As fall approaches, a deer hunter’s thought turn to tree stands, bows and rifles, and the pure joy of being on a deer stand on opening day.
For us cutlery enthusiasts, it may be time to start looking for a new hunting knife. Here are some I will be using this season.
by Leon Pantenburg
Disclaimer: I don’t get free knives to review, and was not paid for writing this one. I don’t work for any of the companies mentioned in this post, nor did any sponsor have any input in the content. Nobody had to pay anything for inclusion in this post.All I ever promise on any review is a fair shake.
If I wanted to quit shopping for knives, I would never have started doing knife reviews!
But I love cutlery, and specifically, those user knives that can process a big game animal, whittle a wiener stick, shred tinder, spread peanut butter and serve well in a survival situation. But the real test is through actual use on a big game animal.
I typically harvest several whitetails every year in Mississippi. Last year, I only brought in two, because of flooding and high water which limited access to hunting grounds. And, it is not hunting when the animals are at a disadvantage because of high waters. This fall, the problems didn’t end when the water went down. We still don’t exactly know how the water has affected the forage.
This year, I have acquired several new knives and I can’t wait to actually use them for hunting. I can’t test every new knife on the market, but these have come to my attention, and they will be tried in the field. There is no rhyme nor reason for the choices.
Here are my personal requirements for a deer hunting knife:
No choil – one may negate the inherent safety of the handle design. A properly-designed handle is the only safe one. When you bypass the hilt and/or quillion, and physically put your finger on the blade, you are are that much closer to getting cut.
No folders: I carry and use folding knives every day. But 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.
Non-slip handle: Inevitably, a hunting knife gets covered with blood and body fluids during a gutting operation and a slippery handle is dangerous. This gets to handle design. A well-designed handle, that fits your hand, will be safe regardless of the material in it.
Blade length: 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.
No guthook: The guthook 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, jams up with hair and fat, looks terrible on a knife blade, can hook on the sheath, your clothing or your hand and serves no other purpose.
Here are some up and comers I will be testing this fall. When I head for the woods, I grab a knife that is in the process of being field tested. My go-to knives that go along on every hunt are either an Ambush Tundra or Bark River Bravo 1.25 LT.
Hemphill Survival Common Sense: If a highly-respected knifemaker, who just happened to be a “Forged in Fire” competitor, invited you to design your grail knife, what would you choose?
That was what Jesse Hemphill offered. For me, the decision was was simple: I wanted a knife for deer and big game hunting that could also double as a survival knife. The SCS is based on the Canadian leaf design blade I like so well, and and influenced by the design of my well-used Ambush Tundra. I wanted some tweaks namely, a thicker handle, a thinner blade and a small quillon.
Big D Mississippi EDC: Donovan Phillips, a fellow Mississippian, has been winning big this year, starting with a first place finish at the Bladesports competition at the Atlanta BLADE show in June, followed by a win at “Knife or Death.”
Donovan makes his own line of beautiful, extremely functional knives, and I have been using one of his Drop Point EDC knives for a while. This is Donovan’s personal knife, which he has already used on deer. I think it is going to work very well for me.
L.T. Wright KSF Rogue River: I love L.T. Wright Knives and always liked the Rogue River. Naturally, there were a few things I could come up with that could be changed to make it a better hunting knife. My original had a Scandi grind with micro bevel, 1/8-inch blade thickness and a narrow pointed tip. That Rogue River worked OK on an Oregon mule deer buck.
But for it to be a better hunting knife, it needed a full height convex grind and more belly on the blade near the point for skinning. The latest version of the Rogue River fixes those (IMO) shortcomings, and puts this L.T. Wright squarely in the deer hunting arena.
L.T Wright Five-Inch Genesis: I’ve always thought a Genesis would make a good hunting knife. This five-inch version should be even better. IMHO, a five-inch blade is about right for a knife that may be called upon to be an effective hunting knife, as well as serve as a survival knife.
The Genesis’s broomstick handle is one of my favorite handle designs, and it is long enough to be used safely while wearing neoprene and cut-resistant gloves. I have used L.T. Wright knives extensively, and you can depend on this Genesis as a hunting knife, as well as being a superb survival/bushcraft knife.
Bark River Manitou: The Manitou got included out of nostalgia, and the fact that it is a great design. The first good sheath knife I ever bought was back in the late 60s. It was a Western I-66 sheath knife from Montgomery Wards, and I carried it for years.
The Manitou bears a really, really close resemblance to that first knife. I always thought the Western would be a good deer hunting knife, and we’ll see how that design plays out in November. (Review)
Bark River Fingerling: This knife pattern bears a strong resemblance to the Sharpfinger, which was primarily produced by American companies such as Imperial Schrade and Camillus Cutlery Company, as well as by custom knifemakers. The Fingerling takes this proven design, and upgrades it with CPM 3V.
I predict this is going to be a superior skinning knife. While it could be done, I wouldn’t take a Fingerling as my only knife on a deer hunt. The upswept point, and smaller handle would not make it – for me – a good choice for the initial spine-down, edge-up cut that opens up the abdominal cavity. But this is the knife you’d want for skinning around the neck and shoulders of a deer. It would also be a really good caping knife. (Review)
Mini Tundra: I really like the Canadian leaf style blade that is seen on the Ambush Tundra, and Bark River Canadian Special. This latest Tundra is a scaled-down version of the standard model, with a four-inch blade and four-inch handle.
This is a knife for users with smaller hands, and it is going to be a superb skinning knife. In skilled hands, it should be all you need to process a whitetail. Read the review
Lon Humphrey Tarpon 3v: This is another smaller knife that is going to be a huge help for skinning. With a blade length of 2.55-inches, this is a specialty knife that will work really well for skinning and capeing a deer or elk. I wouldn’t want it to be my only knife on a deer hunt. But team it up with the excellent Humphrey Sterling, and you’ll have all your bases covered.
Helle Eggen and Harding: I’m glad to see Americans are discovering the Scandinavian Mora-style knives. These Helles feature a four-inch laminated blade, generous handles and a thin, slicey blade. Made in Norway, the knives differ from each other in handle shape.
The Scandi grind on both knives is not my favorite, but it is a good choice for a knife that will also be used as a bushcrafting/wood processing knife.
One of my most-carried EDC knives is a similar Puukko design Kellam Hawk. It was used extensively to skin and process an alligator last year, It is hard to beat the Mora style of knives for over-all versatility.
Fire Creek Forge Bushcraft Knife: This handmade knife by Elijah Williams features a drop point, comfortable handle, and excellent O1 steel. It’s going to be really popular. My wife, who is essentially indifferent to knife testing, and merely tolerates my cutlery obsession, snagged this one as soon as it arrived in the mail. The Bushcraft knife will become a kitchen knife, with brief, supervised sojourns into the outdoors.
“Not everybody wants a knife that can gut a deer or split an elk’s ribcage,” she commented. “This knife fits my hand, slices well, and holds an edge really well. You can use it, but it stays in the knife drawer.”
The blade design, with the drop point, flat grind with micro bevel and thin blade will make this a good skinning and hunting knife.
Cross Drop Point Hunter I’ve used several Cross knives over the past few years, and they have always performed magnificently. Made by Forged in Fire winner Pete Winkler, the knives show that A2 steel in an incredible choice for a hunting knife.
I used these knives successfully last season.
Bark River Fox River EXT-2 My first Bark River knife, several years ago, was the Fox River. I picked it because of the blade design, but couldn’t handle one before ordering mine. I was “wowed” at the quality craftsmanship and materials, and looked forward to a long and happy working relationship with the knife. But the handle was too short for my large hands, and I reluctantly sent it back.
But I quick drew my wallet when I saw DLT Trading was offering a Fox River blade with the Bravo handle. IMO, Bark River combined two of their most useful designs in one knife. The EXT-2 performed magnificently in the field. (Review)
Bark River North Country EDC This knife combines a usable blade with a really comfortable handle. I liked it immediately, and it worked really well on a whitetail doe. (Review)
Bark River JX-6 Companion: This knife is designed by Chris Tanner of Prepared Mind 101. It is a smaller version of the JX4 Bushbat and is made without the finger ring.
Knife users will recognize the influence the Grohmann Knives in Nova Scotia, Canada, had on the design. That design, according to my research, apparently goes back to the original Nessmuk knives. The design also appears to have been influenced by the Canadian leaf style blade. Even thought the design is modern-looking, the blade definitely has some time-tested, reliable features. (Review)
These are old, proven favorites.
Ambush Tundra: This knife is based on the superb Bark River Aurora handle and Canadian Special blade design. The result is a knife I carry and use a lot. I recommend the Tundra with no reservations whatsoever.
Bravo 1.25 LT Clip Point: This is another Bark River that was factory modified to my preferences. As soon as I saw the five-inch 1.25 LT, I just knew a couple of tweaks would make it a superb hunting knife.
So I got my LT point re-done at the factory to include a clip point and long swedge. The knife works so well that Bark River will be putting out a 1.25 LT with a clip point and swedge as a standard retail offering.
Mora 840 Companion: This is the most inexpensive knife I use (as in $15!), and it is included for those hunters on a budget. I know how it is – a couple decades ago, I had a wife and three little kids at home, and a lot less money to spend on hunting.
One of the most successful big game hunters I know, Dr. Patrick Simning, has carried his 840 (along with other solid knives) on hunts for moose, caribou, deer, elk and hogs.
Picking a deer hunting knife is a very personal decision, and my choices may not be yours. But get one you like and will enjoy using.
Shoot straight, hunt ethically and enjoy the experience!
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