After years of using scalpel blade knives like the havalon piranta and the tyto 1.1, I went back to a fixed blade hunting knife for 2018, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to do so.
I originally started leaving my fixed blade hunting knives at home back in 2012 in a quest to cut weight from my pack. At that time, the weight savings was two fold as it let me cut out both the heavier fixed blade, but also leave the knife sharpener at home as well.
Over the years, with diligent research and testing, I’ve been able to cut my overall pick weight down to well under 20lbs (minus food and water) for week long backpacking trips. After reducing pack weight at one point down to around a mere 11lb base weight for hunting trips (4 lbs lighter for backpacking trips) I began looking back into gear choices that could make me more effective in the field. I felt that my gear was lightweight enough to afford a couple of items with a slight weight penalty, if the function of the item was increased. A fixed blade knife became one of those things on the short list.
It became apparent also, after several injuries to friends and acquaintances, that scalpel blade knives are inherently more dangerous. After a run in between my leg and a scalpel in 2016, I knew that a fixed blade knife should be on the priority list for me while backpack hunting.
My injury ended up being minor thankfully, but it left me with a 2” deep puncture wound to my thigh during a slip while dressing an elk. One of the largest drawbacks for me to the scalpel blade type knives is that they don’t have a belt sheath to safely hold the knife while moving an animal around, especially on steep ground.
Now, I don’t mean to say that a scalpel style knife isn’t useful. On the contrary I still carry one in my Bino harness for caping skulls and such. I only use it now I’m very controlled situations though for fine tasks.
Along with the safety factor, it’s hard to deny just how much faster a full size knife is when it comes to skinning and processing game, especially if that knife is designed correctly. A well profiled knife blade makes very quick work of processing game in the field.
After some experimenting with both knives I already owned, and one custom knife I ordered in 2017, I ended up settling on a benchmade saddle mountain skinner in 2018 for my hunting uses.
There are an array of things that make this knife great, which I have discovered over time and use up until now. The first of those to me is it’s blade shape. Sure, steel quality is very important, and I’ll get to that later, but blade shape really defines a knife and what it is great at.
Benchmade nailed this one in my opinion. The knife has a fairly long blade with just enough belly to it. It’s the best knife I’ve used in it’s ability to maintain a cut from the under side of the hide. By that I mean that I can easily put the spine of the knife down, blade facing up, and make an incision the entire length of the spine on a deer or elk to start opening up the hide.
This is because of the slight drop point and the angle of curvature from the tip to the belly of the knife is perfect in geometry to allow the knife to slide like a zipper even when its shaving sharp, as opposed to many knives with steeper angles that will pull right through the hide repeatedly, causing you to start the cut over and over again.
The tip of this knife is fine enough to do small skinning and caping jobs, but it’s not so pointy as to get hung up and puncture things while skinning or boning meat. In short, the blade is well thought out to make it a very good do all hunting knife.
A thin profiled handle is possibly somewhat controversial among knife enthusiasts, but is something that I have preferred in a knife for years. I like the feel and dexterity of a knife with a thin handle.
The leather belt sheath with a plastic insert was another thing I was looking for. As I mentioned earlier I wanted a sheath at hand so that I could quickly store the knife while working with it. I don’t wear the sheath until an animal is down, but having the ability to drop it into a belt sheath was a must for me. This isn’t an unusual feature, but one that I wanted none the less.
Lastly, the thing that really pushed me into this knife in particular was the steel. I already had a benchmade pocket knife in s30v (benchmade bugout) and had come to really like it’s metal properties. The heat treat on the s30v from benchmade is fantastic. It takes a very fine, sharp edge, retains sharpness well, and is incredibly easy to sharpen. I’m not sure how they’ve managed to make a steel with such edge retention as quick to reaharpen as they have, but it works phenomenally well.
I believe these are factory ground at 20 degrees from what I can tell, and this was the sharpest out of the box knife I’ve purchased to date, with which shaving your face would have been easily doable with it. I have since kept it at 20 degrees which seems to be a bit of a sweet spot for a general use hunting knife.
In terms of field sharpeners, I have two favorites. One is the worksharp field sharpener, and the other is an ez-e lap diamond rod. The rod is probably my favorite because of how compact it is, even though slightly heavy. However, if you aren’t overly adept at holding an angle while sharpening by hand, the worksharp has built in angle guides and produces a very consistent, and shaving sharp edge in the field.
Even while lacking a good fixed blade in my pack for many years, I have always appreciated and realized the importance of a good knife in terms of both general use and survival situations. I also am coming to appreciate more and more the ease and speed a good knife provides in the field. After processing 4 animals with it this fall, I have enjoyed the process of using it easily 10 fold over a scalpel blade.
A scalpel will easily get the job done too for much less weight, but the function of a full sized knife is hard to match.
If you are in the market for a new knife, or are thinking about switching back to traditional fixed blade, I would highly encourage you to at least look into it.
The benchmade saddle mountain skinner is a great option, as are many others, and I have come to the realization that for me a fixed blade knife is one piece of hunting gear that doesn’t have a replaceable equivalent.