By Gibbs Milliken
A good knife can help you clean game and survive a wilderness emergency.
Most hunting knives are made for cleaning and skinning game, but they may also serve other uses in the field. Unquestionably they have proven their worth in outdoor emergencies. Some are so beautifully made they have become collectors’ items.
The best commercial blades are made of hollow-ground stainless or high carbon steel to hold a keen edge. The names of some makers and their designs are legendary. One of the finest knives, the classic Puma White Hunter, has been produced in Soligen, Germany, since 1956 and hand-finished by skilled German artisans. But as these craftsmen age and retire, they are replaced by machines, and the finish work of these knives has varied. Buyers of the newer laser-cut models should carefully inspect the stag-horn handles and blades for quality and finish. Among these contemporary knives is a new classic design, the Puma Hunter’s Companion, a perfectly balanced, 4-inch drop-point blade with a contoured handle that feels just right in the hand. ($290, White Hunter, Model #116375; $140, Hunter’s Companion, Model #116394; both with leather cases. Coast Cutlery, (800) 426-5858, www.pumaknives.com).
The Spanish are exporting excellent hunting knives with shed-antler handles. The foot-long crown stag Muela Cazorla is a traditional clipped-point Bowie that is surprisingly lightweight and nicely balanced. It is equally effective for quartering big game or serving up the camp barbecue. Muela’s smaller staghorn-and-brass-handled Muela Rebeco is a graceful 45⁄8-inch blade, beautifully finished, and makes an all-purpose belt knife. The maker’s most radical modern design is the Muela Grizzly, a skinner with a deep gut-hook and cutouts that aid in securely gripping the base of the blade for balance and leverage. The curved rosewood handle is impregnated with resin for durability and easy cleaning. ($102.95, Cazorla Crown Stag; $88.95, Rebeco Stag; $75.95, Grizzly; Muela Knives, (888) 817-0895, www.knifeplace.com).
Larger knives such as the Aitor El Montero are capable of clearing a trail or campsite, or cleaning an elk. The strike plate on top of the full-tang blade can be used to assist in chopping wood or bone. The matching Aitor Skinner has a 6-inch-long curved blade with a serrated thumb rest for maximum leverage. ($114.95, El Montero-Cuero; $92.45, Skinner; Aitor Knives USA, (800) 669-2382, www.betaco.com).
American manufacturers such as Buck, Schrade, Randall and Case have long made sharp, serviceable hunting knives. The Buck Vanguard has the solid, one-piece feel that hunters look for in a fixed-blade knife. The textured rubber handle offers a firm grip — wet or dry. Medium in size and weight, the Vanguard is an all-purpose knife with simple brass fittings and a precisely cut 41⁄8-inch blade hollow-ground to a razor-sharp edge. ($77, with leather sheath, Model #692, Buck Knives, (800) 215-2825, www.buckknives.com).
One of the most time-tested and affordable U.S.-made hunting knives is the 71⁄4-inch-long Schrade Sharpfinger. This design, part of Schrade’s Old-Timer Series, has been in service for three decades. Constructed of high carbon steel, the distinctive 31⁄2-inch-long curved blade is equipped with a riveted saw-cut-textured handle of tough Delrin material. Its compact size and efficient blade shape makes this knife good for cleaning small game or caping a large trophy. ($35.95, Model #152-OT with leather belt case, Schrade Cutlery, (800) 272-4723, www.schradeknives.com).
Hunting knives are some of the most ancient cultural artifacts and continue to symbolize social status, pride, and attitude. They are also indispensable tools for hunting, fishing, eating, working and, if necessary, the essential survival tool in a wilderness emergency.