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Blades have mattered to us for a couple of million years, the point from which the first worked Stone Age cutting implements and points have been dated. Which is to say, well before Neolithic man evolved into homo sapiens. That’s a long time for a tool to have served. In the meantime, we’ve slogged through the Bronze and Iron ages to arrive at a bewildering array of carbon- and stainless-steel alloys to craft the finest field knives.
With few exceptions, the best hunting knives will be fixed blades with full tangs, meaning, the slab of steel from which the blade is fashioned will extend inside the length of the handle to add stability. These days, the blade-composition decision for the discerning hunter will be between carbon steel, which will corrode without care, and stainless steel, which can hold a blade longer but is far harder to sharpen.
Here are some sharp ideas:
The Benchmade Hidden Canyon Hunter
This little boy packs a punch. Benchmade, the esteemed Oregon knife maker, has put together an excellent, lightweight brute in its Hidden Canyon Hunter. You might think that the carbon-steel 2.67- inch blade might be a bit short, but its deep radius-the depth and curve of the blade—means that it can, in the hunter’s parlance, break down the sturdiest buck quite elegantly. At an almost unbelievable 3.53 ounces, this knife is a mini-Hercules.
The mighty Ka-Bar knife has been in production since early in the 20th century, first as a hunting knife, then, as the military realized its quality, as the go-to knife for the Marines in WWII. Millions have been manufactured since then. The Ka-Bar got its name in 1923 when a trapper in upstate New York wrote the Union Cutlery Co. in Olean, New York, which still produces the knives, a semiliterate thank-you note because the knife helped him kill a bear who attacked him as his gun jammed. ‘KA-BAR’ was, apparently, this trapper’s country-speak for ‘Kill A Bear.’ The hefty 7-inch blade of low carbon and vanadium is so tough that it can open a can of rations, dig a trench or reduce that buck you just shot to a fine venison chili.
The Buck 110 Folding Hunter Pro
Fifteen million Buck 110 Folding Hunters have been made since Hoyt Buck’s family firm, founded in 1901, introduced the sturdy folding design in 1963, and there’s a reason for the popularity: They’re well designed and well made, with a brawny rocker-arm lock that just will not break and a hefty, tough-as-nails 3.75-inch blade. The Pro model comes with a very nearly indestructible G10 composite handle.
The Ontario Knife Co. RAT 3
The RAT series by the venerable Ontario Knife Co., founded in 1889 and still grinding out quality knives in upstate New York, is an immensely popular model with a powder-coated 1095 carbon steel blade, Micarta handles and industrial-chic, no-nonsense MOLLE compatible sheaths. Also comes with a slightly longer blade in models 5 and 7.
The Rapala Foldable Filet Pro
Depending upon where your hunting takes you—often close to good water for your prey—en route home you might well snag a trout or a bass for the pan. There is no lighter, easier, handier fish knife than the classic Rapala—inexpensive, light, toss it in-the-rucksack. No moss has gathered on the Rapala designers since they began in Finland in 1930, and they’ve made packing it along even easier with their folding lockback out of hand-ground Japanese steel. The theory being, the Japanese know a thing or to about fileting fish. The ergonomic handle is synthetic, as opposed to the traditional Finnish birch, and has a little groove for the index finger of your cutting hand.
The Buck 119
For those hunters who bank on the Buck dependability but would like that in a long knife, the 119 is a classic. Manufactured now for 75 years and counting, the 2019 model is in 6” 5160-carbon steel, with the traditional softly-mirrored finish and Buck’s iconic black resin handle. The Buck trademark lightness is inbuilt: The thing is built to take the brunt of whatever game you bring it, but weighs in at an agile 7.5 ounces and comes with its classic leather sheath.
The ESEE 5P Black
For the hunter who wants to break down the big pronghorn or elk, this is the modern heavyweight, clocking in at one-and-a-half pounds, with its 5.25-inch high-carbon blade, full tang and khaki Micarta handle. The pommel—the foot of the grip—is rock hard and can break a car window, not that you will be needing the knife to do that, especially, crawling on your belly over ridgelines miles from the nearest road.