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Buying a knife

PUBLISHED: 16:22 28 October 2011 | UPDATED: 16:25 28 October 2011

Hunting knife

Hunting knife

Matt Clark examines what you should look for when buying a knife...

Buying a knife A knife is a basic essential for any hunter. But for something so basic, there is a baffling array of types, sizes and shapes of knife on the market. You will notice that many hunters own knives that look as if they date from the early iron age, and this is because a knife will last a lifetime if looked after. Therefore, it is important to choose the right knife. In this review, we will stick to knives designed specifically for gutting, skinning and cutting. Multi-tools and folding knives with multiple blades will be reviewed later in the year. But before we get into reviewing the latest models lets get some jargon out of the way and explain some knife essentials...

Blades

The blades of hunting knives are usually made from steel. Some blades are stainless steel, which means the blade has more than 13% chromium in it, making it less likely to rust and making the blade easier to look after. High chromium and low carbon content are often used in divers knives because of they resist corrosion so well. Non-stainless blades are a mix of carbon and alloy steels and these blades are made for edge retention and toughness, but will rust more easily. You get great performance with these of blades, but you will have to spend a little more time on maintenance.

The two basic forms of hunting knife are fixed blade and folding. Folding knives are more convenient to carry because the blade folds away and so the knife doesnt require a sheath, but fixed blades are more sturdy because there are no joints and the handle forms part of the blade. The blades also have many different shapes. Theres is the drop point blade, which is a robust, curved blade, made from relatively thick. These features allow big game hunters to skin an animal using the whole blade with very little damage to the meat. As airgunners, the largest animal we have to skin and gut is the rabbit, but this sort of knife will do a reasonable job of that.

Another type of blade that meets most of the needs of the average hunter is the clip point blade. It is thinner than the drop point and has a much more defined point. The flatter blade is more utilitarian and will fit the needs of the majority of hunters, especially those who want to use the knife as a general purpose work tool more than a dedicated hunting knife. But if you are a serious hunter the drop point knife performs hunting tasks, such as gutting and skinning, more efficiently.

For those who prefer a knife with a lighter weight blade, but still want a large, curved cutting edge, there is the curved, trailing-point knife. This type of blade is used on the Whitby Wild Cat knife and is ideal for gutting and skinning.

Skinning knives have highly sweeping blades designed to remove the pelts from larger animals such as deer, but they can do a lot of the gutting and cleaning chores just as well as the other type of knives.

Many knives incorporate a gut hook. This is used by making a small incision into the animals stomach with the point of the main blade and then using the hook to slit open the rest of the abdomen. The whole idea of the hook is to prevent the hunter rupturing the vital organs of the animal, like the bladder, which can taint the meat.

Some knives also have serration on the blade. This allows big game hunters to do some rough cutting through the rib cages of larger animals, or you can use them to saw through branches when you are setting up your hide.

The handle is equally as important as the blade and on fixed blade knives the blade is sandwiched between two scales(which are the side panels of the handle). The handle has to be functional. You will often be handling the knife with numb hands, covered in blood and you must still be able to grip the blade, or you could be on your way to casualty.

Handles are traditionally made from wood or horn. This looks beautiful, but can be slippery when wet. Modern handles tend to be made of rubbery composite materials which are easier to grip and control.

SHARPENING YOUR KNIFE

For gutting and skinning your knife needs to be razor sharp. But make sure you never use a grinding wheel as this can burn temper from your blade and make the edge brittle. It is best to use a grinding stone. If your knifes edge is really blunt you need to start with a coarse grade stone and progress to a finer grade tone. For a knife with a straight blade the correct angle to hold the knife is between 13 and 16 degrees, which is about the thickness of the blade. Keep the edge of the blade in contact with the stone and move it in a clockwise direction with the sharp edge to the right.

Then turn the knife over and rotate the knife in an anti-clockwise direction. For blades with serrated edges you need to use a diamond tapered sharpener and not a grinding stone. First find the correct spot on the taper that matches the size of the serration on the knife. Keep the knife at the same angle as the factory serration and sharpen only the ground side of the serration as sharpening both sides will ruin the knife. Repeat this process for all of the serrations.

CLEANING THE KNIFE

After gutting an animal you will need to clean the whole knife, not just the blade. If its a folding knife make sure you clean all the debris from the folding mechanism as long exposure to dirt can cause the blade to oxidise. This can be done with water or a small brush and make sure you lubricate the mechanism after cleaning with something like WD40. The blade itself can be cleaned with cleaning solvents such as acetate or alcohol, but usually a rinse will get it clean. But be careful not to use harsh detergents as they contain chlorine which causes the knife to corrode.

KNIVES AND THE LAW

Carrying a knife in a public place is an offence unless the blade is under three inches in length and it is a folding, non-locking knife. However, it is permissible to use knives with longer fixed blades, if you have good reason to have one. For example you might be a chef or commercial fisherman. You can also use longer blade knives for hunting, but they must be safely stored when you travel to and from your shoot. This is just a matter of keeping the knife in your car or ruck sack when you travel to your permission. Dont forget to remove the knife from your car when you get home. Choose your hunting knife wisely and youll have a friend for life.

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