Hunters tend to have some strong opinions when it comes to choosing a hunting knife. I’m no different and I like to keep things simple. For most of my big game hunting, I keep a single fixed blade knife like Benchmade’s Steep Country in my pack. And, for small game and birds, I like the Saddle Mountain Hunter’s slimmer blade. Really, I could get by with either knife for all of my hunting. I tend to avoid specialty blades that veer away from the standard blueprint for a good, all-purpose hunting knife. But, recently I carried a couple of Benchmade’s more specialized hunting knives into the field and I’m glad I did.
For many years I’ve used hunting knives with a blade around four inches long. A hunting knife of this size always felt like the most versatile, with the ideal combination of dexterity and cutting length. So, when I first held the Hidden Canyon Hunter, I was a little leary of its diminutive size. With a blade length under three inches, it seemed too small for field butchering big game animals. But it turns out, the Hidden Canyon will now become my go-to backcountry hunting knife. It might be short but it made a quick, easy job of gutting, skinning, and quartering an antelope buck. Working with the knife is comfortable. The handle provides a steady grip and I never once wished I had a longer knife.The drop-point blade is sharp and sturdy and I wouldn’t hesitate to tackle an elk with it. Its compact size and lighter weight makes it ideal for backcountry hunters looking to save space and minimize the overall weight of their backpack.
Benchmade’s Nestucca Cleaver is a hybrid hunting blade inspired by the traditional Ulu hunting knives that native Alaskans use for everything from filleting salmon and fleshing hides to butchering caribou and chopping berries. Frankly, until I used it, I wasn’t sure if it was a knife I’d find a lot of use for. To someone used to “regular” hunting knives, its odd shape looks unwieldy at first glance. But for hunters looking for a sturdy skinning knife with a deft touch, the Nestucca is a game changer. The long, sweeping blade shape is perfect for skinning big game animals which is what I used it for the first time. It separates hide from flesh with little effort. The combination of the handle and finger hole provides a sure grip and an unexpectedly nimble feel. Don’t mistake the Nestucca for a hacking tool. Once you get a feel for it, it’s possible to make very precise cuts. I’m looking forward to experimenting with the Nestucca for different tasks like filleting fish and separating muscles groups while butchering big game animals. By using different grips with your fingers in various locations on the knife, it’s a blade shape that is way more versatile than it initially seems.
Just like rifles, bows, and shotguns, a hunter can never truly have too many knives. For now, I’ll keep relying on my favorite workhorse hunting knives but I’m also willing to wedge some new players into the lineup. Because sometimes, a new knife ends up becoming your old favorite.
Brody Henderson is a hunter, fly fishing guide, writer, wilderness production assistant for the MeatEater television show and MeatEater‘s editorial contributor