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A cut above the others

Knives are an essential part of a stalker’s kit, but you don’t need to break the bank to get a quality blade, writes Graham Downing

Knives from left to right: Hultafors Craftsman's knife £10.85, Danum Blades Naked Catcher £125, Buck Pursuit Guthook Knife £99.95,CRKT Hunt 'N Fisch £125, Spyderco Bow River £49.99, Buck Bantam BHW £54.95

I heard him before I saw him. Just a couple of minutes into legal shooting time, it was still pitch black when the buck jumped up from the ride just ahead of me. He had been couched in some long grass and my initial scan of the ride with the thermal had not picked him up, but at the sound of his rapid departure I lifted the Pulsar and saw the muntjac buck running ahead of me along the ride.

Surely there was no way that he would stop now, and when I saw him turn and dive into the hazel coppice on the left of the ride I assumed that he would simply keep running. But no, he stood in the hazel bushed at the edge of the ride, presumably wondering what manner of creature had disturbed his rest. And while most of his body was obscured by the dense vegetation, his head and neck were visible as he paused, turned and looked towards me. There was a chance.

Graham Downing in one of his Tattersall shirts

Venison destined for the freezer

Quickly, I put the rifle up on the sticks and clocked him with the Krypton attachment, which was all fired up and ready on the front of my scope. Squeezing off a shot, I clearly saw the strike as my Hornady 80-gr copper bullet hit the top of the neck. The buck slumped to the ground where, after a quick check, I left him to continue my stalk.

As things turned out, I had no further luck, although I bumped another muntjac from a bramble bed half an hour after sunrise, just to underline how difficult it is to spot these little deer before autumn brings more visibility to the woods and field edges. So I returned to my buck, hoisted him on to a nearby hornbeam with my Napier tree-hugger, got out my knife and prepared to gralloch.

Graham finds a fixed-blade knife the best option for stalkers, as they are safe to use and easy to clean

Every stalker needs at least one knife. They come in an almost infinite variety of patterns and range in price from just a few pounds for a basic tool up to thousands for the most exclusive handmade, damascus-bladed custom products. But for the stalker on a budget, there’s no need to go too far upmarket, as there are plenty of knives out there that won’t cost the earth but will do a perfectly good job and will last for years.

A fixed-bladed sheath knife is the best option, since there is absolutely no chance of it closing against your fingers while you are working with it. Also, cleaning a sheath knife under a hot tap is the work of a few moments. Picking congealed blood, hair and fat from a multi-bladed folding knife is not nearly so easy. Even so, a folding knife makes a very useful spare to carry in a side or top pocket. As well as my custom-made knife and grallocher in a double sheath on my belt, I always keep a folding pocket knife in my stalking jacket pocket, since having an alternative blade design equips me for performing a wider range of tasks.

Hultafors Craftsman’s Knife

One of the simplest and most useful fixed-blade designs is that of the Mora knife, and the Hultafors Craftsman’s Knife is a good example of this traditional pattern. Its 9cm fixed, pointed blade is sufficiently fine and narrow for precision work, such as incising around the rectum of a downed beast, while it is thick and stout enough to make short work of opening up the chest of a smaller deer. The polypropylene handle has a finger guard and a soft, ridged finish, which will keep it secure in your hand – a particularly important point in wet conditions when it is so easy for a knife to slip and give you a nasty injury.

A feature of these Mora knives is the traditional Scandinavian grind profile or ‘Scandi-grind’ – a deep bevel extending to one third of each side of the blade, usually set at between 20 and 27 degrees. This makes for a particularly efficient cutting tool that is easy to sharpen and which ensures that the blade itself remains strong. But if buying a knife of this pattern, do make sure that you opt for a stainless steel blade. The older Mora knives, made of carbon steel, will quickly rust if not looked after.

The Danum Blades Naked Catcher proves a favourite, and very comfortable in the hand

The blade is fine enough for precision work, and the price is kept down by the simple design

Danum Blades Naked Catcher

I first met Alan Johnson of Danum Blades at the Stalking Show in April. He had on display a fabulous array of his beautiful handmade knives with a variety of blade profiles and handles, including some lovely resin-stabilised wood versions, which particularly took my fancy. If you really want a handmade knife, then Alan is definitely worth a shout. At the budget end of his range is the Naked Catcher, a trimmed-back, lightweight version of his Catcher knife.

Still made from the high-quality Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel, the Naked Catcher is supplied without the addition of handle scales and this keeps the price down to £125, a very reasonable figure for a UK handmade knife. The blade, which is exceptionally easy to clean, has been acid-etched and stone-washed with rounded edges to make it comfortable in the hand, and it has a very useful lanyard added.

This can be supplied in black, neon green or orange, though I would recommend the latter, having once had to search for a valuable handmade knife belonging to my stalking companion on the Scottish hill after the successful conclusion of a long stalk on an August stag. We eventually found it after a lengthy and diligent hunt, but a bit of bright colour is very helpful in such situations.

The Kydex sheath design holds the blade firmly and is recommended for biosecurity, since it can be much more easily cleaned than the traditional stitched leather. Furthermore, it comes with a metal belt clip that can be repositioned along the eyelets of the sheath or can be removed altogether if you prefer to keep the knife in the pocket of your stalking jacket.

Buck Pursuit Guthook Knife

Retailed in the UK by Whitby Knives, the American range of Buck hunting knives was developed by Al Buck in the 1960s. There are lots of options, with some very affordable entry-level products, but one that caught my eye was the Buck Pursuit Guthook Knife, which has an 11.4cm deep-bellied stainless steel microbevelled blade and a glass-filled nylon and Versaflex handle, which is comfortably profiled with a non-slip finish.

This blade has all the power necessary for ripping through the sternum of a decent-sized roe or young fallow, though you would also want to carry a second knife with a finer point for precision work. A particularly useful feature, though, is the guthook on the back of the blade, which can be used for unzipping the belly of a deer without accidentally cutting open the stomach – always a risk if you attempt this task with a conventional knife.

CRKT Hunt’N Fisch

The CRKT Hunt’N Fisch is a beautiful little knife designed by US knifemaker and bowhunter Larry Fischer. With its 8cm drop point blade and lovely tactile handle made from epoxy glass laminate, this delightful knife features lots of decoration, such as the attractive jimping along the back of the blade and the three beautifully engineered mosaic pins. The blade is sturdy enough to face up to tough work, but with sufficient of a point to enable you to perform those delicate gralloching tasks.

It is supplied with a plaited lanyard and a nicely made embossed leather sheath. This product matches the quality of many handmade bespoke knives, but at a fraction of the cost thanks to its Chinese manufacture, and I would be proud to have it with me in the field. The only thing that left me unconvinced was the curious belt loop on the sheath, which requires you to carry this knife in a horizontal rather than vertical position. I really wouldn’t want to lose it, so I would probably put it in my pocket.

Spyderco Bow River

Spyderco’s Bow River is another beautifully designed and superbly manufactured knife, with a striking laminate handle in black and white featuring three pins and a generous lanyard hole. Developed by US outdoorsman Phil Wilson, the simple, stripped-back design of the handle and thin, tapered blade with a deep finger guard and subtle curve is modernistic rather than classic, making this look more like a piece of domestic cutlery than a hunting knife.

However, the 8Cr13MoV steel offers good edge retention, corrosion resistance, hardness and resistance to wear, so you can expect this knife to perform well in the field, whether for filleting a fish or gralloching a deer. The black hide sheath with its Spyderco motif complements the design and is a good snug fit, while the belt loop is mercifully vertical. Another Chinese manufactured knife, this product again offers handmade quality at budget price.

Buck Bantam BHW

I always carry a spare folding knife in my pocket and the Buck Bantam BHW knife is an absolute cracker. It has a good, strong 7cm blade in 420HC stainless steel, which locks securely but is easy to close by pressing the sprung-loaded catch situated at the top of the handle, at which point the blade eases securely into the handle firmly and convincingly.

The handle itself is injection moulded but finished in orange blaze camo, so is easy to spot after you’ve put it down on the ground when you’re gralloching in the middle of a wood in the dark. At less than 10cm in length when closed, this knife will be a welcome back-up to any stalker’s field kit.