When I was 12, my grandmother gave me my late grandfather's hunting knife. I was just learning to hunt, and that knife became one of my greatest treasures. It hung from my belt everywhere I went.
For 35 years, I used it for everything from skinning game to whittling. Recently, I gave the knife to my youngest son. It has since been his constant companion as well.
Hunting knives are important utensils, but they have value extending beyond their usefulness in the field. They are keepsakes, too, passed along from generation to generation.
That's why, when buying a hunting knife, we want our purchase to be a wise one. A quality knife will perform valuable tasks when we're hunting and will last many years. Before purchasing one, consider these things.
First, ask yourself, "How do I intend to use this knife?" If you're looking for a knife that will perform one specific task well — skinning a deer, for example, or cutting branches around your hunting stand — you may want a specialty knife. On the other hand, if you buy a specialty knife to use as a multi-purpose tool for backcountry camping, it probably won't perform some of the tasks for which you need it.
Start the selection process by choosing a design best suited for the specific chores the knife is intended to handle.
There's something macho about wielding a big knife like Rambo. But knives with huge blades have no real practical use for hunters. When you realize that, the size of the knife you choose will come down to personal preference and practical consideration.
If you need a knife only for cleaning small game, you'll want something small, lightweight and pocket-sized. If you're hunting game the size of an elk, something bigger and sturdier will be needed for quartering the animal and packing it out. You get the idea.
Fixed Blade or Folding?
Hunting knives have fixed blades or folding blades. Fixed-blade knives are stronger and more useful for heavy-duty work because blade material runs through the handle. They're easier to clean than folding knives and more durable and reliable because they have no moving parts.
Folding knives allow convenient carry in a pocket and are good knives for everyday use. Mechanisms on many allow convenient one-handed opening. They are, however, more difficult to clean because the blade channel collects blood and tissue.
Hunting knives have three main blade designs: drop-point, clip-point and skinning. For big-game hunting, consider a drop-point, which features a thick, curved blade stronger than other types. It's excellent for skinning animals because you can use the entire edge, not just the point. In a pinch, a drop-point also can be used instead of a saw or hatchet for splitting ribs and pelvis bones.
The clip-point blade is thinner, flatter and has a more defined point than the drop-point. It can be used for the same tasks but is less efficient for skinning, splitting and gutting. However, the clip-point knife is a good choice for anyone planning to use it for purposes other than just hunting.
Skinning knives are designed specifically for skinning medium to large game. The highly sweeping blade is made to effortlessly separate flesh from skin. Also, a good skinner can do most other game-cleaning chores as well as the clip-point and drop-point designs.
The type of steel in the blade is another important consideration. That determines how well you can sharpen your knife, how well it will hold its edge, and how well it withstands years of use. Top blade materials exhibit high edge retention, toughness, corrosion resistance and wear resistance. Search the Internet to learn the differences and pick a knife made with the best material.
Wood, leather and bone handles are very functional and often more aesthetically pleasing, but those materials lack durability and can be difficult to grip firmly when wet with blood or water. Synthetic materials such as Zytel, Kraton and ABS, which offer a good combination of sure grip and economy, are excellent options. Synthetics are lightweight and virtually unbreakable.
For safety's sake, the handle of a hunting knife also should have a finger stop, contour or other guard at the junction of the handle and blade that stops the user's hand from sliding forward on the blade.