The knife is one of the oldest and most versatile hand tools devised by man. First developed during the Stone Age as a flint hunting weapon, modern knives are used for everything from combat and self-defense to dressing game and general utility.
A knife is a hand tool or weapon with a single- or double-edged blade that humans have been using, in one form or another, for millennia. As a multipurpose tool, the knife allows you to cut, lift, pry, and break as required.
If you need to cut yourself free from your seatbelt, pry nails out of wooden boards, cut open packaging, or perform any number of complex or simple tasks, you can bet on a pocket knife.
As a hunter or outdoorsman, a multi-purpose survival knife can help you stay alive in the wilderness. In contrast, a special-purpose hunting knife allows you to field-dress game animals efficiently.
Combat knives and bayonets have served as auxiliary weapons for infantrymen for centuries and still see use today, such as the famous KA-BAR.
Regardless of your intended application, don’t underestimate the utility of a high-quality blade. It may save your life.
Hunting Knife Selection
There are several different types of hunting knives to choose from, depending on your specific requirements.
When selecting an appropriate hunting knife, one of the first decisions you should make is the blade style. Among the most common blade types are as follows:
1. Clip point
One of the most common and recognizable knife blade designs, the clip point, from the point to the first third or half, has a spine that appears to have been clipped off by the manufacturer. This type of cut provides the clip-point blade with a sharp, fine point for precise cutting.
2. Drop point
A drop-point knife has a blade featuring a spine that slopes downward from the handle toward the point. In this simple and durable design, the spine can retain its thickness through the length of the blade.
3. Spear point
Featuring a relatively small belly, the spear-point knife has a symmetrical blade in which the point is aligned with the center. While a spear-point knife typically has a double-edged blade, there are also single-edged variants.
Folding or Fixed
Hunting knives with folding blades are usually lightweight, convenient to carry, and concealable. For everyday carry (EDC), a folding knife is a versatile companion. What outdoorsman, rancher, or farmer doesn’t carry a pocket knife?
Fixed-blade knives tend to be larger. The lack of a folding mechanism also means that the blade is more rigid and sturdy. However, a fixed-blade knife, all else being equal, will be less concealable.
The most durable fixed-blade hunting and survival knives have a blade whose material continues through the handle. This extra length is called a “full-tang” blade and increases resistance to bending and lateral stress.
The length of the blade determines its strength, versatility, and concealability. A folding pocket or EDC knife typically has a blade of 2–4”. Fixed-blade survival knives usually range from 4–8”. Longer blades tend to be stronger and can withstand “batoning” — thus, they’re more useful for woodcraft. Folding knives, however, are generally lighter and more compact.
Without engaging in an exhaustive analysis of metallurgy, the type of knife steel that you choose will affect how well it retains a cutting edge, how easily you can sharpen the blade, its toughness or resistance to cracking and chipping, and how well it resists corrosion.
For example, 1095 is a high-carbon steel common to knife blades. This steel alloy effectively resists wear, is known for holding a cutting edge, and is relatively easy to sharpen. However, 1095 is also highly susceptible to corrosion, necessitating that you keep it clean and well oiled when not in use.
440-series stainless steel, such as 440C, is an example of a corrosion-resistant alternative to carbon steels for knife blades.
The types of hunting knives, or knife, that you need will depend on whether you need a special- or general-purpose blade. Some of the most popular hunting knives include the following:
A skinner or skinning knife typically has a short, wide blade with a single cutting edge and a deep belly. Sharp and short, the skinning knife enables you to precisely cut and remove the animal’s hide without damaging the underlying muscle tissue or tendons. The blade’s deep belly increases the length of the cutting stroke relative to the length.
A gutting knife is a special-purpose single-edged blade with a gut hook — a sharpened semi-circle on the spine. The gut hook allows hunters to cut open the abdomen of a deer without puncturing the intestines, thereby reducing the risk of contaminating the meat.
Regardless of whether you find the gut hook useful for its intended purpose, you can find other uses for it.
A boning knife is designed specifically to remove the meat from the bones of deer, fish, and other game animals efficiently. It typically features a thin, narrow blade with a single razor-sharp cutting edge.
A serrated blade has a tooth-like section that allows you to perform a sawing action, cutting more quickly. However, serrated blades do not cut as neatly and are difficult to sharpen with a whetstone. The primary advantage of a serrated blade is speed.
Handle and Knife Safety
Many hunting knives have razor-sharp blades for performing delicate, precise cutting work. At the same time, rain, mud, sweat, and blood can cause the process of field-dressing a game animal or performing other tasks slippery.
As a result, a survival or hunting knife should have a non-slip handle and a guard to prevent your hand — palm and fingers — from moving forward and contacting the blade. A non-slip handle may involve a specific choice of material, texturing, or finger grooves/jipping.
Maintaining your knife is as essential as maintaining your firearm, bow, or other hunting weapons. You should periodically clean your knives, paying close attention to signs of rust or corrosion.
If you own a folding knife, rust and foreign matter entering the locking mechanism can interfere with the function of the knife, rendering opening and closing difficult. This attention also extends to the sheath, if you use one. A sheath that absorbs and retains water can accelerate corrosion in wet conditions. If the knife contains any moving parts, keep these well oiled to ensure reliable operation.
There’s also the matter of sharpening. A dull knife blade is not only less useful — it’s also potentially dangerous. You don’t need your knife to slip and cause injury.
One of the best ways to sharpen a knife is with a whetstone. A whetstone is a natural or manufactured stone with one or more abrasive surfaces against which you slide the edge of the knife blade. Whetstones are also used for polishing gun parts.
The important thing to remember: take care of your knives, and they will take care of you.
The Right Hunting Knife Depends on the Job
The type of knife, blade design, material, and other factors affect how easily you’re able to wield this tool in the field. When selected properly, both special- and multipurpose knives are among the most useful tools you can own.
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