The Right Knife Matters: 7 Blades for the Outdoorsman
January 08, 2016
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Non-hunters often ask me about skinning and field-dressing as if they are a sort of Purgatory. In fact, they're some of the most satisfying parts of my hunt, especially when I have a quality skinner on my belt. It's a fine tool with a nice thick blade that lets me slide my index finger along its spine and precisely slice away the insulating layers of fat and skin.
With the skin off, the meat cools. Sure, it's merely another step in bringing meat from the field to the table. But it's also a celebration of success and bounty. We looked at seven new drop-points. Some are premium and pricey. Others will get the job done for at least one season. — John Geiger, senior editor
Buck Open Season
Out of the box, this knife gets high marks for classing up the joint. Of all the knives we reviewed, people gravitated to this one. The combination of the dymondwood handle, metal overlay and centered-out blade gives it a ready-for-action look.
Another show-stopper is the blade steel. Buck calls their S30V "the absolute best steel blade available." Claims like these usually get snickers around here, but when you look at the components — chromium, molybdenum and vanadium — it truly is a premium grade.
Knife expert Joe Talmadge actually recommends it be sharpened to 15 degrees, rather than the common 20 degrees, because the edge will hold, and you'll take advantage of the higher-quality blade. Jumping on two areas of the top of the blade let me get a good grip and direct my efforts efficiently while skinning.
Blade Length: 3 3/4 Inches
Overall Length: 4 3/4 Inches
Weight: 6 Ounces
Steel Will Druid 200
The Druid 200 is built more along the lines of a heavy-duty camp knife rather than a purist's skinning knife. But it might be the knife you want to have handy on a hunt where you expect to have a quarter out a big-game animal. It's difficult to overstate how sturdy this knife feels: a thick blade, full tang construction, and a handle material called Thermoplastic Elastomer, which is slip-resistant under a wide range of weather conditions and absorbs vibrations.
The handle itself shows that Steel Will designers have thought carefully about how to balance the characteristics of its materials to fit a wide range of hard jobs under difficult field conditions. The steel is 9Crl18MoV, a corrosion resistant stainless steel. — David Johnson, regional editor
Blade Length: 6.1 inches
Steel: 9CR18MOV (HRC 58-59)
Overall Length: 11.61 inches
Weight: 9.31 Ounces
For most sportsmen, John Moses Browning, and the company that bears his name, are more identified with firearms than knives. But there's a long history of knife making associated with the Browning brand.
The name of one of the latest, the Ignite, comes from the thoughtful addition of a fire-starting flint that's attached to the polymer sheath. With a 4-inch drop-point blade, the knife is perfect for a number of chores in the outdoors from gutting and skinning game to just whittling around the campfire. The 4 1/2-inch handle is just about perfect for anyone with a normal-sized hand.
The tested knife came out of the package sharp enough for service, but a few strokes on a ceramic sharpener rendered the 7Cr stainless blade very sharp. — Nick Gilmore, regional editor
Blade Length: 4 inches
Steel: Coated 7CR
Overall Length: 8 1/2
Weight: 9 ounces
From its beginning, SOG has made sturdy cutting-edge tools. The Huntspoint has been around a few years but just got a major makeover. Some users had said the AUS8 steel dulled too quickly — it was easy to sharpen, but the edge wore fast. Enter the Huntspoint with S30V steel, harder and more corrosion-resistant.
While the improved steel is good, I've long thought the best thing about the knife is its design. It's the way the elements of the knife design are balanced, attuned to the way a human hand is built and the actions you take while actually field-dressing and skinning big game.
It's like the one handle is designed for three different, efficient grips on the knife to do three different jobs: slicing, skinning and close-quarters skinning. It's not that the form follows function here: the form actually improves function. — DJ
Blade Length: 3.6 inches
Steel: S30V, RC 58-60
Overall Length: 8.2 inches
Weight: 3.7 ounces
Redhead Pro Series
In a collaboration between two iconic outdoor companies, the RedHead Pro Series Skinner by Buck Knives is available eclusively through Bass Pro. It's made of high-carbon steel, which combines hardness with ease of sharpening. The sweeping blade design is ideal for skinning big game. The knife features a uniquely angled tip to help prevent nicking guts.
The brass finger guard protects your hands, and brass rivets fasten the elk-antler handle securely. Aesthetics include a mirror finish and notches around the entire tang that match the jimping on the blade spine. The full-flat edge is extremely sharp, easily cutting through a variety of materials, including rope and cardboard, both of which can be tough on blades.
It's easy to hold on to and control, all of which means the knife should work well on all types of game. — Paul Rackley, regional editor
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Steel: Sandvik 12C27
Overall Length: 7.75 inches
Weight: 5.7 ounces
Real Avid Viscera FX
If you only want to spend about $30 for a hunting knife, Real Avid's Viscera FX has a lot going for it. The handle is a polymer with rubberized overmolding, which felt pretty good even when wet. (It's unclear how long the overmolding would last: if not anchored deeply, the overmolding could eventual pry off.)
The 5 5/8-inch handle seems out of proportion to the relatively short 3 7/8-inch blade. The blade is made of 440 steel, not the highest quality, but a good steel if you take care of it and keep an edge on it. The good news about 440 is that it lacks chromium, which makes it resistant to rust. The jimping on the top of the blade is moderately aggressive.
The full-tang drop-point blade has a shallow belly, which makes it a useful camp knife as well as a skinning tool. The Vicera FX comes with a tactical-style nylon sheath. — JG
Blade Length: 3 7/8 inches
Overall Length: 9 1/4 inches
Weight: 10 ounces
Gator Fixed Blade
Gerber has been making versions of the Gator for quite a while. The best known might be the folding version, but they also made a 440c steel fixed-blade. The new Gator fixed-blade, drop-point keeps its most famous feature — the glass-filled nylon handle with a rubberized Gator Grip.
But Gerber also made at least one critical change: the 440c steel has been replaced by CPM-S30V steel, which holds an edge longer and is more corrosion resistant. It comes sharp, wears well and is relatively easy to maintain; it feels solid and sturdy in hand.
The heavy-duty construction argues that you could use this for everything from cutting up an elk to making tent stakes. Made in Portland, Oregon, this knife is a rarity among 21st Century outdoors gear: it was made in the U.S.A. — DJ
Blade Length: 4 inches
Overall Length: 9 inches
Weight: 8 ounces