Field Tested: Fiddleback Forge Maverick (Mule Deer Hunting)
There are many types of hunters. There are those that spend hours sitting stark still in a freezing tree stand waiting for a buck to walk under them, those that spend weeks living miles from civilization chasing elk with their compound bow, there are skilled marksman that can accurately take an antelope from a thousand yards or more, others that choose to sit atop a wind blown ridge and stare through binoculars for hours on end just looking for any small sign of their quarry, there are even our ancestral hunters that grouped together to take down giant mammoths with spears and later rudimentary bows. This list barely scratches the surface of the many iterations that stem from the instinctual desire to kill and utilize animals, and yet all of these seemingly endless variations of hunters have something in common...every single hunter carries and uses an edged tool; a knife.
From the most basic knapped stone to the most technologically advanced ‘super steels’, hunters have been using knives to gut, skin, process, and prepare animals before ‘hunter’ was even a word. In my opinion, the hunter-knife connection is arguably more important than the hunter-weapon connection; and just like the hunter has different weapons for different types of game, they also have different knives. Which brings us to the topic of this article, my personal hunter-knife connection for my 4th rifle mule deer hunt in Colorado this past fall. For five days I carried, and eventually used, a very handsome and intriguing knife called the Maverick.
The Knife: Fiddleback Forge Maverick
The Maverick fits into a line of several knives designed by Andy Roy at Fiddleback Forge in early 2016.
All of the knives feature a somewhat unusual looking handle shape, with kinks going this way or that way, swells and turns, some very drastic and others very soft. And though they may look a little strange - as many expressed when they first laid eyes on them - all of the models that I’ve handled have been some of the most comfortable and ergonomic long-use knives I’ve held, but I won’t lie, they took some time to grow on me. The swells on the Maverick’s handle fit perfectly into my palm and fingers in every grip that I can imagine using while field dressing an animal. The sweeping belly, and acute trailing point made skinning and deboning a breeze, and the A2 blade steel stayed razor shape through the entire process...but I'm getting ahead of myself, this wouldn’t be a very good hunting article without a hunting story!!
Let’s step back a little bit to mid-November, 2016, the 4th rifle season in Colorado. Hunting mule deer during 4th rifle is one of my favorite things to do because the bucks are starting to rut (look for mates) and the big bucks often break their reclusive, well-hidden lifestyle to come look for ‘ready' does. The 4th rifle hunt is always five days long and starts on the Wednesday of the second full week in November, and we always take that day off of work to hunt. During this particular hunt we experienced wildly variable weather, from 70 degrees one day to blowing snow the next, and yet every day we still got out and hunted for at least part of the day, and usually all day, dawn to dusk.
We spent the first three days perched up on various hills and rocky outcroppings holding high standards and looking at a lot of deer. By high 'standards’ I mean that none of the bucks we looked at were “first-day-shooters”, mostly because we didn’t want to cut our hunt short, but also because we had pipe dreams of finding a big mature buck to shoot. After a while we did in fact spot some decent older bucks, but through a combination of poor luck, old deer smarts, and private property we were only able to shoot them with our cameras. So, as day three had come and gone so had our high standards
On the fourth day during our two mile hike into our hunting spot I decided that I would shoot a buck by noon, though I was still determined not to kill a very young buck. We hiked back to a knoll where we could glass an area that we affectionately called "The Bowl”, a very steep and well protected little scoop taken right out of the side of the mountain. At the top is some thick timber that we often find elk and deer using for cover or a bedding area, at the bottom a meadow often used for feeding and accessing water, and crunchy, chest high shrub-land everywhere in-between. This spot is tough to hunt but often holds animals so we routinely check on it when we’re in the area. We had checked it on the second day of the hunt in the blowing snow storm (see picture, it’s the steep timber in the back) and bumped a handful of bedded does out from one of the drainages below it. On the third day of the hunt we glassed up a small herd on the saddle above the bowl. So, naturally, we decided to go check it again on the fourth day of the hunt as well.
Sure enough, we glassed up three or four bucks with several does and fawns feeding, fighting, sniffing, and eventually bedding down in the meadow below The Bowl. None of these bucks were immediate “day 4 shooters”, but one of them caught enough of my attention to get my high-noon stamp of approval. I would come back for that buck if I couldn’t find anything else. We decided to back track off of the knoll to go check some other likely spots knowing that those deer wouldn’t leave that area if we left them undisturbed. The morning progressed with no bucks that caught my interest.
However, during that time, Steve, my hunting partner, glassed up two or three decent bucks that were either just out of reach or “possibly headed in our direction” so, we waited for each of those bucks to either move out of our sight or move close enough for us to make a move towards them. Each time, like they knew what was going on, they did the exact opposite of what we needed. One of them was even bumped out from under us by some other hunters! So, around mid-day, fed up with our misfortunes, I decided to go back and shoot my previously stamped buck. By the time we made it back to The Bowl is was early afternoon, the sun was quickly heading for shelter behind the mountains and we still needed to get close enough for me to comfortably take a shot. So we crouched, crawled, tip toed, and shuffled our way through a seemingly unsolvable maze of very loud mountain mahogany and slippery snow towards a high spot that we estimated would give me about a 300 yard shot at my buck; the top end of my comfortable range.
As we reached my shooting spot we noticed that the deer were starting to push their way up the opposite hillside, getting further and further away as they climbed. Now feeling slightly rushed, I found a clear spot to throw down my pack and get set up behind my rifle in the prone position, I used my binoculars to find the buck and took a range on him with my rangefinder; 330 yards moving right to left, following a doe. I set my crosshairs just above and behind the buck’s shoulder, took a breath in and let it out slowly, started steadily squeezing the trigger... BANG!
The shot felt good, and it sounded like I had hit the buck, but he was still standing. We watched him, Steve through his binoculars and me through my scope. The buck started walking again, though slowly, slightly limping and no longer following the doe. He was headed down the hill; I had hit him but I couldn’t tell where. Eventually the buck bedded down, but he was still alert which is never a good sign. I got set up to take another shot, settled in, and squeezed the trigger. This shot felt even more comfortable than the first, but the buck didn’t even flinch. Steve called out that I missed over the top and right of the buck. Many frustrated thoughts ran through my mind after that second shot. Was my rifle off? Did I forget how to shoot? Was I rushing my shots? Did I get the correct range? I had just killed a pronghorn doe last month at 310 yards with one shot, what was going on?!
The buck didn't seem keen on moving so I decided to hike over to him while Steve stayed back to guide me. Without Steve I probably would have been at my search for a few hours, because finding a bedded, injured buck in the vegetation that they evolved to blend into is like finding a contact lens in a swimming pool. Even with Steve’s guidance I practically stepped on the buck before he jumped. The buck ran about 30 yards and loudly toppled back into the mahogany. I could see that he was hit to the right of where I had aimed, a gut shot. My stomach turned, I couldn’t stand to know that my shot wasn’t a good one and that I had put this animal through unnecessary suffering. I quickly moved in on the buck and dispatched him, sending out a silent apology as I did. I had a very mixed wave of emotions after that; frustration and anger with myself, confusion and concern about my rifle, and deep gratitude for this animal and for the meat that it will provide for myself, family, friends...
An injured animal is something every hunter dreads, and yet every hunter ends up going through it in one way or another. You spend weeks at the range perfecting your shooting, dry firing, getting into strange shooting positions to practice for the real test out in the field, but no matter how much practicing you have, no matter how many perfect groups you put onto paper, eventually you won’t kill an animal with your first shot.
It’s a somber reminder that as a hunter you’re taking a life, and sometimes taking a life isn’t neat, it isn’t going to be perfect every time. I know some hunters who quit hunting because they couldn’t deal with that reality, others accept it for what it is, what it means, and continue hunting, providing meat for their loved ones; always striving to improve.
Time To Get To Work
With my buck finally down - the upsetting experience pushed to the back of my mind to be contemplated later - it was time to get to work on what I had set out to do, test the Fiddleback Forge Maverick! I used that knife for the entirety of the field dressing process for my buck. The only step that was excluded was gutting because I prefer to use the “gutless method” when processing my animals in the field, my buck especially since my shot placement wasn’t ideal.
Note: I filmed most of the field dressing steps and will be adding a video component to this article in the near future.
The first step was to get the quarters skinned out so that they could be removed and deboned. I typically start by running my knife along the backbone and around the middle of the animal, essentially quartering the hide. The Maverick and its comfortable handle made this process very easy once I got used to the knife. Let me touch on that... Until using the Mav I had predominately used a small replaceable blade scalpel knife to process my animals. Having a full sized knife with a differently shaped blade took a little bit of getting used to. Though, once I figured out how to control it, the trailing point made easy work of the initial hide cutting tasks.
The next step is to simply skin out the quarters and remove them from the carcass. The extra length and belly on the Mav over my previously used knives made this task go very quickly! Once a quarter is skinned out all that’s left is the optional process of deboning the meat. Deboning is typically used in western mountain hunting scenarios because the meat has to be carried out on your back and it’s usually not a short jaunt back to the truck. Every ounce matters when you’re hiking several miles, sometimes more than once before you’re done! Deboning a quarter is a relatively simple procedure; follow 'muscle seams’ down to the bone and slowly work all the meat away until you’re left with a clean bone and a pile of muscle. The still razor sharp 1/8” A2 steel made quick work of that job.
After removing both quarters from one side the only things that are left are the loins and trimmings. Removing the backstraps can be a tricky thing to do because the muscle has so many connection points on the spine of the animal, but the Maverick apparently didn't get that memo. The backstraps practically fell off of that buck! If I'm being completely honest, the ease in which the backstraps came off of my buck is what really sold me on using the Maverick for field dressing. The final test for the impressive Maverick was edge retention. After I got home and got all of the meat into a cooler I cleaned the blood and fat off of the knife, gave it a light coat of oil, and got right to slicing into the first piece of paper I could find, a grocery receipt. To my amazement the edge was still razor sharp, gliding right through the receipt paper. And it's not just the Maverick that has great edge retention, all of my Fiddleback knives hold their edge very well. So, kudos to Andy and the crew at Fiddleback Forge, the heat treating and grinding is spot on!
Overall, I was quite surprised by the Maverick during my testing. I was really not very keen on the design when Andy first revealed it. All of the knives in that line are nothing like his usual sensual curves and nice-to-look-at lines. However, after getting a couple of those models into my hands, I can say that I’ve been converted into a fan. The handles just plain fit into your hand and whether you’re bushcrafting, field dressing game, or just using it for general knife tasks you’ll come to appreciate that extra comfort. If you’re looking for a new hunting knife I would highly recommend the Fiddleback Forge Maverick! Though, if you decide that the Maverick just isn’t quite your style here are a few other recommendations.
The little brother to the Maverick, the Wingman. If you prefer a smaller hunting knife, but you’re still interested in the awesome ergonomics of the Maverick I highly recommend checking out this model.
If you’re looking for more of a small game and fish cleaning knife then look no further than the F2 (Fish & Fowl)!
Check out my article on grouse hunting to see my F2 in action.
If you want a knife that will excel and both hunting and general use tasks check out the Ladyfinger or the fan favorite Bushfinger. I put my (Old School) Ladyfinger to work on my Wyoming pronghorn and was quite impressed with it as well. I don’t quite own a Bushfinger yet, but know that it's an excellent knife!
Thanks for reading!
Contributed by Orion Aon, freelance blogger for Fiddleback Outpost & avid fan of Fiddleback Forge knives. Check out Orion's YouTube Channel 'Backcountry Bounty' for more great stuff!