Best Field Knives for Winter Hunting

Best Field Knives for Winter Hunting

Posted by Clayton on May 26th 2016

The smell of winter is in the air, and hunting season is either in full swing or just ending, depending on your location. This is the time of year when many hunters are questioning whether they need to add to their hunting arsenal. The answer is both yes and no.

No, you could probably get by on what you already have, and, yes, your hunting arsenal could always use new items. You may have just finished up with the hunting season and realized you need a new knife.

Every hunter needs a good knife, and each will have their own idea of what makes a good hunting knife. For those of you who are new to the world of knives, we will discuss what to look for when purchasing a field knife for hunting.

Basics of Hunting Knives

A good hunting knife is going to cost anywhere from $100 to over $1000, so you should spend time setting a budget and deciding what kind of hunting knife you want.

When choosing a field knife for winter hunting, it should be strong, durable, and able to cut through bone and cartilage. It should be able to complete the required tasks of skinning and dressing while maintaining a good grip on the handle in wet conditions.

Obviously, someone who hunts big game is going to need a different type of knife than someone who hunts mostly small game, such as rabbits. Once you decide the size of knife you will need, you should determine what type of knife you need and your preferred blade design.

There are two types of field knives made for hunting: fixed blades and folding knives. An avid hunter who is out on a regular basis should choose a fixed blade knife that can withstand regular heavy use. Someone who only goes on occasional hunts or someone looking for a knife with multiple blades should choose a folding knife.

Fixed Blade Knife

A fixed blade knife is exactly as it sounds. The blade is fixed and unmovable on the handle. Fixed blade knives fill a broad range of requirements and are commonly carried by hunters, campers, sportsman, and anyone who regularly uses a knife.

Fixed blade knives are the most reliable and rugged of the designs. They are the easiest to clean, and are stronger and more reliable than the folding type. Hunters who do a lot of skinning and gutting need a good fixed blade knife.

Some hunters may find the fixed blade knives awkward and bulky while trying to move around in the wilderness. By properly placing your knife on your body in a cross-draw position, either on your chest or hip, you can make it a lot more comfortable to carry.

When choosing a fixed blade knife for hunting, it is recommended to go with a full tang, meaning the handle and blade are one continuous piece of steel. The handle is usually fitted with a synthetic material that is bolted to the steel to promote better grip. Full tang knives are stronger and more durable than the partial- or half-tang styles because they are one continuous piece of steel.

Folding Knife

If you decide to go with a folding knife, you may want to choose one that has a partially serrated blade. The serrated edge will make it easier to cut through bone and cartilage and make the knife more versatile.

Another thing to keep in mind if you are leaning toward a folding knife is the locking mechanism. You want a strong lock-back folding knife that has a thick blade and a handle that grips well. This will give you the most strength in a folding knife. Bolt lock and linear lock types have springs that can fail in extreme weather conditions.

Folding knives are an area where you do not want to go cheap. Much of the cost will come from the locking mechanism. It is better, in the long run, to spend more on a folding knife that will last a lifetime than spend less on one that will break and need to be replaced.

Blade Size

The size of blade you choose will depend on the animal you are hunting. For example, a knife you use for deer hunting will be next to worthless when trying to skin a rabbit. When it comes to knives, bigger is not always better.

If your knife is too big for the job, you have a higher chance of cutting yourself and not being able to effectively skin and dress the game animal. The consensus is you don’t need anything larger than a four-inch blade for most game animals. Three inches is considered optimal unless you are hunting the largest of the game species.

Yet, some hunters are partial to larger blades. Those who frequent dangerous wilderness areas could come into a situation where their knife is their only self-defense. In this case, a short blade may not be the best option.

If you are going on a week-long hunting trip, you’re going to be doing a lot of different things, and one knife just doesn’t work for all tasks. You should carry at least three knives: a large all-purpose fixed-blade knife, a smaller drop point knife for breaking down game animals, and an all-purpose folding knife.

Blade Material

Knife blades are alloys formed by combining one metal element with one or more other metal elements. There are two main alloys used to manufacture knife blades: stainless steel and carbon steel.

Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and chromium. The amount of chromium used depends on the desired quality of the final product and will range from 10% to 30%. Most hunters choose stainless steel blades because they are stronger, more durable, resist rust, and require little maintenance.

Stainless steel blades tend to be harder to sharpen than carbon steel blades. You can learn how to properly sharpen your knife in this video guide. You should always maintain the edge on your knife. Nothing is more irritating than trying to gut or skin an animal with a dull knife.

Carbon steel blades are alloys of carbon and iron, with less than 2% carbon. Since the blade is mostly iron, it will be more prone to rust. Rust can be prevented by oiling your blade on a regular basis.

Carbon steel blades tend to be cheaper than stainless steel blades, but they can become brittle in extreme weather conditions. This is one reason it is recommended that hunters opt for a stainless-steel blade for their main hunting tasks.

Handle Material

When considering a knife, choose one that has a durable handle that fits well in your hand. It should be comfortable and provide a good grip in all outdoor weather conditions.

The first hunting knives had handles made of wood or bone. However, wood and bone can crack and rot if not sealed exceptionally well. Therefore, it is important to buy high-quality knives when it comes to ones with wooden or bone handles.

With technology, came synthetic materials that are cheaper and longer lasting than many wooden or bone handles. Among these synthetic materials are carbon fiber, G-10 (a fiberglass based laminate), and Zytel (a type of thermoplastic).

Carbon fiber handles are composed of thin strands of carbon that are tightly woven together and set in resin. Carbon fiber is the lightest of the materials and perhaps the strongest. It can be quite expensive, however, due to the labor-intensive material.

G-10 handles are composed of layers of fiberglass cloth that are soaked in resin and the compressed and baked. This technique results in a very hard, strong, and lightweight material. Texture is added to the surface of the handle in the form of checkering.

Zytel is a thermal plastic developed by Du Pont and is the least expensive to produce of all the synthetic materials. It is commonly found on work knives because it is resistant to impact and abrasions, making it virtually unbreakable.

Blade Design

Many of today’s most popular designs have been virtually unchanged over the last 8,000 years. There are many blade designs available on the market, but the two main blade designs used in the manufacturing of hunting knives are clip point and drop point blades.

Clip Point Blades

The first stone knives exhibited the use of the clip point blade design and were made specifically for hunting. Today, clip point blades are the most popular style among hunters. A clip point design is a great all-purpose blade design. It sports a large belly area that is convenient for slicing and a sharp narrow point for precise maneuverability.

Some hunters find the clip point difficult to skin with because of its sharp point that can easily puncture the hide. The narrow point also makes it prone to breakage, with improper use, but, with proper handling techniques, the clip point makes for a great field knife for hunting.

The DPx Hest II Woodsman Survival knife is an excellent full tang clip point field knife for hunting. With its three-inch blade, it is perfect for skinning and maneuverability. The handle includes a lanyard hole, hex driver, three sizes of wire strippers, a wire breaker, and a pry bar. The handle also includes a large hollow section providing storage space for survival materials, such as water purification tablets and a fire starter.

The DPx Hest II Woodsman has all the qualities sought after in a hunting knife: a precise three-inch blade excellent for skinning, a meaty handle for outstanding grip, a hex driver that could be used to adjust a loose or crooked scope on your rifle, and other survival tools for emergencies. If you’re considering a fixed blade with a clip point, this knife should be on the top of your list.

Drop Point Blades

The drop point is the preferred blade style of big game hunters. The back of the knife runs in a slow, curved manner from the handle to the tip of the knife. This creates a lowered point that adds strength to the tip and provides more control.

The tip of a drop point blade is not as sharp as a clip point blade, but it is much stronger. Drop point blades are not only popular on hunting knives but also on tactical and survival knives due to their tip strength and durability.

The Protech Rockeye fixed blade line is a good quality choice when it comes to the drop point design. It makes an excellent hunting knife with its four-inch blade and machine textured handle for extra grip.

For those of you considering a drop point folding knife, the Microtech LUDT 135-2T is an excellent choice. It has a blade length of almost three and a half inches and is partially serrated, making it great for skinning and dressing wild game.

The Bottom Line

For the avid hunter, it is essential to pick a fixed blade knife with a full tang design. This will provide you with the strongest, most durable design available. For the weekend hunter, a folding knife may be a good option. By choosing a good quality folding knife, you can have a reliable everyday pocket knife and a hunting knife in one.

Every person has their own preference of blade style and knows what is easiest for them to use to skin and dress game. For the average hunter, a drop point blade design is probably the easiest to use, but the clip point blade is the most popular.

There are a plethora of knives to choose from, so establish a budget and take your time comparing knives before you make a purchase. A good hunting knife will cost you some money, but properly caring for your hunting knife will make it last a lifetime.

Remember that, no matter how expensive or good your knife is, it will only be as good as the person using it. Out in the field is not the place to be learning how to use your knife. You should practice your knife skills at home. Everything will work out much better in the field if you know what to expect from your hunting knife.