. This knife has been an excellent sub $20 EDC knife and like the others, resharpens well. Check it out here.

Keep your knives up with a sharpening system

Just because a knife is cheap doesn’t mean it has to be disposable. I use a Lansky sharpening system to customize and maintain the edge on my blades. I also occasionally build knives for fun, so the above system combined with a 1″x30″ belt grinder comes in handy. You can do fine with just a set of stones, but a guided sharpening system takes the skill out of putting a good edge on a blade. A sharpening system like this pays for itself in 3 or 4 sharpenings, so it is a worthwhile investment. Works well on kitchen knives too!

Installing Peeps on the Barra 1866

I’m not the greatest shot with open sights, but I was pretty certain I could get better than 1.2″ groups at 25 yards with the Barra Cowboy Series 1866 with a better set of open sights. It is nothing for me to spend a good chunk of cash mounting a scope on an air rifle, but the 1866 lacks a scope mount. Instead, I decided to order a Williams 5D receiver sight designed for the Winchester 94/36 rifles.

The Barra 1866 with a custom set of sights.

There were several challenges that had to be overcome to make this work. The sight was designed for rifles with a thinner receiver than the 1866. To overcome this, I carefully sanded material from the mounting plate:

Note the unfinished surface. This is necessary to give extra sight adjustment to the right.

Now that the mount was sanded down, I could get a little more adjustment to the right. The peep section was reinstalled in the lowest setting. I then added a small amount of super glue to the mount and carefully positioned it on the side of the receiver with the peep section resting on the top of the receiver. Once the glue cured, the peep section was removed in preparation for screw holes to be drilled and tapped into the receiver. The left hand receiver is also removed at this time:

The sight base ready for the next step.

I took a #31 drill bit and carefully drilled holes through the holes in the sight base. It is important to drill these as square as possible. The holes were then threaded with a 6-48 tap. A tiny drop of superglue was added to the threads of the screws before securing the sight base to the receiver:

The sight base and left hand receiver in place.

With the 1866 put back together and the peep installed into the base, the stock rear sight was removed from the barrel shroud. Testing the peep sight with the stock front sight showed improvement, shrinking my groups at 25 yards down to .98″ CTC. I did run into a new problem at this point – the front sight is too low for this peep sight, causing my groups to be high.

I designed and 3D printed a new front sight that doubles as a LDC that backdrafts into the shroud. To keep this backdraft contained in the shroud, I also designed and 3D printed a barrel stabilizer. A collar was also printed and installed inside the shroud to cover the holes from removing the front sight and faux magazine. I used a glazing putty to make those holes flush with the rest of the shroud and hit it with a quick spray of gloss black spray paint to blend everything in.

The result of all this work? The LDC isn’t mouse fart quiet since it is only 45 mm long. It does take the pop out of the shot at full power and makes the gun very backyard friendly. The barrel stabilizer combined with the LDC and upgraded sights certainly paid off, check out this group at 25 yards:

.640-.177= .463″ CTC! A huge improvement over the stock sights at 25 yards!

There’s a fair amount of work that goes into this modification, but it is worth every bit of it. Being able to shoot groups like that at 25 yards makes the Barra 1866 a solid hunting platform and a real performer in the backyard range. If you’d like to do this modification to your 1866 and need some help, feel free to send me a message.

The Barra 1866 Puts Lunch on the Table

The other day, I looked out my workroom window and saw a squirrel on a tree. I grabbed my now modified Barra 1866 (topic for another article), pumped it, and loaded it with a RWS Superdome. One of my windows has the screen removed for this very purpose, so I quietly slid that window open so I could take the shot.

I rested my shot on the windowsill as the squirrel waved his tail on the tree trunk, aware that something was amiss, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The pellet found its mark behind the eye, coming to a rest just under the fur on the opposite shoulder. The impact noise is quite impressive now that my 1866 is fitted with a LDC, akin to hitting a squirrel with a baseball bat. Needless to say, the shot spun him off the tree, and he was dead on the ground:

Barra 1866 takes a large male squirrel

This was a pretty large male, usually only fit for slow cooking. Since I only had one, I decided to try an experiment. First, let’s look at the exit wound on this guy:

The 1866 might not be a powerhouse, but how much more power do you need than this?

The above picture is just a reminder to treat all airguns like they were firearms. Also, just because you can’t afford the fancy guns you see featured by YouTube personalities doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and put some food on the table with what you have. Practice with what you’ve got, keep your shots within the range you are capable of, and enjoy the sport of airgun hunting.

After letting him soak overnight in a saltwater bath, I discarded the brine, rinsed off the carcass, and deboned it. After removing the meat, I cut it in small pieces, and further beat those pieces with a knife to tenderize. While I was doing that, I had a cast iron skillet warming up a little cooking oil. The meat was browned in this oil as I added some sage, garlic powder, ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes. I then added some beef broth, let it come up to a light boil, and simmered it until most of the liquid was reduced:

There’s quite a bit of meat on one large gray squirrel!

Once the liquid was reduced, I added in some flour, constantly stirring, and coating the meat. With the flour now cooked, I turned up the heat and stirred in milk to form a nice gravy:

It is critical to keep stirring at this stage, scraping the bottom of the pan, to prevent burning.

Once it began to bubble and thicken, I turned down the heat, kept stirring, and carefully added milk until it reached the creamy, thick consistency I was looking for. For an extra boost of flavor, I threw in a splash of liquid smoke. I thought about baking some biscuits, but opted in favor of making some toast. This one squirrel, turned into gravy, and poured over toast made enough to serve my wife, two kids, and myself. Here’s my plate:

Some real good food right here!

The results were excellent. This cooking technique proved successful in turning an old tough squirrel into a tender, tasty dish.