The best hunting knife
Every hunter needs a good knife for skinning, boning, and cutting up game. Purists will tell you that you ought to use another knife for campsite tasks -- but a hunting knife's versatility is such that they generally get used for everything. Not sure which one is right for you? The following brief but comprehensive guide is designed to provide you with the answers you need. Our first choice, MTech USA Xtreme, is certainly worth considering, incorporating all the features you want from a top-quality tool.
Considerations when choosing hunting knives
Folding or fixed?
Folding knives take up less space, don't need a sheath, and may also contain a bone saw. However, the majority of hunters prefer a fixed knife. They usually have a thicker and wider blade, which is therefore stronger. That's important because sometimes you put a lot of force into a hunting knife. Also, there's no danger of the fixed knife closing on you, and they're much easier to clean.
Hunting knife blades
Most blades are stainless steel or high carbon steel (denoted by "420HC"). Be careful with those that are just called "carbon steel," because all steel has carbon in it, so that's nothing special. Check whether it's a high-carbon version.
Stainless steel is cheaper (knives usually run from $15 to $25) and highly resistant to rust, but needs sharpening more often than high carbon. High carbon steel knives cost a little more ($20 to $60) but keep their edge much better. Unfortunately, high carbon steel is very prone to rust, so often the blades are coated with a ceramic material to prevent this.
High-end hunting knives are made from even harder steels. SV30 is one example. These have tremendous edge-keeping qualities, though they are more difficult to sharpen. They're also considerably more expensive -- usually more than $100.
The very finest hunting knives are made from laminated steel (a process similar to that used for making samurai swords). They have absolutely razor-sharp edges, but prices are very high. They start at around $300 and can exceed $500.
Some blades have a serrated area built in, which can be useful for bone work. A gut hook may also be incorporated. These are also sold separately, and as parts of a set.
There are three main blade shapes:
A clip point has a straight back, and the cutting edge curves up to meet it. This shape has the best all-round versatility.
A drop point is where both the back and cutting edge curve together at the end to form a point. They're often quite a thick blade, and are the strongest type.
A skinning point has a noticeable upward curve at the end. It's quite a narrow blade, and not really suited to general-purpose work. It's often sold in a set with a gut hook.
The handle needs a very secure grip, and it should be shaped to include a guard that prevents your hand from sliding up onto the blade. Wood and bone are traditional materials, and feel good in the hand, but aren't as durable as modern plastics and composites. A lanyard hole is a useful feature.
Q. How do I sharpen my hunting knife?
A. Use a whetstone rather than a machine, which can overheat the blade and rob it of its temper (hardness). The bevel angle should be 25º to 30º. Don't rush it. Slow, steady strokes give you better control. Online videos provide good information on technique. You can carry a pocket hone for when you need to touch up the blade in the field.
Q. What is the best blade length?
A. Experts recommend somewhere from three to six inches. Shorter blades might come with a handle that's too small to grip firmly, and so you can't exert enough power. Longer blades can be a bit awkward to control when you're trying to cut accurately.
Hunting knives we recommend
Best of the best: MTech USA Xtreme
Our take: High quality and great versatility for all kinds of hunting and outdoor activities.
What we like: Excellent all-weather grip. Stainless steel blade shouldn't rust. Multipurpose design incorporates bone saw and blood channel. Lanyard hole. Nice sheath.
What we dislike: A bit heavy. Name suggests American manufacture, but it's Chinese.
Best bang for your buck: Elk Ridge Hunting Knife Set
Our take: Separate skinning knife and gut hook, at a great price.
What we like: Gut hook has clever ergonomics. Durable ABS handles. Corrosion-resistant stainless steel blade. Good edge retention. Superb value for money.
What we dislike: Poor sheath. Not supplied sharp.
Choice 3: Gerber Ghoststrike
Our take: Lightweight, small game knife from highly regarded maker.
What we like: High-quality 420HC steel with secure, comfortable grip. Ceramic coating provides good corrosion resistance. Excellent sheath and optional ankle wrap. Lanyard hole.
What we dislike: Could arrive sharper. Handle rubber can wear quickly.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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