You can’t compromise on survival gear quality, so over 20 years ago, I invested in a Cold Steel SRK. If I could only have one survival knife, which would also be used as a field dressing tool for big game and a meat cutting implement, a SRK would be a good choice. Here’s why.
by Leon Pantenburg
After my first Idaho elk hunt in 1990, I had to make some gear changes. My wood-stocked BDL 7mm Remington Magnum caliber went synthetic. I got heavier boots, warmer hunting clothes, better binoculars and a Cold Steel SRK.
The upgrade was great: What hunter ever needs an excuse to buy new stuff? But I got almost emotional upon replacing my Model 371 Buck folding hunting knife. I bought the Buck new for $25 on August 31, 1976 at the Ace Hardware Store in Lovell, Wyoming, and the Buck and I have bonded.
The Buck was in my pack when I hiked the John Muir Trail in California; the southern loop of Yellowstone, Death Valley
and the Wind River Range on several other long hikes in various western mountain ranges. It rode on my hip on my end-to-end Mississippi River canoe trip from Minnesota to Louisiana, and also went on canoe trips through the Big Black and Okefenokee Swamps. The Buck has been used to clean hundreds of fish, squirrels and rabbits; cut summer sausage and spread gallons of peanut butter on crackers and bread. I used it to gut and skin my first deer.
But after my first backpack elk hunt, I realized a different knife was needed. Weight was an issue, and there is only room to carry minimal equipment into the backcountry. A knife would have to do everything, so it had to be virtually indestructible.
This ruled out folders. Any folder’s weak point is the hinge. Break that, and you end up with two pieces. And, a hinge attracts hair, dirt and other stuff that will eventually gum it up.
Then, I also wanted a longer, thicker blade for gutting and quartering a large animal. While there are folks who regularly take care of their hunting needs with a jack knife, I prefer a four to six-inch-long blade.
My backcountry knife also needed a non-slip handle. Inevitably, the knife gets covered with blood and body fluids during a gutting operation and a slippery handle is dangerous.
And I don’t like guthooks. In my opinion, the hook is a gimmick and only good for a couple of cuts, such as the initial incision to open up the body cavity. Otherwise, the guthook dulls easily, looks terrible on a knife blade, can hook on the sheath or your clothing and serves no other purpose.
I needed the best survival knife, that could also double as a hunting knife. So I thought long and hard before deciding on a SRK. The initials stand for “Survival Rescue Knife,” but I bought it because of the reasonable price, design, handle composition and the reported durability.
My SRK’s high carbon steel blade is 3/16″ thick and 6″ long; the Kraton handle is 4-3/4 inches long and overall length is 10-3/4 inches. My SRK, without sheath, weighs eight ounces, and 10.5 with sheath wrapped in duct tape. It appears to have a full-length tang, and the sheath was reasonably good nylon.
The knife came out of the box shaving-sharp, and the steel holds an edge very well. The blade came with a black finish I don’t like. My first action was to have the coating removed, and the blade re-ground into a convex profile. There’s never been a problem with rust.
My SRK was used for everything. Over the course of its career, the knife has been carried hundreds of miles on backpacking and hunting trips. It has been used to whittle wiener sticks, been battoned through firewood, and has been pounded through a deer’s pelvis with a rock during butchering. It is the knife I use for beheading fish. Several kids have learned safe knife handling, using the SRK, around campfires at Boy Scout campouts.
For what I need, specifically, a survival tool that can double as a backcountry big game hunting knife, the SRK has been just right. My SRK has field dressed well over 50 deer and been used on several elk.
In one instance, the knife field dressed and quartered three deer without it needing sharpening. The handle never gets too slick to hold safely, no matter how messy the field dressing job gets.
The knife’s performance is so impressive that two of my elk-hunter friends also bought SRKs. Several years ago, I bought a SRK for a hunting buddy who refused to accept my fair share of the gas money on a hunting trip.
But there are some other tasks where the SRK doesn’t particularly shine. It isn’t a particularly good camp knife, since the thick blade doesn’t work all that well for slicing tomatoes, potatoes, or summer sausage. It’s clumsy for peeling potatoes. But that’s why I also, weight permitting, carry some form of Mora-style knife.
The clip point design works well for gutting and most field dressing chores, but the SRK is not the best skinner. And there are better knifes for meat cutting. Forget about filleting fish: the knife is just too big and inflexible.
Other than a few minor cosmetic tweaks, my SRK has worked just fine for a couple of decades. Even though it has been retired from active duty, there is no replacement in sight!
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