ESEE’S ASHLEY GAME KNIFE AND THE S35VN VERSION OF THE ESEE-3 ARE READY FOR ADVENTURE
ESEE Knives has soared to a new level by having more purpose driven, specialty knives from the marriage between Rowen Manufacturing and the guys in the know. ESEE Knives has gone from a small company fueled by real-world dirt time to one of the biggest names in survival and no-nonsense knives.
ONE FOR HUNTERS
The Ashley Game Knife (AGK) was designed by Ashley Emerson. As a guide and hunter from Alaska to Africa, he’s used many different knives and modified them to fit what works, and the AGK was born from his vast experience handling game in the field.
At first glance, it fits in with the look of other ESEE Knives, but not quite the typical blade style. This spear-like drop-point has a bit of a soft recurve, in that the cutting width of the blade is narrower near the ricasso area than it is in the middle. This gives it a bit more belly.
“…ESEE Knives answered the cries of many customers by revamping their classic ESEE-3 with S35VN steel and contoured 3D G10 scales.”
The blade width allows for working inside the pelvic cavity of the average whitetail, and the subtle sweep of the blade places the point in line with the handle. This still allows an optimal drop point and an edge that is continually curved.
With no sharpening notch at the choil, you won’t have to worry about the knife catching on material such as hides. The lengths of both the blade and the handle have been optimized for leveraging jobs like splitting a sternum. In my opinion, 3.5 inches is the perfect length for a field knife that needs to be nimble and easy to maneuver.
The handle incorporates a guard for a little more reassurance during those slippery jobs. The knife is available with scales of either canvas Micarta or orange G10, which is a solid handle material that doesn’t slip when wet.
Ashley has used a wide variety of scale materials, and he prefers Micarta for working knives, as the grip and feel is way more important when working game than the scales being impervious to sweat, blood, and other fluids.
A radiused lanyard hole large enough for a loop of 550 cord rounds out the design. Like the stonewashed black-oxide blade, the Micarta scales develop a great “worn-in” look with use.
I listened to the pitter patter of the snow coming down on the tarp as I got to know the AGK by way of carving. Nothing like a little rain and snow to keep a camper under the tarp, or as I call it—indoors.
I roughed out a large spatula from a piece of seasoned wood. Granted, it won’t carve like my Scandinavian ground knives, but it still had a keen edge from the factory.
“A camp knife is often pushed into the late innings, serving double and triple-duty, which teeterS on the edge of abuse.”
The narrow portion of the blade closer down toward the handle seemed to almost catch on the wood more, helping to produce more curls in the wood. This was also obvious when I was carving some quick yet much needed camp tools like tongs and a real coffee stirrer.
Up until now, the AGK had been stirring stew and coffee, which didn’t bother me much. Lifting the lid for my cook pot with the blade tip was another job that was given to the AGK.
Luckily, no chipping or edge loss was noticeable even after using a rock as a cutting board for some tasks. It carved out roasting sticks and made other parts of camp more comfortable. I believe in the “right tool for the right job” school of thinking.
However, we aren’t always in the comfort of all our tools. In a real-world situation in the outdoors, we have two or three. A camp knife is often pushed into the late innings, serving double and triple-duty, which teeters on the edge of abuse.
A cutting tool is made into a splitter, pot lifter, as well as a stirring spoon for coffee and stew. The AGK was used for a winter stew when the temperatures dropped below freezing. Put into service as a kitchen knife, the AGK was made for cutting all things food related.
I used a baton to help cleave through bone in chicken. It sliced celery, mushrooms, carrots, and onions with the ease of a kitchen knife due to the flat grind. The orange G10 scales proved to be non-slip through the food preparation process despite icy rain and snow coming down in camp.
Making something is a sure way to find if a knife handle is comfortable. Any protrusions or rough spots on the handle will be magnified when the handle is wet, adding just that much extra abrasion and sting. The G10 handles had more grip than the Micarta scales, which tend to smooth out after some use, yet don’t get slippery—ever.
For the majority of the testing, I used the G10 scales because the foliage was getting thick, and eventually, the snow came. This called for a color that would peer through the natural color of the forest duff.
No matter how careful people are when it comes to keeping track of tools, we get distracted, and rather than sheath the knife, we just lay it down and tend to something else. I know I do this when cutting food or when the knife is just really dirty or wet. Then, I get that, “Oh crap, where’s the knife?” feeling. It doesn’t help if the knife blends in too much, so one that stands out is important to me.
Ashley designed the length of the handle (approximately 5 inches) to be longer than the blade for extra leverage he may need, rather than extra cutting edge and being able to choke back on the handle if he needed. I definitely agree in that respect. I like a small blade, longer handle on just about anything besides a long chopping blade.
A word about the finish, which is not to be mistaken with a coating of sorts. The stonewashed black oxide is a blade finish, not a coating. There is a stark difference between a coating that inhibits rust and a finish that looks like a patina.
I personally like the look of the black oxide, which is really a tumble finish on bare metal, not to be confused with a patina.
I don’t worry much about rust and corrosion, and I use my knives in humid environments. I simply know that I use my knives enough on the sorts of things that will naturally patina them before any corrosion sets in.
After using the AGK quite a bit in the wetness of winter, cutting veggies and meat, or just plain leaving it out on the cutting board, I didn’t notice any corrosion. This would have been a different story had it been humid.
Edge retention is right on the level with every other ESEE knife I have used. Despite its multi-tasking duties, not limited to just cutting, it fared well with no sharpening for the first four days of use.
When it did come down to sharpening, I used a mini Crock Stick (ceramic) from Lansky Sharpeners, which is my go-to sharpener for touching up an edge on any V-grind knife I have. If it gets too dull, I start with stones and finish on the Crock Stick, but I try not to ever let them get that far gone as it ends up being a lot of work to bring the edge back.
ESEE Ashley Game Knife (AGK)
Overall Length: 8.25 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Thickness: 0.156 inch
Weight: 5.1 ounces
Steel: 1095 high carbon steel, 55-57 Rc.
Finish: Black oxide, stonewashed
Handles: Canvas Micarta or G10
Since ESEE came out with the Camp-Lore series that come standard with leather sheaths, the company has had a few variations on the materials and style. Now, the AGK comes sporting a leather sheath, which really captures the essence of the knife. All ESEE Knives sheaths are made from U.S.A. leather and each sheath is brown, pouch style with a belt loop.
In addition to the handsome leather that is standard on the AGK, ESEE offers another option: Armatus Carry makes its Architect Sheath model for the AGK. It comes standard with a laminated nylon soft loop, including a MIL-SPEC Pull-the-Dot snap.
All Armatus Carry sheaths are made from one piece of 0.08-inch Kydex for ultimate durability. Like ESEE, Armatus also has a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty.
Overall Length: 8.19 inches
Cutting Edge Length: 3.38 inches
Overall Blade Length: 3.88 inches
Maximum Thickness: 0.125 inch
Steel: S35VN, 59-60 Rc.
Weight: 6 ounces (knife only), 9 ounces (knife w/ sheath)
Handle: 3D G10
ESEE Knives first appeared on the knife scene around 2007 with a design that became an iconic tactical knife. After founders Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin designed the RAT-3 for the Ontario Knife Company, it was the first design brought out when ESEE Knives (Formerly RAT Cutlery) teamed up with Rowen Manufacturing.
It was dubbed the ESEE-3 and after all these years it is still a favorite among law enforcement and military teams due to its light weight, thin profile and various sheath options. This is the model that started it all.
There have been quite a few different sheath options and blade finishes that have given the classic ESEE-3 upgrades over the years. However, in 2016 the classic ESEE Knives (ESEE-3, ESEE-4) got their first production modification with the HM (handle modified) series.
Gone was the choil and thumb jimping, while the handle was retrofitted with a more ergonomically rounded handle. The sheaths were leather, but Kydex was soon added for another option.
Jumping ahead to 2020, ESEE Knives answered the cries of many customers by revamping its classic ESEE-3 with S35VN steel and contoured 3D G10 scales. The knife shape remained the same while the steel and handle scales were changed. The knife has a stonewashed finish and black colored scales.
For those who want a super stainless steel with superior edge holding capabilities—this one’s for you.
The carbon steel model now has a plethora of 3D G10 scales to choose from, yet the S35VN model currently comes in black only. One good thing about this change was that the old model ESEE-3 sheaths all fit the S35VN model.
SLASH AND BASH
I first used the ESEE-3 S35VN on some 10,000-pound tow strapping, securely holding one end and slicing through a few times using different parts of the blade. No drag, no hesitation. Then, I placed the tow strap on a cutting board and sliced it like I would peppers for a stir fry, also no problem.
From that point on it was a slasher fest. Nothing was sacred. Cardboard was next because it is quite abrasive on cutting edges and may hamper the results of the materials to come.
Paracord, jute twine, bankline, and zip ties were next, all without a hitch. I had recently retired an old pair of cowhide leather gloves and gave them a single slash, cleanly through. I cut through the plastic holder of a watch and then a length of USB cord for a phone. Then, I moved onto the hard stuff.
I stabbed into an Altoids mint tin and then deep into a tin can to simulate using the knife if need be as a can opener. The aftermath: two small chips, one from the Altoids tin and the other from the tin can. This was nothing to cry about. The true test of this super steel was yet to come and would tell if the edge holding abilities lived up to the claims.
It was time to see how the edge had suffered after all the fibrous materials. I would see if it degraded or lost any keenness on food. Tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and celery were about to tell me the answer. It sliced like it was new out of the box.
The belly and thin edge only complemented the S35VN. As an extra test I shaved hair off my arm at the end of all the slashing, puncturing, slicing, and dicing. No problems after the array of materials cut—that’s S35VN steel.
The ESEE-3 and ESEE-4 knives have come standard with molded plastic sheaths. These sheaths fit the standard models with Micarta scales and the new 3D handle models. I still use my original molded sheath carrying my ESEE-3 inverted.
Never has it come loose hiking and bouldering. It is quite indestructible as far as sheaths go. The same clip plate and MOLLE back fits both the ESEE-3 and ESEE-4 as an added plus.
Tactical and hunting are just two areas where ESEE Knives shine. With the addition of the AGK, the company now has one for the hunters and all-around outdoorsmen. Rumors have it that there will be an AGK in S35VN, which to many people would be their Holy Grail knife.
Leave it to ESEE Knives to make a good thing better with its upgraded ESEE-3 and ESEE-4 knives in S35VN steel with 3D G10 scales. This time-proven design is a modern legend of the cutlery industry.
ASHLEY EMERSON, ACCOMPLISHED OUTDOORSMAN
Ashley Emerson has had a varied career. Aside from his input for ESEE’s Ashley Game Knive, he has created or refined many popular gun sights and scope mounts. He worked at B-Square in the early ’90s and then was head designer and co-owner at Miniature Machine Corp (MMC), where he designed the MMC Adjustable Combat Sight for pistols and shotguns.
He is well known for adapting and popularizing express sights for defensive handguns and for long-gun sights utilizing a ghost-ring rear and white-stripe front, both commercialized through Ashley Outdoors (now XS Sight Systems).
Since then, he has remained active in the industry, providing ideas for many popular products as a friend, customer, or consultant. Ashley possesses extensive knowledge and real-world experience gained from time in the classroom, in the field, and on the range.
Since 2012, Ashley has owned and operated Garrett Cartridges of Texas, continuing Randy Garrett’s line of exceptional .44 Magnum and .45-70 hunting ammunition and expanding the line with additional .45-70 loads and new .45 Colt and .454 Casull offerings.
Prior to his industry involvement, Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in industrial technology. He served as a deputy in the early ’80s in the Texas counties of Comanche and Somervell, and he later worked at machine shops providing parts for a variety of customers, including the Superconducting Super Collider project.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Sep-Oct 2021 print issue of Knives Illustrated.