Walk into your local sporting goods shop in search of a decent knife and you will likely find dozens of choices. Go online toCabelas and you’ll find nearly 300 different models; on Bass Pro Shops, nearly the same amount. There are fixed-blade and folding knives; clip point, drop point and trailing point blades; stainless, carbon, Damascus and various types of steels; and all manner of handle styles and price points to chose from.
So where is a hunter to begin? What knife style, type or brand is going to perform as he needs?
To start, you have to consider the most common knife types on the market, and more importantly the primary job you want the knife for. Once you take into account the various considerations of what you need the knife for and what level of performance you expect, your decision will be easier. C.J. Buck, great-grandson of Buck Knives founder Hoyt H. Buck and the current president of the venerable knife making company, says there are three basic elements buyers need to consider when considering the purchase of a knife. They are knife style or rather how a person will access the knife, blade shape and handle ergonomics. To a lesser extent, they may also want to consider the size of the knife; however, for most uses, a blade between three and six inches is going to be more than adequate.
For all practical purposes, there are three basic types of knives sportsmen will need to consider:
Fixed-Blade Knives: Blade and handle are all built into one piece that does not move and typically is carried in a sheath. It is typically stronger because it is built as a single unit with no moving parts, and because it does not move, is generally considered safer to use. For those people who want a knife to wear on their side in the field, a flat, compact fixed-blade is a good option, though larger styles may hang on brush and become cumbersome. If riding horseback, you never want to wear a sheath knife in the event of a fall and will want to keep the blade tucked away into a pack.
Folding-Blade Knives: The blade of these knives fold neatly into the handle of the knife, hinging where the blade and the handle meet. For this reason they are safer to carry, as well as more compact. To prevent the blade from folding when being used, the blade is held in position by a locking mechanism. These knifes are smaller and more compact than fixed-blade models and can be worn easily and safely on the belt, as well as take up less room in a pack.
Clip Knives: These knives typically employ a folding blade style and have a clip on the handle that allows the user to carry them clipped to a pocket or pants top for easy access. These knives are good for general use around camp, the home or on the job, but for field applications should be avoided as they are too easily knocked free and lost.
There are more than a dozen blade types or point shapes available, but Buck says for practical purposes, outdoorsmen should concern themselves primarily with three.
Clip Point: A clip-point blade has a thinner tip for an increased ability to puncture surfaces such as when making an initial cut into a hide or material. Because it is thinner, it can also break easier if used to pry. A clip-point blade is best for coring-type jobs.
Trailing Point: A trailing-point blade (also called a mild drop point), falls somewhere between the clip- and drop-point styles by providing a back edge that trails upward and allows a light bladed knife a larger curve to its edge for more slicing surface. The blade point is stronger, but still not as strong as a drop-point blade. This blade type is ideal for tasks related to taxidermy or cutting meat.
Drop Point: On a drop point, the point is thicker, which makes it stronger and less prone for unintended puncturing. It’s ideal for field dressing and skinning as it is less likely to puncture vitals pressing against the inside of a carcass or slice through the hide when caping.
Buck says handle ergonomics is really just a matter of personal preference. Does the knife fit well and feel comfortable in your hand?
“Fit is important as hand fatigue is your enemy,” says Buck. “If you are holding on to a slippery knife when cutting in the field, it can bite you in a heartbeat. Good ergonomics help you hold on to that knife and prevent cutting yourself.”
Some handles feature contours for the fingers, checkered surfaces for improved grip or a flared handle before the blade to prevent the hand from slipping toward the cutting surface. Simply find one that fits your hand size and feels comfortable and you should be good to go.
More on Blades
You might need to become a chemist to learn all there is to know about the steels used for blades, but the basics break down to this: Blades have three performance attributes, which are edge retention, ductility and corrosion resistance. Ductility is the ability of the blade to take a beating and not shatter. Few blades offer all three to perfection, but are generally a balance of those three elements.
For instance, stainless steel blades will not break or corrode, Buck says, but they won’t hold an edge for any length of time. Meanwhile, the old carbon steels “rust if you look at them wrong,” but are tough and will hold an edge forever. Most steels include elements such as vanadium, which Buck Knives uses in their blades, to improve ductility and make the blade tougher and more durable. Through a process of heat treating and then freezing the steel, it makes it harder.
A steel like the S30V that Buck Knives uses doesn’t wear like stainless so it holds an edge much longer, yet it also doesn’t have to be as hard as carbon while retaining some of the toughness.
The bottom line: If you want a blade you don’t want to put much care into, yet still maintains a decent edge, go with one of the modern stainless steels. If you are one of those sportsmen that doesn’t mind putting the care and time into keeping a blade well oiled, then the traditional carbon-based blade will keep an edge well into any chore.