Gerber Utility Knife

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Choosing The Right Hunting Knife by Wayne Foster

Choosing the right hunting knife can be a difficult challenge. If you choose wrong you end up with a paperweight that is more likely to end up in your junk-drawer than on your hip when you need it.

First ask yourself a few questions: What kind of hunting do you do? Do you go after big game or small? Do you trophy hunt or do you meat hunt only? What is the largest animal you envision using the knife on? The smallest? How often do you hunt, are you looking for a knife you can easily carry when you are not hunting?

Seems like a lot of questions but if you don’t know what you are looking for, you will never find the correct one for your personal preferences.

Stainless versus Carbon Steel

This is far too short an article to get into the metallurgy of steel composition. Lets just say that some steels are too soft to hold an edge very well. Some are so hard as to be almost impossible to sharpen in the field. Do some research into the various steels and their grades. Sometimes the difference between a carrier and a drawer-sitter is the blade material.

Folding versus Fixed Blades

Let’s look at the two basic knife styles: fixed and folding blade. A fixed blade knife is just that, fixed in place. Meaning that the blade is permanently fixed in the open position. Due to this design, these knives normally come with a sheath so they can be carried safely. These knives are normally stronger than the folding variety because the steel of the blade runs into or through the handle.

There are no moving parts with a fixed blade knife so they are very reliable. Several manufacturers also produce hunting knives that allow the user to change the blades very quickly.

Folding knives have a pivot point and lock mechanism which allows the blade to close into the handle. A folding knife without the lock should not even be considered for hunting. These are more for the occasional hunter who may also want to carry the knife for daily use. Folding knives are not as strong as a fixed blade by design. However, they are much easier to carry in a pocket or on the belt in a small sheath.

Blade Styles

The next issue we’ll address will be blade style. The four main hunting blade designs are the drop point, clip point, skinning, and caping designs.

Drop Point

The drop point knife is an excellent design for the big game hunter. This design generally features a robust, curved blade of relatively thick steel. These features allow the user to cut the skin off the animal using the entire edge of the knife, rather than just the point. This allows for quick skinning and very little damage to the meat. The design of the drop point also allows for other field cleaning tasks such as gutting and the splitting of the rib cage or pelvis, although a saw or hatchet is the preferred method for the latter two tasks.

Clip Point

Another style of hunting knife is the clip point. The clip point has a somewhat thinner blade than the drop point and has a much more defined point. Most bowies are examples of clip point knives. The flatter blade is more utilitarian in nature and will fit the needs of the majority of hunters, especially those wishing to use the knife as a general duty work knife and not a dedicated hunting knife. The clip point design will perform all of the tasks the drop point will, only not as efficiently. For the occasional hunter this is the perfect design.


The skinning knife is designed to aid in the removal of the skin of big game animals. They tend to have a highly sweeping blades that are designed to effortlessly separate the flesh from the skin. A dedicated skinning knife can be a real time saver for those big game hunters that do the butchering themselves. An added bonus is that the skinning knife can do most of the other game cleaning chores as well as the clip point or the drop point designs.

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A knife that is often overlooked is the caping knife. It is used for “caping” big game animals for mounting. When preparing a trophy for the taxidermist, it is important that the hide be preserved for a neck or shoulder mount. Some beautiful trophy animals have been ruined by a hunter using the wrong knife to prepare the animal. Caping knives are dedicated to this task. They are a relatively small knife with a very fine blade.

A note about caping is in order. Do not wait until you have an 1100 pound 6 by 6 elk down to attempt caping for the first time. Practice on smaller animals before you try it on your trophy. It would be a shame to have to to to an antler or skull mount because you messed up. Caping is not difficult, but to do it well requires practice.

Gut Hook Variation

One of the variables you will see in blade design is the gut hook pattern. The gut hook is used by making a small incision with the main blade and then by using the hook to cut open the abdomen. The hook prevents the hunter from “paunching” the animal and possibly affecting the quality of the meat. They do work and it is strictly a matter of personal preference as to the need for one. In the event that you do want the added security that the gut hook provides, they are very similar in price to non-gut hook knives. Be careful when using the gut hook for field dressing. A slip upwards on the handle is an occasion for stitches.

An alternative to purchasing a knife with a gut hook blade is to purchase a separate unit. Some manufacturers offer relatively inexpensive, easily transported units with replaceable blades.

Handle Material

Many hunters put a lot of thought into the blade design of their hunting knife, but put very little thought into the material of the handle. The classic wood, bone, or leather handles are very functional and appealing to the eye. However, don’t overlook the newer handle materials, although not as pleasing to the eye, rubber and other composites merit a look. The newer handle materials offer greatly enhanced control in adverse conditions offering the hunter a greater degree of safety.

Sheath Material

After the blade material, blade design, and handle material are decided, we now move on to the sheath or scabbard. Again, traditional leather is very functional and pleasing to the eye, however, in damp or wet conditions the man-made materials are much more durable. The chemicals used to tan leather will stain most carbon steels and some stainless steels. If you opt for leather, do not store your knife for long periods in the sheath.

Final Thoughts

Your choice of a hunting knife is a very personal one. That being said, you may decide a single knife will not do everything you need to do on your hunt. You might opt for one of the multi knife packs offered by some manufacturers. These are an option bearing in mind that you will have to carry them with you to be of any service.

Happy Hunting!

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Spencer asked What is the best pocket knife brand?

I am looking for something like a Swiss army. not a small swiss army I mean one of those bigger ones. I want the price to be under $60. I know of Victorinox and wegner. but Im wondering if those are the top pocket utility knife companies. Also I dont want a knife that are big plyers and they fold pack into a bunch of stuff like a Gerber.

And got the following answer:

I personally carry a single blade buck knife. Its like 3.5 inches long and has a knob on it so I can open it just as fast as a switch blade. Litterally I hold it right and can pop it open with my thumb faster than a switch blade.

Anyway I carry it every day like my wallet, but when it comes to knives I buy cheap ones. I just buy the cheaper ones and when they rust up I throw them in a jar and buy a new one. JMO

stevejobless asked Can you carry a knife (Gerber) in your check baggage on an airplane?

I have a Gerber that I want to take with me from Germany back to the states. Its not actually a knife. Its like a utility Swiss ARMY knife kind of thing. Can I check in under that plane or will I get arrested?

And got the following answer:

Since it is in your checked bags, you are allowed.

Dustin asked What is the best utility/survival/combat sheath knife for military service?

I want either a Ka-Bar Marine knife, a Glock field knife, or a Gerber LMF II.
Any suggestions?
The knife will be used for survival/field utilitarian type functions.
The Glock knife is $30, the Ka-Bar is $60, the Gerber is $100.

And got the following answer:

Being a former Marine, it’s hard not to like my Ka-Bar. Unless you want to be like Rambo (and you are not going to survive very long), I would avoid it as it’s main purpose is for close quarters combat. Ka-Bar is probably the best American made combat knife around as it has been battle tested and hasn’t changed since before WWII. KA-Bar does have other knives as well besides the standard issue. Your question is a little vague though. If you are looking at a knife that is for survival, a standard combat knife is not the way to go. Out of the three you listed, the Gerber is more of a true “survival knife”. Do some research on other brands as well. Just because a knife has a higher price tag, doesn’t mean it’s the best. Look for functions that the knife has to offer, durability, etc.

makemyday asked How sharp are the knife parts of swiss army knives?

Compared to say a Gerber or Leatherman multitool. Obviously, i know that it depends on wether you sharpen it or not, but which ones hold a sharp edge better, etc. Thanks very much.

And got the following answer:

The sharpness of any knife is not based on it’s name brand, rather by what sort of steel it uses, how it has been tempered, and to what degree it was sharpened by the manufacturer. Even within the same company there will be many different levels. Not all Victorinox or Gerber knives use the same steel, and or the same heat treatment through out the company. So while one Victorinox knife might be sharper then a given Gerber knife, another Gerber might be sharper then a given Victorinox.

A key point to remember while harder blades tend to make sharper knives they also tend to be more brittle, and not take as much abuse. Also they are very hard to sharpen if they get dull. The scalpel is sharp, a flake of obsidian is even sharper, but would be a poor choice for longevity. Hardness scales have more to do with marketing then quality among knives.

Contrary to mainstream belief, Gerber, Leatherman, and Swiss army knives are not prized very highly for their blades….they are mass produced basic functional utility tools, with decent blades. Their cheap, and get a job done. The above knives are more about various utility tools then simply their blades…if you went a better blade, I would choose a Kershaw, Benchmade, or Puma over any of those mentioned.

However Victorinox does have a good tradition for a mass production blade, it might be the best overall…but I usually either have a Kershaw or Benchmade pocket knife blade on me, and a Gerber for it’s tools, if I need it.

Ramon D asked why do you think ernest emerson chose 154cm for all his knives?

I have scoured the web for information on why 154cm was chosen by ernest emerson for use in his current line of knives and can’t seem to find an answer, would you have insider knowledge or perhaps an explanation on why he chose this over say s30v or what have you?

And got the following answer:

154CM is a steel name. Developed in circa 1970 for jet engine turbine components. Exact composition is: C – 1.05%, Cr – 14%, Mn – 0.4%, Mo- 4%, Si – 0.3%.
Later, famous maker Bob Loveless popularized it for custom knives. However, knives are very small portion of total volume. At some point Crucible Metallurgy dropped production. Later Hitachi introduced Japanese version of it, ATS-34, which is pretty much identical steel.

In 1990s the 154CM was reintroduced. In time mass knife manufacturers started using it in knives, Benchmade, Emerson, Gerber, Buck to name a few.

In short, the answer is that back when Emerson chose that steel it was considered premium cutlery stainless steel. Actually Emerson and Benchmade and many others first used ATS-34 and then slowly switched to 154Cm, since it’s American made and rumored to have finer grain structure, which I doubt.

CPM-S30V is a better steel when heat treated properly. S30V makeup: C – 1.45%, Cr – 14%, Mo- 2%, V – 4%. Because of 4% Vanadium in it S30V holds edge much better compared to 154CM, but to get that advantage you’d have to heat treat the knife properly, and second, the edge has to be sufficiently thin. It’s real hard to get the performance difference with factory edges close to 40-50 degrees.

S30V had a troubled start, even though Crucible developed it with knife industry in mind and tried to make it simple to heat treat it, pretty much nobody got heat treatment right and people had their knives chipping, or too soft and rolling. As of today things have gotten better, but still to get the most out of S30V you’d have to get a custom knife, but the same is true for 154CM, although to lesser extent.

So, I assume all the above and more expensive price on S30V is why Emerson stuck to 154CM.

Besides, Emerson knives are more towards tactical side vs. utility. So, increased wear resistance is hardly the major concern for him. Although, I personally wouldn’t mind that.

To make matters more complicated Crucible Particle Metallurgy introduced PM (Particle Metallurgy) version of 154CM, which is called CPM154. Identical makeup, but different technology, results in better steel performance.
You’d have to watch out for misleading adds though, some dealers mark 154CM steel knives as CPM154 which isn’t the same thing.

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