In the hunting community, people commonly talk about the ‘One Tool Option’. And hunters often spend dollars finding the best tool to bring down their game of choice; rightfully so because the weapon is an essential tool. Just as essential, though, are the ancillary tools used during the hunting expedition. Gears such as stands, packs, GPS, blinds and even clothing impacts the overall quality of the hunting experience. But, the most significant tool is the hunting knife.
A quality hunting knife is versatile enough to do everything a hunter needs.
Which brings me to the question: which one to pick?
With so many different types and styles of hunting knives available in the market, it can be overwhelming to pick the right one. But, there’s no such thing as the perfect all-purpose hunting knife. Different kinds of knives for hunting exist, each designed with a particular function in mind.
Below is a list of questions that you must ask yourself before picking the type and style of knife you want.
1. What will you use your knife for?
“What do you expect the knife to do?” should be the first question you ask yourself.
Hunting involves many activities: first-aid, tracking, brush removal, building a campsite, processing firewood, batoning, making traps, and transporting game. The knife you’ll use to cut the rope used to hang your quarry won’t be the one you will need to skin your game.
A good hunting knife is one that can do most of the hunting tasks.
2. What will you be hunting?
The second question you should ask yourself is “What type of game are you going to hunt?”
Clearly, a tiny pocket knife is the best skinning knife for a small game. But, the big game hunter will use a different type of knife than someone who hunts rabbits. And, if you think bigger is always better, trust me, you are wrong. If you have an oversized knife, you will not be able to skin the game just how you want to and also increase your chances of cutting yourself.
3. How often do you hunt?
Once you have determined what size knife you want, consider “How much are you going to hunt?” Are you going to be a weekend warrior or a full-time?
This matters a lot because if you hunt occasionally and want a knife that can be used for multiple purposes, you may need a smaller folding blade knife. If you are a dedicated hunter, a solidly-built fixed blade knife will make more sense.
4. What steel is the knife made of?
This is a guideline more than a rule. What type of conditions will you be working in? The answer to this question will affect the type of steel you must get for your blade. The ability to hold an edge well and easily, the corrosive resistance – play a very important part in the steel you choose.
The basic types of steel used in today’s hunting knives:
➢ 420 HC steel – budget and versatile stainless steel which needs to be treated properly to hold a good edge, and has rust inhibiting properties.
➢ 440-A/B/C – stainless steel famous for its high corrosion resistance, wear resistance but needs to be heated adequately to hold a good edge.
➢ AUS-6/8/10 – stainless steel produced by a Japanese steelmaker; the carbon content can be compared to 440 stainless steel. With the addition of vanadium, AUS has enhanced erosion protection and increased toughness.
5. What spine does the knife have?
The spine is the top of the knife blade, opposite to the knife edge. The spine of a knife generally has added features, details or is rounded over. A good hunting knife should have at least one spot on the spine that is able to produce hot sparks from a Ferro rod. A good flat spot positioned 90 degrees to the grind is ideal as it gives a sharp corner to strike the Ferro rod hard.
6. What’s the price?
Cost is not really a big factor as good hunting knives run the gamut of cost. Some great hunting knives can be purchased super cheap.
Of course, you’d want to get a custom hunting knife if you are a serious hunter; however, I would advise, research your options before you buy. The last thing you’ll want is a knife that you can’t use for your game. With the money on the table, you can know there is no excuse to choose a poor knife.
7. What type of blade do you prefer?
Once you’ve set your budget, you must ask yourself “Which blade type do you prefer – Fixed blade or folding blade?”
The difference between a folding blade and a fixed blade hunting knife is not rocket science.
Fixed Blade Hunting Knife- If you are a full-time hunter, going for the fixed blade hunting knife is the best bet. The fixed blade knives don’t fold and are extremely easy to keep clean. Because of this, they are generally durable, stronger and versatile than folding blade knives.
Since a lot of rugged work comes with being a hunter, you’ll want dependability. That means you’ll need your knife for gutting and skinning of animals and also to cut through bone and cartilage.
Folding Blade Hunting Knife- For most game and occasional hunters, a folding hunting knife can serve well. A lock-back knife is usually smaller, provides the strength you need, and comes with a better gripping handle and a stronger blade.
8. What is the size of the handle?
Just because the knife’s blade is strong and durable, it doesn’t mean the handle is not important. If you go wrong with the handle, you can put your life at stake.
A firm handle will give an excellent grip to the hunter, facilitates better action, durability and reliability in the wild. A knife with a small handle can give you blisters while one with a big one might not allow the precision you need and might not have an excellent grip.
Having said that, serious hunters should go for the knife with a firm handle. Also, the guard of the knife should be sturdy enough and excel at keeping your hand from running onto the blade to prevent any serious injuries.
9. What tang does the knife have?
Tang is the middle – usually unexposed part of the knife that connects the blade and the handle. While you can always choose partial (where the blade only extends partially through the handle) or stick tang, but for full-time hunters, the tang that is worth your money and time is full tang.
Behind the full tang concept is a need for a blade that won’t break when force is applied to the handle. A full tang is one in which the solid piece of metal that usually constitutes the blade runs down the handle as well. The tang in the full tang knife is not reduced to fit the handle, instead has tang visible on all 3 edges of the handle.
Since a full tang knife ensures a firm grip and enhanced strength when in use, it can be used for multiple purposes.
10. Does the knife come with a sheath?
One of the most overlooked factors of a hunting knife kit, the sheath is an essential element which keeps your knife safe from any harm. It is a protective covering that not only provides a means of carrying the knife but also protects the blade of the knife from being exposed to the elements of nature. Almost all sheaths come with external pouches where you can store knife sharpener, Ferro and more.
The material – Leather or Synthetic?
Although leather is a traditional material that holds up to hard use, if the knife is stored in it for long – the acid in the leather can corrode the blade.
A synthetic sheath may not have the class as traditional sheaths do, but a quality synthetic sheath can last a very long time.
11. New or Used?
While the current production has knives with extremely good blades, some real dandies can be found at gun shows and flea markets. The traditional, old knives have a great edge holding capacity in comparison with the modern imported ones. The old blades also have a lot of history and style.
12. Where is it from?
Lastly, “Where is the knife from?”
You can’t judge the knife quality based solely upon the country of origin. Many great knives come from England, Brazil, and also from China and Pakistan – countries once thought to produce junk. That is why it is important to research the specific manufacturer and knife model you are interested in.
There are a plethora of options available for hunting knife choices. Research! Research! Research! Evaluate the tasks you need to perform. Look at the features, construction, materials, and cost.
Once you are able to answer these questions for yourself, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of knife you should pick. If you choose wisely, a good hunting knife can last a lifetime; but it requires dedication in terms of keeping it sharpened and cleaned.