What to Look For When Buying a Hunting Knife
The hunting knife has a long tradition in America. Generations of outdoors enthusiasts have relied on strong and functional knives as an essential tool. Today, knives that are designed for hunting are even carried every day because of their versatility.
Rather than list the knives on the market that we think are the best, today we will show you what to consider when buying a hunting knife. We'll also show you some examples of knives that we think exemplify the qualities you should look for when buying a knife.
Simply put, there are thousands of knives out there marketed as “hunting” knives. Some of them are excellent, but unfortunately, many of the products out there are poorly made, use inferior materials, and are just not good when you need to rely on a tool.
Picking out a good hunting knife is about much more than the way the knife looks. All the shininess and exotic horn handles in the world won’t help you when it’s time to field dress a harvest. You need a knife that is comfortable to use, holds an edge, and gets the work done quickly and safely.
Fixed-blade vs. Folding-blade vs. Replaceable-blade
If you search online for the "Best Hunting Knife", chances are that you will see a majority of fixed-blade knives with a few folders mixed in for good measure. You might not even see any replaceable-blade knives unless you look for them. The reason fixed blade knives are popular likely has more to do with aesthetics and tradition these days, but there is no doubt that a fixed-blade knife will be stronger than a folder and more durable than a replaceable.
The Benefits of a Fixed-blade Knife
A fixed-blade knife gives you lots of balance and control. When you are shopping for a hunting knife, avoid any knife that uses a partial tang. The tang refers to the metal that includes the blade and extends into the handle. A full tang knife is simply safer than a partial tang knife when you are counting on strength. There are different types of full tang knives, but all are superior to a partial tang.
The Benefits of a Folding-blade Knife
Folding knives offer the obvious benefit of closing securely and safely so you can drop it in a pocket and not worry about accidentally cutting yourself. Many of the folding knives designed for outdoor use these days are nearly as strong as a fixed blade knife when open, and numerous companies have devised ways to lock a folding-blade knife open.
The Benefits of a Replaceable-blade Knife
Replaceable-blade knives are the newest thing on the market, and many companies today are producing excellent options for hunters. These knives typically consist of a handle using a synthetic material and an interlock that allows blades to be quickly and easily replaced. The ability to switch out a dull or broken blade for a fresh one in the field is the biggest advantage you will find.
Examples of Good Fixed-blade Hunting Knives
A drop point hunting knife uses a more rounded profile toward the tip that greatly increases the strength of the blade. Many survival knives use a drop or spear point for the added strength. The Victorinox Master Mic L is a modern version of a drop point hunting knife. The blade uses a high-strength alloy. This is a tough knife that will take a beating. The Scandi grind makes sharpening quicker and easier.
Examples of Good Folding-blade Hunting Knives
Victorinox has introduced a wide range of good quality folding hunter knives over the years. One of the newest is the Victorinox Swiss Army Folding Hunter. The stainless steel blade takes an edge well. The spear point tip is wonderful for working through heavy hides and the ergonomic grip ensures the blade goes where your hand wants it, even when separating joints or working through something that requires extra effort. This knife is also highly affordable, lightweight, and makes an excellent everyday carry knife.
Examples of Good Replaceable-blade Hunting Knives
One of our favorite knives to use for field dressing and most other tasks is the Outdoor Edge RazorMax. This is a replaceable-blade hunting knife that comes with two styles of blade, a drop point and a 5” fillet knife. The blades are ludicrously sharp -be careful. When a blade becomes dull or breaks, it is a simple and quick process to change. Replacement blades are inexpensive.
What really sets the Outdoor Edge apart from other replaceable blade systems is the locking mechanism. The lock functions as an added spine for the blade. It provides strong, consistent support and doesn’t allow for any unwanted movement. The ergonomic rubberized handle is a treat, it’s easy to grip even in sub-zero temperatures and when things get messy.
Unlike some of the replaceable-blade knives out there, the Outdoor Edge feels like a high-quality knife rather than a gadget. Since we started using the Outdoor Edge, it has become a steady go-to, whether skinning a deer in the field, cutting up a harvest in the shop, or filleting some nice fish right on the banks. The Outdoor edge is a versatile tool that is also affordable to own, unlike some of our favorite fixed-blade knives.
Blade Size and Materials
You probably have noticed that most hunting knives feature blades that are somewhere between 3.5” and about 6”. Can you field dress a deer with a 12” Bowie knife? Sure, but chances are good you are going to waste a lot of meat and a lot of energy. Oversized hunting knives are not common anymore, and for the majority of your harvesting procedures, you will find that a smaller, well-shaped blade gives you more control and is faster to use than a larger blade.
Blade construction is an important consideration. Knife makers today have an almost unlimited number of options for steel to make blades from. Many knife makers, like Victorinox Swiss Army, have a specific preference. Almost all Victorinox knives are made from Martensitic Stainless Steel. This is a corrosion-resistant steel that takes an excellent edge and provides good durability at an affordable price.
The Outdoor Edge knives featured here use varieties of stainless steel to craft knife blades. The company commonly uses 8Cr13MoV Stainless Steel, a Chinese product that is less expensive to produce than AUS-8. Any of the CR-type steels will produce a tough blade, but you will need to practice sharpening, as these blades won’t hold an edge forever.
Flat-grind vs. Hollow-grind
This is where things can get interesting for many people shopping for a good quality hunting knife, because it seems everyone has an opinion about what is best. When discussing the grind of a knife, you are talking about the profile of the cut that leads to the edge. Numerous types of grinds are used in knives, but the most common in hunting are the flat-grind and the hollow-grind.
A flat-grind is a consistent taper from the spine to the edge, making a V-shape. This type of grind offers superior blade strength and a sharp cutting edge that is easy to reshape after use. One of the most iconic of all knives ever made uses a traditional flat-grind. The Swiss Army Hunter Utility Knife uses a flat grind. This little utility knife is truly wonderful in that it packs so many useful tools into one package. Two of the three blades feature serrations, one of which has a graceful curve that is great for working through tough spots, like tendons and thick hides.
A hollow-grind curves from the thickest point to the edge, which allows for a sharper knife. The hollow-grind is typically superior for slicing and cutting over the flat-grind. A number of Outdoor Edge knives feature a hollow grind, but one we particularly like is the CaperLite. This caping knife has a delicate hollow-grind and a super comfortable grip. It makes caping out that harvest fast, easy, and safe.
When you are shopping for a hunting knife, it is easiest to narrow down what you want by eliminating the options you don’t want. Each hunter will have a certain preference for the way a knife feels in the hand, the type and shape of the handle, and the way the blade is designed. Some folks enjoy the ritual of sharpening their knife, while others would rather not have to worry about it. Different steel compositions will provide a better edge, or a longer-lasting sharpness, or a more durable blade. The types of steel and alloys used today is almost endless, and new processes are leading to even better metals.
The best way to find the knife you like is to experiment with different types of hunting knives. Ask your friends, family, and fellow hunters to try out what they use. When you get a feel for a particular style of knife, buying the best hunting knife is a pleasure. You don’t have to spend a month’s wages to get a really good hunting knife. Many of the knives we discussed in this article are less than $100 and will last you a lifetime. Someday, you may even pass your favorite knife on to the next generation of hunters and keep the traditions we love alive.
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