YOU DON’T NEED A BOWIE KNIFE FOR MOST OF YOUR HUNTING NEEDS
Mention “hunting knife” to someone who’s not a knife enthusiast and most likely some humongous fixed blade comes to mind. Mention hunting knife to a hunter and you’ll usually get quite a different picture.
Whitetail deer, squirrels, and rabbits were regular menu items in my household during the early, low-income days of my adult life. Hunting was more than recreation; it was a way to put meat on the table. Over time, I formed some preferences on the types of knives I carry while hunting. Here’s my thinking on the subject:
BLADES FOR LARGE GAME
You don’t need a machete or a Bowie knife to field-dress a deer. Generally speaking, blades in the 2 ¾- to 4-inch range are usually the handiest for the job, although those aren’t strict limits. A non-slip handle with enough room for all your fingers is recommended. I prefer a narrow hunting blade, which is better suited during the field-dressing process when, how should I say it, you’re working at freeing the terminal end of the animal’s digestive tract.
As far as the blade configuration is concerned, I know countless writers before me have said a drop-point is best because there’s less chance of cutting into the messy organs than if you were using a pointy hunting blade. Naturally, I have to be contrary. I’ve always favored a slight clip-point or trailing-point blade. The reason is that I often use the upswept tip when—without getting too graphic—I’m up to my elbow in the carcass cutting the windpipe free. Oops, I guess that was graphic, sorry.
Folders are a good choice for hunting when you want to carry your knife in a pocket as opposed to on your belt or in your pack. I’d suggest a simple locking mechanism—not an assisted opener or auto. An open back is a plus because it will be easier to clean later, but many of my favorites don’t have that feature.
A knife such as the Buck 110 Folding Hunter is timeless. The CRKT Homefront is excellent because it can be completely disassembled without tools for cleaning and maintenance. Don’t overlook the knife you’re carrying this minute. Many EDC knives—the Spyderco Endura and the Hogue Doug Ritter RSK MK1-G2 for instance—would be fine as hunting companions. Other current production folders I like are the Cold Steel Ultimate Hunter and Victorinox Hunter Pro Alox.
Fixed-blade knives are strong, easy to access, easy to clean, and you don’t have to be concerned with it folding on your fingers. Again, you don’t need a really large blade. Actually, knives labeled as “trout and bird” knives or “capers” usually work great and handle better in tight quarters. I find the gut hooks incorporated on the back of many hunting knives these days to be unnecessary and in the way at times when using the knife for other tasks. And I think they’re ugly too, but that’s, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.
The drop-point TOPS Skinat is one of my favorite all-around knives, and I’ve often carried it and used it when hunting. I only have two of them now, but I want a third, even though the first one has several generations of hunters to serve before it’ll ever be retired. The Spyderco Bow River with slight trailing point is an affordable knife with thin blade and comfortable handle perfect for use in processing downed game. I’ve used the Buck Woodsman many times, but I’d prefer it if the clip-point wasn’t quite so upswept.
For cleaning squirrels and skinning rabbits, I’ve often used traditional, slip-joint pocketknives. I’ve never needed anything more specialized. If you feel more comfortable with a knife that has a locking blade, that’s fine. But with small game, the cuts are fewer. Often you’re pulling off the hide. Early on I used Old Timers made by the old Schrade company. These days I opt for Case knives, especially the three-blade Stockman, two-blade Barlow, and two-blade Trapper.
When you find a favorite hunting knife—and for you it might just be something totally different than anything I’ve mentioned here—buy two of them. Once you designate one of your knives as a “favorite,” there’s a good chance the company will discontinue it.
“Generally speaking, blades in the 2 ¾- to 4-inch range are usually the handiest for the job…”
The Kershaw 1082OR Field Knife had a super-sharp, well-contoured thin blade and easy-to-spot orange handle. As soon as I fell in love with it, they disappeared from the face of the earth. Do you hear me Kershaw? Bring it back.
The CRKT Free Range Hunter Folder designed by Russ Kommer that I love also is no longer made. I had other favorites too that were discontinued because the company vanished. A Canal Street Cutlery fixed hunting blade comes to mind.
DON’T BOTCH THE BUTCHERING
You can save some money by butchering wild game yourself. I’ve often used a set of Buck fixed blades—Woodsman, Pathfinder, Skinner, and Special—to assist. A fillet knife or other thin blade is handy too for removing the back straps and tenderloins.
Lately, I’ve been using some knives from the TOPS Dicer Series. These are excellent knives that truly bridge the gap between camp and kitchen and can be used for every step of the butchering and food prep process.
Keep in mind that you might employ your hunting knife for chores other than cutting meat, such as processing tinder, cutting cord or rope, as well as myriad survival tasks. For that reason, if I choose a very thin blade for field-dressing, I’ll often carry a heavier hunting blade for bushcraft chores.
THE MEMORIES KNIFE
Whichever knife you choose, take care of it and you’ll infuse it with many fond memories of times afield. For me, there’s the Buck 110 Folding Hunter that was my first real hunting knife; the made-in-the-U.S. Schrade Old Timer Sharpfinger that was a gift from my wife when we were young and on a tight budget; and the Gerber Shorty aluminum-handled fixed blade that belonged to my father-in-law. What hunting knife stands out in your memory?
Buck Knives, BuckKnives.com
TOPS Knives, TOPSKnives.com
ESEE Knives, ESEEKnives.com
Hogue’s Doug Ritter RSK MK1-G2 available at KnifeWorks.com
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Sep-Oct 2021 print issue of Knives Illustrated.