Table of Contents
First thing I’d like to make clear is this – mind, we are now talking hunting knives. Not those bushcraft blades we love so much. Yes, I know, they are general duty and so on, and so forth. But does it actually make them good hunting blades? Spoiler alert: “It doesn’t.” Well, yes, hunting includes bushcrafting, feather sticking and such. But when there is a killed animal (a deer, for example) in front of you and time is ticking, there is actually not much to do, but to field-dress it. By this, I mean eviscerate the animal. Then drag it to the hunting camp and hang it there to butcher later. The butchering part is difficult and not first-priority. So for now we’ll just stick to the part you learn good, when hunting the first time.
Long story short, by dressing the game quickly, you will prevent surface bacteria from growing, and improve the overall quality of the meat. Consequently, this will decrease the risk of ingesting the pathogens later, when cooking it. And for achieving all that you should have a good, reliable hunting knife. I am of course talking about a fixed blade here. The main problem with folders is they will collect hair, blood, tissue and fat of the animal. It makes work hard, sometimes even unbearable (especially in severely cold locations). All things explained, let’s walk through the characteristics a good hunting knife should have.
What knife size should I choose for game-processing? Question like this occurs every time you look at boundless shelves of blades in a local hunting shop. There is a TON of knives out there, man! I know, I know, now calm down, and hear this. A good hunting knife shouldn’t be huge. So just forget about those SOG or Scharade recurve, full-tang, tactical tanto blades. They look modern, cool and all. But I wouldn’t even consider using them as bushcraft tools. Hunters will probably think you’re a wacko with an 12 inch knife like that clipped to the belt. Those are for hunting humans, not animals. I would say 8 inches is maximum overall length you need for the task. In fact, an experienced hunter needs a much smaller blade size to skin an animal. But for newbies the length of a cutting edge plays role, keep that in mind. Besides, long slicers always do the work faster. So, again – 8 inches is enough.
Blade shape and grind
Hollow grind, saber grind, chisel grind, convex – whatever you choose, a sharp blade is a sharp blade. That’s what a friend of mine always says. Still, scandi grind is better for wood processing and just sucks at food preparation. Why is my Endura 4 so good at cardboard cutting but stays closed when in the field? I guess we all know the answer to that question. Whatever the sharpness, for different tasks people use different blade shapes and grind geometries.
Shape-wise I consider classic clip, drop or (less often) spear point to be the best. First of all, it is the pinching that is effected, when field-dressing the game. So the smaller the tip angle is, the better your knife is going to penetrate skin. The blade shape you choose also results in how easy the rest of the skinning process will be. The goal here is of course to slice the skin only, not thegut or any other intestine. A time proven clip or drop point is just a perfect choice for the task. They are simple to understand and manipulate. What else is there to look for in a hunting knife?
Now the grind geometry is a different thing. What a good hunting knife does – is it separates and goes through tissue. The best geometry capable of doing this is the hollow grind. Once inside the body of a killed animal, it goes through skin and fat, and there is literary nothing stopping it. Still it is an open debate on how well the hollow grind knives work in EDC. But, hell – nothing beats this father of all grinds, when we talk hunting. Period.
It is always a hard thing to discuss with, like, everybody. Some people are looking for premium grade steel with high HRC, while others tend to use easy-to-sharpen blade materials. I mean, it is hard to decide whether or not come to the dark side. Yes, premium steel stays sharp and is somewhat difficult to hone. But for guys out there in the wilderness, sharpening blade has always been an issue. It dulls extremely fast during game skinning. Besides there can appear other tasks, you will spend sharpness on.
So mind this – sharpening a hunting knife open-air shouldn’t be story. And keeping the edge razor sharp is priority one task when hunting. Among the best blade steels I’ve ever used are 420HC (especially those with Paul Bos heat treatment), VG-1 (Pendleton Hunter), D-2 (tool steel is easy to sharpen and maintain) and somewhat premium but still superb S30V (Benchmade Hunt, just love it). Rust resistance is not an issue, since a fixed blade used for hunting is not a thing you carry all the time. In fact, all the steel grades listed above work fine and stay good anywhere – rain or snow.
You know, usually when regular people talk about hunting knives they imagine those bulky western-movies blades with wood engravings and copper bolsters on the handle. However, you’d probably find only a few hunters actually using knives like that. I myself was for a long time a victim of similar prejudices. Well yes, some hunters still use traditional knives, but the rest of them switched to morecontemporary materials long ago. G10, FRN and micarta have once and for good changed the typical handle look. Not only are they more weather resistant, but also grippy and lightweight. It is however the tactile part that interests us most in a hunting fixed blade. The good firm grip separates us from dropping the knife and injuring ourselves. Blood, fat and mud can make blade handling unbearable or time consuming. That’s why good textured knife scales will help you operate the knife and do the most precise job with ease. The best knife handle material I’ve used so far and can recommend is Cold Steel’s Kray-Ex on the Pendleton Hunter. Although micarta and some of the aggressive textured nylon scales work fine as well.
The sheath has always been a somewhat overlooked part of a fixed blade for me. It is usually the steel grade or scales material we are looking for in a hunting knife. Very few people actually consider the fact that the price point of a knife includes sheath as well. Consequently, we pay big money for a product only to find ourselves with a torn belt loop or even a lost knife in a year or so. To avoid situations like that, it’s better to choose sheath wisely. Benchmade Hunter (and we’ll discuss it later again) has probably the best Kydex sheath ever created – it is compact, light and shock resistant. Plus the knife stays in there with no wiggling or side-to-side play. In general, I’d recommend switching to new MOLLE compatible synthetics sheaths rather than leather ones. They are lightweight and easy to fix even when damaged (lost a pin once, fixed it with a cable tie immediately). Moving on, let’s talk about some of the best hunting knives to look for out there on the market.
Best Hunting Knives
Before staring I’d like to say that these three fixed hunter blades may not be the best. However I’ve used them and have some thoughts I’d like to share on how well the knives actually work. Right off, these are, in my humble opinion, the top three hunting blades: Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter, Benchmade Steep Country and Buck Omni Hunter.
Here’s a great Benchmade Steep Country video Review
When talking about hunting knives in general, Buck is always the company that comes in mind. From the legendary folding 110 model, to a more mature Vanguard – it has always been the icon of all the hunting knives. Yes they are somewhat old-school, but heck – they work and that I appreciate most of all. The knife I am about to heap praises upon is actually a modern blade in all the aspects. First of all Buck Omni Hunter has Alcryn® Rubber curved handle which just sticks to your palm. The ridges on the back of the handle and blade make it comfortable for any kind of grip (hammer, pinch, combo, you name it). I guess, from all the knives this is still my favorite skinner. The hollow grind blade is combined with the gut hook which is a plus. Additionally the knife itself goes with the PakLite Caper – a smaller skinner for more precise filed dressing work. The blade steel here is my favorite 420HC. An extremely budget steel, however manufactured with BOS heat treatment, is an ideal quality-value combination. A knife absolutely worth its money, if you ask me.
Here’s a great Buck Omni Hunter video Review
Coming up next is the legendary Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter. You know there’ve always been those heritage blades we all know well and love so much. Opinel no.8, Fallkniven F1, Buck 110, you get the idea. Designed by Lynn C. Thompson, with the assistance of custom knife maker Lloyd Pendleton, the Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter became an all beloved classic hunting blade once and for generations to come. The full length of the Pendleton Hunter is only 8 1⁄4 inches. The 3 1⁄2 inch hollow ground VG-1 blade stays sharp and is a pleasure to maintain. The handle material is diamond-textures Kray-Ex which is just superb to use in any weather conditions. In general, what really strikes me about Pendleton Hunter is how simple it is, compared to what it is actually capable of. Skinning game? Check. Food preparation? Check. Hardcore wood processing and bushcrafting? Check and check! It is a small, sturdy and extremely comfortable-to-use knife that I would recommend practically to everyone. With the average price Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter is a must-have for hunters, adventurers and all the knife loving people. Don’t miss it, seriously.
Here’s a great Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter video Review
In a world full of various possibilities it is always hard to find once own way. There are so many decisions to make, we forget about the most essential things in life. And like that I want to say one more thing. The words above may be just the thoughts of one of a million hunters. But it is mainly the experience I wanted to share on the best hunting knife and features for you to consider. It was hard and time consuming but we managed it. Now, as usual, good luck and stay sharp. More reviews are coming up.