A good hunting knife is one of the hunter’s most important tools, It’s just as important, or more so, than the firearm. A good hunting knife should allow the hunter to quickly and easily field dress game, but more importantly, the knife should also serve as a general cutting tool for any task that may arise during the hunt or in camp.
One point that should perhaps be covered is the suitability of a first-rate folding knife for the hunter’s uses. A great many excellent folding knives are available that can tackle most anything the hunter is likely to ask of them. Their compactness and convenience is appealing, but for pure handiness and rough and ready durability, the fixed-blade sheath knife is still king and the choice of most seasoned outdoorsmen.
Fortunately today’s market offers the hunter a broad choice of fixed blade hunting knives. Nearly every major knife manufacturer turns out hunting knives, and there exists a wealth of custom knife-makers who specialize in handcrafting fixed-blade hunters one at a time. In this article, we have space to look at only a few of the excellent custom and production hunting knives available today. Please bear in mind there are many other well-made knives out there.
An Old Name And A Good One
Buck Knives of El Cajon, Calif., has long manufactured hunting knives. In fact, their far-reaching legacy began with fixed-blade belt knives. Today, that legacy continues with the Alpha Hunter series. The stylish Alpha Hunter is available in two versions. The high-end model features a premium ATS-34 steel blade with a stabilized hardwood handle, and rides in a sewn leather sheath. The less expensive version has a Kraton[R] rubber handle with a 420HC stainless steel blade. The sheath is of Cordura, with a plastic liner for safety.
The Alpha Hunter series has a drop point blade with plenty of belly for most skinning chores. An optional model with a gut hook on the blade spine allows hunters to open up game like pulling a zipper on a coat.
Buck Knives has been the leader in production made fixed-blade hunting knives, and their new Alpha Hunter series demonstrates that the company is still the forerunner in the market. The deluxe wood handled version of the Alpha Hunter retails for $106, the Kraton version for $70. Add $10 to either model for the optional gut hook.
Custom knifemaker John Greco, who hails from rural Greensburg, Ky., is known for his performance blades with affordable price points. His prices rival that of high-end production knives, so for the price of a store bought knife, one can afford a genuine Greco custom.
The knife Greco sent for this article is his Companion Mk III fixed blade, which he states is his best selling model to hunters. And here’s why.
The slender drop point blade measures 5-inches in length and is flat ground out of .2-inch thick 8670 carbon steel stock. The Companion’s blade is pretty thick for a knife this size, giving it good lateral rigidity and improved balance. The handle is of black micarta and has an integral finger guard for extra user safety. With each knife, Greco includes a pouch-style sewn leather belt sheath.
This is a no-nonsense, sturdy design. Greco puts a mean edge on his knives and this one is no exception. The thick blade stock allows one to tackle big, tough cutting tasks with aplomb. And the knife has very good balance in the hand. So what do you pay for a custom knife like this? The Companion Mk III runs only $89.95.
Sleek As A Cat
Katz Knives’ new Kagemusha series of fixed and folding knives offer a sleek look in a highly useable package. The Kagemusha fixed blade appears to be a highly utilitarian knife with its upswept blade and slightly curved handle for user comfort.
For the blade, Katz Knives uses their proprietary XT80 stainless steel for a combination of good edge holding qualities and corrosion resistance. A series of deeply cut traction notches are positioned on the blade spine for a secure thumb or finger rest, giving more precise control over cutting chores.
The cherrywood handle scales are very pleasing to the eye. The Kagemusha fixed blade is also available with a textured Kraton[R] rubber handle for those who prefer the tactile touch of this material. The knife lays in your hand very well, with the curve of the handle conforming nicely to the user’s grip.
The Kagemusha’s hollow grind and excellent cutting edge geometry make it a great cutting tool, especially for meat. The upswept blade design gives a graceful belly to the cutting edge, ideal for slicing. Evaluating the Kagemusha was a pleasure. Definitely this is a knife that can cut the mustard and then some!
For those looking for a fixed blade with excellent performance characteristics, look for the Katz Knives Kagemusha series. A very well made leather pouch sheath comes with each Kagemusha fixed blade. This blade is well-crafted and a solid performer. The Kagemusha retails at $168.
Good Things From Oregon
Benchmade Knife Company’s new fixed-blade hunters were released last year just in time for deer season. The Model 190 drop-point hunter and Model 192 Bird & Trout share the same make up in terms of materials. Both have flat-ground blades of proven 440C stainless steel, with handles of stabilized hardwood, integral guards and full tang construction for good balance and sturdiness. 440C stainless is widely known for its corrosion resistance and edge holding capabilities.
The Model 190 is the all-around performer, excelling at many tasks such as skinning and slicing, due to its deep-bellied drop point blade shape. The contoured wood handle offers a secure grip.
For smaller game and fish, the Model 192 fits the bill. The thin blade stock, in combination with the full flat grind, makes this knife cut effortlessly. And in a pinch it can be used as a filet knife. Both models feature prominent traction notches for the ultimate in control.
These knives come with a leather pouch sheath and have a retail price of $100. The Model 190 and 192 join the Model 180 Outbounder in forming the core of Benchmade’s line of fixed-blade huntingknives for the outdoorsman.
Trace Rinaldi of Hemet, Calif., is a custom maker known for his high-performance utility and tactical fixed blades. He certainly knows what it takes to build a knife you’ll want to use…and use a lot. Among his many designs, the Gambit model is a top seller to hunters. It is a compact, drop-point fixed blade designed for easy carry and adaptable to many uses.
All of Rinaldi’s handles are contoured and rounded for the ultimate in user comfort, which has become his calling card. The Gambit is no exception. For this article, Rinaldi fabricated a Gambit with a textured G-l0 handle and a high-tech Talonite[R] blade.
Talonite is a chromium and cobalt alloy, and contains no iron. Therefore, it is not classified as steel. Completely nonmagnetic and totally corrosion resistant, Talonite has a matrix of carbides in the alloy that give this material its performance characteristics. The beauty of Talonite is when the cutting edge feels dull to the touch, it will continue to cut due to the presence of the carbide matrix. Surprisingly, sharpening is no problem, as it is a slightly softer material than stainless steel Total cost for a knife made exactly as you see here–$250. For a Talonite bladed knife this is a great price.
The sheath that comes with the Gambit is a molded Concealex thermoplastic unit that is unaffected by the elements. Rinaldi designed the Gambit to be carried as either a neck knife or a belt knife, thus he includes both a necklace and Mini Tek-Lok belt adapter. The Gambit is probably one of the most comfortable small fixed blades you will ever handle. The rounded scales fill your grip while the drop point blade readily tackles any cutting task.
The Gambit is just one example of Trace Rinaldi’s fixed blade line up that has garnered him a loyal following among those who demand the finest in custom crafted blades.
A Name Everyone Knows
Randall Made Knives is a big name in fixed blade hunters and skinners. They have a tradition of excellence dating back to the mid-1900s. Their Model 11 Alaskan Skinner has a broad, 4-inch blade that has a generous belly to facilitate the toughest of field dressing chores. The Model 11 was designed in 1952 by renowned Alaskan hunting guide Tommy Thompson.
To complement this hard working blade shape, the Alaskan Skinner carries a 4 1/4-inch long handle comprised of specially treated stacked leather washers with brass guard, and is topped off with a Duraluminum butt cap. What this amounts to is a serious fixed blade for heavy use. Each Model 11 Alaskan Skinner comes with a high-quality leather belt sheath.
The 4-inch Model 11 retails for $235, and there are also 4 1/2 and 5 inch versions available. These run $245. If you are looking to acquire a Model 11 Alaskan Skinner for your collection, expect to have to wait. At press time, Randall Made Knives has a delivery date of May 2006, and that is subject to change without notice.
Cold Steel is a name that springs naturally to mind when considering innovative fixed-blade knives. The company has a custom collaboration hunting knife in their line now, which was co-designed with the help of noted custom knifemaker Lloyd Pendleton. Pendleton has been turning out fixed blade hunters, one by one, for about 30 years.
Cold Steel’s Pendleton Hunter features a 3 1/2-inch semi-skinner blade made of AUS-8 stainless steel. The handle, including the single guard, is molded from Kraton rubber, and is textured for a secure grip.
The Pendleton Hunter has all the lines of a classic fixed blade. It’s simple in design but highly useful when it comes to processing game meat. When your hands are wet or covered in blood, the textured Kraton will not feel slick at all. In fact, you will be pleasantly surprised at how secure your grip feels when your hands are wet.
The flat ground blade cuts easily and has enough belly to it to facilitate skinning chores. AUS-8 is a good middle-of-the-road steel and is perfect for hunting knives like this due to its ability to hold an edge and its ease of resharpening. Cold Steel includes a molded Secure-Ex sheath that holds the knife securely and safely until needed.
For those who might fancy small fixed blades, Cold Steel also produces the Mini Pendleton Hunter, which has a 3-inch blade. Otherwise, materials are the same as the bigger version. The Pendleton Hunter and Mini Pendleton Hunter retail for $89.99 and $49.99 respectively and are available now from your favorite Cold Steel retailer.
Light And Ready
Spyderco is best known for folding knives, but don’t be fooled, they also offer a number of excellent sheath knives. One of the most useful for the outdoorsman is the Fred Perrin model.
At only 3.7 ounces, this knife is shockingly light, and complete with locking synthetic scabbard with Tek-Lok attachment, the package weighs but 6.65 ounces. The 5-inch, VG-10 steel blade follows the Bowie pattern, and is useful for any camp or field chore you can imagine. A deep finger groove and soft Kraton inserts on the handle sides make the knife comfortable and secure, even when wearing gloves.
Light and easy to handle, don’t be surprised when you find yourself reaching for the Spyderco Perrin for your camp cooking chores. Priced at $129.95, The Perrin offers maximum cutting power with minimum weight.
Last but in no way least is a fine blade from Ruana Knives of Bonner, Mont. Rudy Ruana is said to have made his first knives while a farrier for the U.S. Cavalry. The tradition continues to this day, and traditional is a fine description of Ruana knives.
The blades are hand forged and then ground of high-carbon steel. Yes Virginia, they will discolor with use, as seen in this well-used specimen. However, only the slightest care is required to keep them rust free, and the trade off is superior cutting performance.
Ruana’s aluminum hilts are both striking and unusual. Cast directly onto the blade, they can never become loose. Elk antler panels are dovetailed and pinned into place for comfort and appearance. These are knives designed to stand up to a lifetime of hard use, and include a superior pouch-type sheath with flap.
The model pictured is the 28CD. which currently runs $225. Ruana offers a host of models, you’re sure to find one that appeals to you.
Fixed-blade hunting knives come in all sizes, prices, and choices of handle and blade materials. It’s important to bear in mind when selecting your hunting knife that your requirements may not mirror those of your hunting buddy. Evaluate your needs and choose wisely. Odds are your favorite belt knife will become a trusted companion to be used for a lifetime before being passed on to your children. A properly selected, well-made hunting knife will no doubt make your hunting trips more enjoyable, and your life easier.