Wild game meat provides some of the tastiest, healthiest protein on earth. To clean and process animals for their meat, you’ll need a good hunting knife to field-dress your harvests quickly and efficiently. Because the options seem endless, we spoke with Ryan Cull, marketing director at Havalon Knives, to learn what to look for in a hunting knife.
If you’re unsure which knife to buy, use the internet to visit knife manufacturers’ websites, and read customer reviews at online retailers like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.
“Hundreds of people go out of their way to write something about the product they’re using, whether it be good, bad or indifferent,” Cull said. “There’s an incredible wealth of knowledge out there on most knives, which can help consumers make smart buying decisions.”
Reviews can be informative for new buyers. If the knife you’re eyeing receives consistently positive reviews, it’s probably worth serious consideration. But if it has consistently bad reviews, you might want to reconsider.
The knife market is competitive. Find a company with good warranties and outstanding customer service. You want to buy from companies that stand behind their products. You’ll feel more confident buying from companies with a history of success.
The old saying, “you get what you pay for,” is especially true with knives. “The difference is quality,” Cull said. Hunting knives range from $5 to hundreds of dollars. Cheap knives often create problems, but Cull said quality bargains can be found, especially at rummage sales or from a friend’s surplus stash. Watch for sales, too. Many outdoor stores offer sales and discounts on products right before hunting season, so it’s the perfect time to buy.
Knife blades are all made of steel, but the steel’s grade and quality vary. Softer steel sharpens easily, but dulls the fastest, while harder steel takes more effort to sharpen, but holds its edge longer. Stainless steel is categorized as soft steel, while carbon steel is hard steel. Replaceable-blade knives are often made of stainless steel, while flip- or fixed-blade knives are usually made of carbon steel. Determine your needs and preferences, and choose accordingly.
Whether you’re caping, boning or butchering game, sharp knives make smooth, precise cuts. Sharp knives also get more meat off the bone, because dull blades mangle and tear the meat, rather than cutting it cleanly. No matter which knife and steel you choose, you must keep it sharp, either by using a replaceable blade system or sharpening your blade with sharpening sticks or stones.
The knife you choose should match your hand size and strength. It should fit and feel good in your hand, and not slip. When field dressing animals, you’ll often get blood on your hands, which can make some knife handles slippery. Cull said good grips help hunters maintain control and avoid accidental cuts. A heavy knife or one with a bulky, uncomfortable grip can cause arm strain or muscle fatigue. Compare knives of different sizes, grips and weights to ensure you find a good match.
A final consideration when buying a knife is its accessories. Does it have a clip or carrying case? These features provide quick, easy access to your knife. If that’s not important, you can slide it into your pocket or backpack.
“Most knives come with some sort of holster,” Cull said. “Although it’s not necessary, it’s nice and it adds value to your purchase.”
If you struggle to narrow your options, buy two or three knives and test them throughout autumn. Having extra knives is handy if buddies forget theirs or if you’re bowhunting elk in the backcountry and need several features. And besides, having a backup knife never hurts.
Cull offers a final reminder: “A hunt can be totally ruined by a knife that gives out on you. Checking reviews and spending a few extra dollars might be worth it in the end.”
To learn more about hunting knives, read “Cut to the Chase … Which Knife is Right for Bowhunting,” a previous Bowhunting 360 article. If you’re ready to buy, visit a nearby archery store to find knives and other bowhunting gear that suits your needs.