You’ve been on the road for more than a month. Your initial supplies have run out and you have no choice but to rely on your skill as a hunter. Whether you trap, use a bow, slingshot, gun or just your wits, once your target is down you will need to skin and dress it (cut the meat and prepare it for cooking), and the most important piece of equipment you will be needing is a good hunting knife.
A hunting knife is crucial if you want to:
- Keep safe. A skinning environment is slippery and wet. A dull blade and slippery handle are sure to cause injury during the skinning process, and in a survival situation an injury could seriously lower your chances
- Remove the animal skin in one piece for further use
- Dress the meat in the most efficient manner. You busted your ass to down that animal. You need every scrap you can get.
The difference between a hunting knife and a survival knife
You have that giant survival knife strapped to your waist. Do you really need a dedicated hunting knife?
The answer is a resounding yes. Due to the difference in use, hunting knives differ greatly from survival knives:
- Tasks: A survival knife will be used for many rough and difficult tasks – chopping wood, breaking glass windows and self defense to name a few. Hunting knives on the other hand are used for the more delicate task of cutting up an animal. Think axe vs. scalpel.
- Blade Size: Survival tasks demand a large, sturdy blade. When hunting in a survival scenarios you will most likely be acquiring smaller sized animals, which means a smaller blade needed. To illustrate this point – imagine trying to dress a squirrel with a Rambo style blade. Suitable only for those who love fur on their steak.
- Blade Shape: Survival knives need to have a sharp, pointed blade in order to pierce your enemy in self defense. Hunting knives need to have a rounded blade shape that easily glides between the skin and the flesh.
The 4 elements that make a great hunting knife
So now that we understand the necessity for a good hunting knife, these are the four aspects you need to check out when choosing a hunting knife
- Blade type
- Blade size
- Blade material
- Grip material and design
1. Hunting Knife Blade Type
When it comes to survival, you will prefer a clip point, spear point or needle point blade for easy piercing. Hunters on the other hand look for a blade that allows them to remove the skin off an animal without damaging the hide or the flesh. The best blade all-rounder for this kind of work is the drop point blade. Drop point blades have a belly at the end of the blade that rounds up towards the point. This belly makes skinning an easy task and you have little chance of piercing the skin.
A second decision you need to make regarding blade type is choosing a fixed blade vs. a folding blade. Folding blades, like your common pocket knives, fold into the handle, saving precious space in your bug out bag. The downside is that these knives are relatively more prone to break at the hinge, leaving you without a knife. Full tang fixed blade hunting knives are virtually indestructible, usually supplied with a protective sheath. The knife takes up more space but will last longer.
2. Blade Size
Before you choose a blade size you must first try and plan ahead – what will your target game look like? Will you be out in bear and moose country or will you be hiding in the city where the odd bird and rodent will make up your family dinner?
For medium to large game a blade that is 4 inches and longer will do the trick. For smaller game choose a blade of 2.5 to 4 inches in length.
3. Blade Material
There are many types of hunting blade materials but most fall into two categories: Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel.
Stainless Steel pros and cons
A misconception about stainless steel is that it never rusts. This is wrong. Stainless steel will rust eventually, but the chemical makeup of these blades ensures that they will rust slowly. The downside of this feature is that stainless steel as a blade material is soft, causing these knives to lose their edge sooner. It is not uncommon for experienced hunters to sharpen their stainless steel knives more than once during one animal dressing.
Stainless steel comes in a wide variety of composites, from the 440A stainless steel which rusts very slowly but is relatively soft, to the expensive VG10 which is considered a super-steel, rusting relatively slowly and holding a scary edge. Look out for the Sandvik 12C27, a Swedish stainless steel that is a great all rounder offering good corrosion resistance, easy sharpening and great edge retention.
Carbon Steel pros and cons
Carbon steel knife blades are harder than stainless steel, which means that they will keep their edge for a much longer period of time. If you are going to be out of civilization for a long time, this would be the best knife material to chose.
The main drawback to carbon steel knives is their poor resistance to corrosion. Unless they are well treated after each use, these knives will rust in a wet environment. Cleaning the knife after each use maintains the blade material and you get a sharp, durable blade that will be great outside.
Of the many types of carbon steel blades, look out for the 1095 steel. It holds a scary sharp edge and is easy to sharpen.
4. Grip Material and Design
Back in the day knife grips were made with bone, cord or wood. Many old school hunters (myself included!) prefer the classic look of an old school handle, but these are not the strongest materials in the market. In survival environments you need a grip that is break proof, slip proof and comfortable. Today we have a variety of brilliantly engineered materials that make great grips. The most popular handle materials include G-10 (impervious to most elements like water, oils and acids), Carbon Fiber (ultra lightweight and extremely strong) and Zytel (strong and light, it offers great surface grip).
The hunting knife market is constantly expanding with new models emerging on a weekly basis.
To whittle down the myriad of knives, materials and models, here are our bottom-line recommended knives for a survival scenario:
- Small to medium game, folding knife: There are two knives that are perfect for small game survival hunting. The Benchmade Mini Barrage is an axis-locking, assisted opening folding knife that is handy as a self defense weapon while its wide blade works well as a good skinner.
A second option in this category would be the classic Buck 110. A folding carbon steel knife, this is a knife that is manufactured in the USA and it comes with a lifetime guarantee which tells a lot about the quality. It is sharp and unbreakable, but quite heavy in your hand. The Buck 110 is an all time classic, leading the bestseller lists for generations.
- Small to medium game, fixed blade: If you’re short on budget, the Morakniv Companion is a surprisingly efficient and sturdy knife that will hold its edge well. If you can stretch your budget a little, the Scandinavian Fallkniven H1 is the king of hunting knives, a purchase you and your children will never regret.
- Large game hunting knives: When it comes to large blades, the king of hunters is the Ka-Bar BK2 Companion, with its 5.25 inch blade. The thick blade means that the knife can double as a survival knife in a pinch, and the greatly designed handle ensures a good skinning experience. This is a great knife for large game hunting.
About the Author:
Greg Gurland is an avid hunter and knife freak. His website HunterBlades.com is dedicated to finding the best hunting knives for each hunter’s specific needs. For more information, feel free to drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org