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Survival knives

Knife review | The Bark River Kalahari Mini-Sportsman may be the fillet/boning knife for you

The Bark River Kalahari Mini-Sportsman
Knife review | The Bark River Kalahari Mini-Sportsman may be the fillet/boning knife for you

A fillet knife may end up being the most useful blade you have. Here’s a new version of an already great piece of cutlery.

by Leon Pantenburg

Disclaimer: KnivesShipFree.com is a sponsor of SurvivalCommonSense.com. I bought this knife to review, and all I ever promise in any equipment review is a fair shake.

My Bark River Kalahari Sportsman is my most-used knife, both in the kitchen and in the field. It has permanent residence on the kitchen knife rack and is used virtually every day. Since I got it last year, my Sportsman has filleted a lot of fish, and been used to bone out the meat from a bull elk and two whitetail bucks.

But the new Mini-Sportsman, just out a week ago, may be a better choice for you.

To quote me in the Sportsman review:

“I currently own  about eight or nine fillet knives in different configurations, and they get used heavily during deer and elk seasons. Right now, the Sportsman is residing on the knife rack in my kitchen, and it looks like that will be its permanent home.

So, at some point, I may have to get another Sportsman, and have Bark River grind the blade length down to 5.5 inches. That length would be perfect for meat cutting. You never know what will turn out to be a “need.”

Well, it sounds like the Bark River folks were listening. Here are the Kalahari Mini-Sportsman specs:

The Mini-Sportsman is a quality fillet/boning knife.

The Mini-Sportsman is a quality fillet/boning knife.


  • Overall Length: 8.9 inches
  • Blade Length: 4.9 inches
  • Blade Thickness:.075 Inch
  • Blade Steel: Bohler N661 stainless steel @ 60rc
  • Weight: 2.5 Ounces

High quality leather sheath included.

Here’s the good stuff:

Blade length: Several years ago, I took a handful of boning/fillet knives and shortened the blades to various sizes, ranging from two inches to six. Then I took them to a meatcutting session after elk season. The other hunters had different opinions (naturally!) of what was the best length.

Fillet/boning knives should have different length blades for different jobs.

Fillet/boning knives should have different length blades for different jobs.

Lengths of blade, IMO, should match the size of the fish. A five-inch is about the minimum for smaller panfish, and I like a six-to-seven inch for medium fish, and a nine-inch for steelhead, salmon and larger saltwater fish.

My personal favorite length for overall use is about five inches, so I was predisposed to like this blade.

Handle: The Kalahari-style handle on my Sportsman is one of my favorites. It fits my  hands well, and even when slimy or bloody, there are no safety concerns. I got the black micarta handle so it would blend in with the rest of my kitchen knives.

Micarta is a great choice for a user knife. The material tends to get almost tacky when wet, and I’ve never noticed any problem with slippage, even when the knife was bloody or slimy.

Blade thickness: This knife is not designed for bushcraft or whittling, even though it would work pretty well. A fillet or boning knife, of necessity, needs to be thin for slicing or filleting. The blade also needs to be flexible, so it can be worked around bones. This blade is a good compromise.

Steel: I love the CPM S35VN steel of the Sportsman. The Mini-Sportsman has Bohler N661 stainless steel, with a  60rc hardness rating. I haven’t used this type of steel before, but I trust Bark River to make a good choice. Stainless is another good choice for a knife that will be used mostly in bloody, slimy, wet situations. The steel will probably resist rust from salt water pretty well, too.

Sheath: The Mini-Sportsman comes with a sturdy leather sheath which will work great for my high desert hunting and river rafting. For people who anticipate using this knife in saltwater or very humid environments a kydex sheath might be a better choice. I think most of us will be served very well with the leather.

Weight: I shave ounces when I go backpacking or backcountry big game hunting. At 2.5 ounces, the Mini-Sportsman will hardly be noticeable.

This bull elk carcass was boned out with a Sportsman. It never needed sharpening

This bull elk carcass was boned out with a Sportsman. It didn’t need sharpening when the job was done.

Spine: The spine is ground at a 90-degree angle. In a pinch, it could be used to scrape a ferro rod to make sparks for survival firemaking. I rarely ever use a knife spine for that, but it’s nice to know you could.

Grind: The Mini-Sportsman has a convex grind, meaning the bevel on each side of the blade is slightly rounded and tapers to form the edge. I got hooked on convex grinds after I got my first Bark River. IMO the convex holds an edge better and and longer than any other grind I’ve tried, and makes the best choice for skinning big game.

Sharpening is not difficult, once you get the hang of stropping the blade (Here are some great tutorials.)

Made in USA: All Bark River knives are made in Escanoba, Michigan, and have a lifetime, 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. I checked the company out a couple years ago. They are good people.

Not so hot on:

Handle length: I have big, working-man hands – size large gloves. My right palm measures four inches across, and the mini’s handle is four inches long. For me, that is too short for extended use. Also, the handle diameter needs to be bigger. I like a handful when I’m doing extended meat cutting, boning or filleting, and this handle is just too small.

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My wife or daughter, though, could use the mini with perfect comfort. If you have small to medium hands, this handle may fit you like it was custom made. But the mini would be a better knife – for me – with the standard Kalahari handle.

So do you need this knife?

I find a fillet knife to be incredibly useful, and a quality fillet/boning definitely has a place in your hunting/survival/preparedness gear. The Kalahari Mini-Sportsman may be just what you need, and there is no question it could handle a lot of hard work. This knife is worth checking out.

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Survival knives

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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