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You can butcher a deer with a sharp kitchen knife, but a good set of quality blades makes things a lot easier. When building your collection, take a cue from professional meat cutters and invest in steel that can stand up to tough use with handles that feel comfortable in your grip, even during extended sessions on the butcher block. After 20-plus years of cutting my own meat, here is the knife roll I’ve built to process deer, elk, antelope and game birds season after season.

1. Wusthof Come-Apart Kitchen Shears

This tool is powerful enough to break through wings, legs, and bones of even the biggest gamebirds, turkeys included. The thick blades separate for easier cleaning.

2. T-Shaped Boning Hook

A good boning hook is like an extension of your hand, keeping fingers away from sharp blades. Try it once and you’ll wonder how you ever butchered without it.

3. Messermeister Four Seasons 6-Inch Boning Knife

This is a workhorse—a knife with a tough, corrosion-resistant CrMo55 blade and a poly handle that provides a sure grip for wet or bloody hands. Use it for everything from breaking down a hanging carcass to boning out quarters to separating roasts.

4. Dexter Sani-Safe 6-Inch Curved Boning Knife

The narrow blade and fine tip are perfect for removing backstraps and rib meat, boning front shoulders, and trimming silverskin. The high-carbon steel blade stays sharp enough to cut several deer before it needs a touch-up, and the white handle is easy to spot on a butchering table filled with red meat.

5. Dexter Sani-Safe 8-Inch Butcher Knife

When it comes to cutting steaks, nothing beats a good butcher knife. The large blade is great for big animals like elk and moose, but if all you plan on butchering is whitetails, consider downsizing to a 6-inch version.

6. Buck Silver Creek 6 1⁄2-Inch Folding Fillet Knife

A fish finds its way onto my butchering table every now and then, but this is really my go-to knife for breasting waterfowl and upland birds. And when it’s not in my knife roll, the folding design allows the knife to fit in a hunting bag or bird vest

7. Messermeister 5-Pocket Padded Knife Bag

Specialty blades need a specialty knife bag that keeps everything where you can find it in an instant. This one is even available in camouflage, as well as solid colors.

How to Keep Your Butchering Knives Sharp

Even the best blades frequently need a touch-up. In the middle of a big job, the best way to hone that edge is with a sharpening steel. Here’s how.

  1. Start by holding the steel vertically with the tip pressed against a table or other solid surface.
  2. Press the heel of the knife against the steel and angle the spine outward about ¼ inch, or at a 20-degree angle.
  3. While maintaining that angle, lightly draw the blade down and across the steel as if slicing a micro-thin edge off the sharpener.
  4. Repeat for 8 to 10 strokes on both sides of the blade.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013-January 2014 issue of Field & Stream.