The most basic but very important piece of a hunter’s kit is a good knife. Guided or DIY, no matter the task at hand, the right knives makes your life in the field and camp easier. Cutting ropes, cutting meat, serving food, opening cans and skinning game are just a few of the chores for which a knife is needed. One knife usually can’t do everything so I usually have a couple with me.

Packing for a hunt, whether at home or abroad, here are the basic blades to consider.

Fixed Blade Hunter

Top of my must-have list is a fixed blade knife. I wear it in a sheath on my hip, accessible with one hand. I’ve carried a hundred different knives — and lost more than my fair share — but my current favorite is from Bitterroot Blades in Montana. Made from a reclaimed mill saw blade, of 1085 high carbon steel, it has a 3.875″ trailing point blade, a brass finger guard and butt cap.

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Another top choice, based on where the hunt takes me, is the Xtreme Model V, a skeletonized blade from Knives of Alaska. I’ve wrapped the handle in paracord and it rides in a Kydex sheath. The blade length is 5″, which is on the long side, but there are times when the longer blade is important.

A fixed blade knife is inherently stronger and faster to deploy than a folder. In a strong sheath, it is safer, too, and less likely to be lost. And when there is work to do, it can be used in all aspects of game recovery.

Pocket Folder

For everyday carry, I like a folding knife and I carry it in my left pocket. My hunting pants have a special knife pocket that rides at fingertip level on my left side. Sometimes I carry a stockman knife out of respect to tradition, but more often the knife is a one-hand opening blade with a pocket clip. My two current favorites are both Benchmade with pocket clips. One has a 3″ blade and the other has a 3.625″ blade.

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A new Benchmade Barrage and a hunter’s blacktail buck.

On a hunt, I expect to have to do some skinning with the folder, so a drop point is my go-to style.

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Machete/Utility Knife

Three days before a safari, custom knife maker Jim Allen, of Three Sisters Forge, called me. He wanted to send a big knife with me. This particular blade had already seen action in Afghanistan. Now it was headed back into harm’s way.

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Contracted to build a survival knife prototype for a search and rescue team pilot, Jim Allen, of Three Sisters Forge, built this concept knife. The blade has now seen action with a helicopter pilot in combat and has been on safari in southern Africa.

It was no trouble to add another tool to my kit. It packed easily alongside my rifle in the case. But this was not just any knife. It was big.

Over the course of a ten-day safari, the big utility blade was used to trim grass for photos, to clear a path for the vehicle, to cut brush for a ground blind, to disable a poacher’s snare and to dispatch a black mamba and a baboon.

The lesson was not lost on this “old” hunter. A big blade that can do the work of small ax is a welcome addition on any hunt. But not everyone will be able to afford a custom utility knife.

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A good option is the SOGfari, which measures in at 23.95″ long, with an 18″ blade. With a suggested retail of $33.00, it is not a budget breaker. It has a straight edge and a saw back, the steel is stainless with a rounded tip to bear the brunt of a downward stroke. As we expect from SOG, there is more: Out of the back of the handle juts a spiked tang for scraping, gouging, pounding or worse. A lanyard hole accommodates a length of parachute cord for twisting, tying and pulling.

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The SOGfari machete with an 18″ blade.

On any hunt, there could be brush to clear, trails to blaze or wood to chop. In the extreme, a long blade that is easy to carry and stow alongside a rifle in a gun case could be put to use to build a shelter or in an emergency for personal protection.

Big Game Boning Kit

When a mule deer or elk hunt takes me into the backcountry, I put the RaptoRazor big game skinner combo in my pack. I plan on packing out the meat and myself only. That means we leave the bones in the field. It takes about an hour longer to bone out an elk, but the lighter weight in the pack is appreciated when the bones are left behind.

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The RaptoRazor system is a fresh approach to gutting and skinning big game.

With the combo pack, I can gut and skin quickly. This is a removable blade system. When the blades are dull, throw them away. On a pig hunt, the RaptoRazor blades were dull after the second animal. An elk is quickly processed with a RaptoRazor gut hook/skinning combo and a can-do attitude.

Fillet Knife

We think “fishing blade” when we see a fillet knife, but there is a lot of utility in a fillet knife when there is work to do. When I shot a buffalo, I had a fillet knife. We skinned and cut three animals that day. The fillet knife saw a lot of action. On moose and elk hunts, the fillet knife comes in handy too. It has a longer cutting surface so — all things being equal — it doesn’t need to be sharpened as often. Any razor-sharp fillet knife is useful, but consider one with more depth. One of my favorite new blades is the Bubba Blade 9″ flex fillet knife. Another great choice is the Kershaw 9″ curved with a textured grip. The deeper blade of this style of knife prevents it from twisting and the flex offers the ability to do detail work along spines and rib bones.

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Photo courtesy of Bubba Blade.
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Kershaw’s 9″ flex fillet knife is a great choice for butchering chores on big game.

Caper

When I have to cape an animal, I can do it, but I don’t like to. If I were taking a head to the taxidermist, I’d rather have the taxidermist cape it out. But, as can happen on an out-of-state hunt, an animal won’t be delivered to the taxidermist for a week or more, I have to do it. Default caping work goes to my folding Buck 112 Ranger. With its sharp 3″clip point blade, it can do the detail work and go back into the pocket.

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This small Buck 112 range is a great choice for detail work. Signed by Chuck Buck, it is too handy a blade to leave in the drawer.

The last time I had to use it was on a boat-based hunt on Kodiak Island. A fox showed up on the beach one morning and I made a stalk. I missed it with my first shot but connected on the second. The fox dropped and I trimmed it out for a future trip to the tannery. The Buck Ranger is a classic for a reason. It was a great choice for the Alaska hunt and took up little space in the kit.

Knives In Checked Luggage

When taking knives on safari, the biggest danger to the collection is in transit from airport to airport. Knives, of course, are not allowed in carry-on bags in the passenger compartment. Instead, they should be stored away in a suitcase or in a duffel bag with a lock.

The best bet is to lock knives in a gun case or carry the blades with your bullets in a secure box inside of the checked luggage. For extra insurance, zip-tie or padlock each zipper pull.

Video by Hill Shadow Pictures, Samuel Pyke, for Frontier Unlimited

For more information: 

Benchmade Knives: www.benchmade.com

Bitterroot Blades: bitterrootblades.com

Bubba Blades: www.bubbablade.com

Buck Knives: www.buckknives.com

Kershaw: kershaw.kaiusaltd.com

Knives of Alaska: www.knivesofalaska.com

RaptoRazor: www.raptorazor.com

SOG Specialty Knives & Tools: www.sogknives.com

Three Sisters Forge: threesistersforge.com