You might recognize a Bowie knife from one of modern cinemas most memorable scenes in which Crocodile Dundee claims, ‘That’s not a knife.’ Only to brandish his own Bowie knife and exclaim, ‘THAT’S a knife.’
Bowie knives are not everyone’s choice of self-defense weapon, but they do make for brilliant hunting knives. Often described as a large sheath knife, Bowie knives have a large and beautiful blade, complimented by an elegant and comfortable handle. Dundee would certainly agree.
They also look good, making Bowie knives a favorite with collectors. However, complications arise due to the saturated market of Bowie knives, with many cheap models being made from low quality materials.
This article will separate the quality, bona fide hunting knives from the cheap knock offs. It will also provide some valuable collector’s items so you don’t have to wade through the mire of dud products, or even find you’ve bought one of the knock offs.
After reviewing all the top Bowie knives available, we’ve selected our top 7 picks in the comparison table below. We’re confident you’ll find the perfect model for your needs.
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When buying a Bowie knife, there are multiple considerations to mull over. You need to think about the materials, blade size, blade length and tang. These factors will help you to narrow down the scope of the market.
The traditional material of a Bowie knife, invented by James Bowie in the 19th Century for self-defense, was carbon steel. This was primarily due to the ease of maintaining a sharp blade. When stainless steel alloys advanced, knife craftsmen found other material that could match or even surpass carbon steel were introduced to the manufacturing of Bowie knives. A purchaser of the traditional model will prefer carbon steel, but hunters may prefer a stronger blade made from stainless steel alloys.
Blade size should be decided by the intended use of the Bowie knife. A large blade will offer strength and power, while a smaller one is more precise in its execution. A large blade would be useful for trekkers and hunters who are sifting through shrubbery, much like using a machete. A smaller blade would be useful for skinning meat. Blade size should be considered alongside blade material, as a long blade to be used for hacking should also be made with a stronger material.
The length of the blade was originally 9.5 inches. Longer blades are a trademark of the Bowie knife, as demonstrated by Mr. Dundee. Nowadays, manufacturers of Bowie knives will offer varying lengths to satisfy the market, although they are seldom shorter than 5 inches. Bowie knives are used primarily for tasks too big for pocket knives, which is why length is a key feature. The blade length is also why they have become a desirable collector’s item.
The tang, which connects the shank of the blade to the handle, is a key area of focus for any purchaser of a Bowie knife. Because a Bowie knife is heavy, it needs a full tang to prevent the blade from breaking. This is for practical purposes only; the tang is not as important for display purposes, though a buyer may simply prefer a full tang for its authentic appearance.
Other considerations are more subjective. Generally, you should make sure that the handle is comfortable in your hand. A poorly crafted handle will lead to pains and potential blisters. If you intend to use the Bowie knife frequently, it’s important that it rests easy in your hand. Weight is another factor to think about. All Bowie knives should be quite heavy when compared to other kinds of knives, but you should ensure that it is a comfortable weight for you as well.
As a collector, you should think about what you are looking for. Bowie knives have a long tradition about their appearance. For an authentic looking Bowie knife, it should have a long blade, a full tang and an elegant wooden handle.
Benefits of Owning a Bowie Knife
As a fighting knife, the Bowie knife is one of the most intimidating you can have on the market. Brandishing a Bowie knife in self-defense will more than likely scare your attacker off, so you won’t even need to get your blade dirty. The tip or a Bowie knife will penetrate clothing, skin or hide like a hot knife through butter, so as self-defense, they are very effective.
As a hunting knife, many of the merits of a Bowie knife are the same as those for self-defense. The sharpness of the blade makes skinning very easy. You may also find yourself in a situation when you need to fight to save your life whilst out hunting, a Bowie knife will really help if it comes to this.
As collector’s items, a rare or antiquated Bowie knife might be a real feather in your cap. Finding a bona fide antique may mean you’ve got a knife worth several hundreds of dollars in your collection. Bowie knives are really beautiful, and will fit in to any weapon collectors display.
Top 5 Rated Products
Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie Knife
The Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie knife is a really beautiful knife. The near 12 inch blade is made from sharp and durable stainless steel that will cut through just about anything with ease. A lovely brass-plated guard protects the classic grey hardwood handle. It has a traditional full-tang blade, making it a strong knife, ideal for hunting. It also comes with a beautiful genuine leather sheath for storage.
Customers loved the vastness of this knife. It is a massive knife, not one to be concealed really. The blade, they said, is extremely durable and sharp, making it perfect for hunters. The only frequent complaint was directed at the sheath, which they said was made from cheap leather, and lacking a thong to hold it to your leg or belt. However, the knife itself is excellent and comes at a very reasonable price.
Forseti Steel Damascus Bowie Knife
The Forseti Steel Damascus Bowie knife is a real collector’s item. The large blade has a beautiful pattern across it, creating a desirable aesthetic quality that collectors will enjoy. The packaging is a beautiful quality handmade wooden box, which makes for a nice display case for the knife. The blade is 5 inches long, with a 4mm thickness, and it sits above a 4.75 inch handle made from 264 layers of linen micarta. The blade is made from strong Damascus steel, with a Damascus twist pattern, and includes a hand stitched full grain leather sheath that has a belt loop.
Customers really approved of this one. They loved the aesthetic design of the blade, which makes it a real piece for the collection. It’s not so much a practical hunting knife, and it doesn’t really claim to be such. The one complaint against this knife was the lack of a handle guard, which some felt went against the tradition of the Bowie knife. Otherwise, a real feather in the cap for any serious collector.
Yes4All Bowie Hunting Knife
This one’s for the hunters who need a practical knife for the dirty tasks. The Yes4All has a razor sharp stainless steel blade, which is nice and durable for hacking, stabbing and skinning alike. The handle is ABS and very comfortable, meaning you won’t get sore after extended use. It is made for heavy duty use in hunting and survival. The massive 6.25 inch blade will ensure more that adequate hacking is achieved. It also has serrated saw teeth on the reverse of the blade for additional use on thicker, denser materials, such as bone. The knife comes in two colored varieties: classic black or camouflaged for the survivalists.
Customers loved this knife for the strong stainless steel blade, claiming it to be one of the best they had purchased. The blade also has a nice brushed finish, adding to the aesthetic. The only complaint we found was that the end cap, which holds the grip to the handle, appears to be cheap material. But that was the only complaint made, and it’s a minor one. Overall, a very good knife at a great price.
Gerber Winchester Large Bowie Knife
Gerber are a very well trusted brand in the knife department. They have a long running tradition of producing some of the best quality knives, and the Winchester Large Bowie knife is no exception to that. It includes the rugged and reliable design that all Gerber products have. This makes them sturdy knives with the desirable character of Gerber products. It’s a versatile knife that can be used in military, hunting, survival, tactical, outdoor and industrial situations. It has a strong 8.75 inch stainless steel blade that sits on a beautiful hardwood handle.
Customers really liked the strength of the blade. Many claimed to have bought other knives in the past wit blades that simply did not match up to the strength of this one. The only complaint about this knife was the handle was not very ergonomic. However, many did claim that they liked the handle because it brought character to the overall design of the knife.
Elite Survival Bowie Knife
This is a knife for the real outdoors types. As a total purist of the survivalist mindset, you’ll enjoy leaving home with just one item. This knife. It’s a massive 12-inch Bowie. The blade alone is 7.5 inches of stainless steel that will cut through anything. It has a cool black matte finish, creating a wonderful aesthetic that James Bond would approve of. It includes an ABS sheath with a strap that attaches to the leg nicely to keep your hands free. The reverse of the blade has a serrated edge to be used for harder jobs, like hacking at branches for shelter or firewood.
Customers were really impressed by the performativity of this knife. They also really liked the sheath, which can be a rare thing in hunting knives; sheaths are often one of the major complaints we find from customers, but this one is excellent. Some customers claimed that the knife became dull rather quickly. However, others did mention how easy it was to bring the dull blade back to full sharpness. This is a complaint that most will have about all brands of knives, and so it is simply part of owning and using a knife on a regular basis.
There are many benefits to owning a Bowie knife, whether using it for tactical, hunting and general outdoors purposes, or simply collecting a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.
Bowie knives make for excellent self-defense. You’ll probably never have to actually use it because once you’ve brandished the long blade, your attackers will undoubtedly run scared. For hunting, the sharp and long blades make for a perfect knife to cut, hack and skin carcasses in the wilderness. In survivalist situations, a strong blade like that of a Bowie is extremely useful for hunting and cutting trees for shelter or firewood.
When making the purchase, remember what your considerations are. Blade size and length should be considered in harmony together. A long blade being used for survival purposes will require strong stainless steel. For a collector, it’s all about the story behind the blade and the aesthetic qualities. Always consider the handle as well. For hunting or frequent use, you’ll want an ergonomic handle that sits comfortably in your hand, otherwise you run the risk of aches and pains that will effect your activities.
The best Bowie knife we found for hunters and general practical users is definitely the Timber Rattler. The giant blade is extremely strong and won’t let you down when you need it most. It takes all the qualities of traditional Bowie knives, while simultaneously taking on the modern technologies to suit the modern user.
For collectors, the Forseti is the best out there. The beautiful aesthetic qualities make it a bit of a rarity that won’t be matched. The presentation is also something to be admired; the hand crafted wooden box doubles up as a nice display case, which others can’t really claim to offer. It has a traditional look about it, while also having some more modern features, such as the Damascus twist pattern on the blade.
Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Mika J