Hunting knives can be a very personal thing in regard to style, blade type, size and intended use. The choice available to the modern hunter is vast: from fixed blade to folding blade, drop point, clip point, needle point to spear point. Are you going to be just field dressing, readying the carcass to carry out, or will you be boning out in the field and packing out certain cuts? Are you going to cape out the animal for a mount? These are some of the many questions that come to mind.
Personally, I like keeping things simple. Plus, hunting-wise, the older I get, the less weight and gear I want to carry in my pack. So, carrying a single, do-it-all knife is the way I tend to go with a small backup knife ‘just in case’ – maybe you can relate when I say my knives have a habit of disappearing!
I’d been using a freebie folding knife that came with my hunting boots which had been fine until it mysteriously disappeared … so then I was down to my single folding Swiss army knife.
656 Pursuit Model
Consequently, when the NZ agent for Buck Knives, Kilwell, offered one of their new Pursuit Series to test, I jumped at the chance. I chose the large fixed-blade 656 Pursuit model – I was very keen to see how it performed the various tasks required of a hunting knife.
With a pedigree dating back to 1902 and being a hunting household name, Buck Knives’ new Pursuit series has 6 knives in the range: a mix of three folding blades and three fixed blades with both styles offering a small and large blade size as well as a gut hook model. The Pursuit range is designed as a multi-purpose alternative to traditional hunting knives for the beginner through to the experienced hunter.
The 656 Pursuit is made from 420HC steel and is heat treated with the Paul Bos heat treating system which, after researching, certainly sounds like its arguably the best in the business, delivering a blade that has excellent strength and corrosion resistance as well as durability.
The Paul Bos heat treating system is widely used by Buck Knives and the custom-knife-making industry in the USA since the 1960s.
I feel it’s important to mention the 420HC steel (not to be confused with regular 420 stainless steel) has a higher carbon content. It’s this higher carbon content combined with higher chromium content that provides good abrasion/corrosion resistance and edge holding.
For the engineers and metallurgists out there, the blade edge is tempered to a Rockwell hardness of RC58.
And of course, like all Buck knives, the Pursuit comes with Buck Knives’ Forever Warranty!
The first thing that struck me about this knife was the modern handle design and how comfortable it felt in my hand. The handle length of 12.7cm was a good fit for my hand size. The ‘fit’ of a knife is something that’s important but can easily be overlooked when selecting a knife. The entire hand should have contact with the knife handle – this is especially important for safety and knife control where significant pressure is required to perform a task.
The drop point blade is great for the all-round use the Pursuit series was designed for; with an overall thickness of 3.5mm, the blade feels substantial and drops down to a thick point for heavier tasks.
The 656 has good balance with a full tang that provided confidence when in use.
The tempering process (Paul Bos system motioned earlier) is the critical part of getting the right mix of heating and cooling to produce a blade that holds its edge yet is easy enough to resharpen.
As you’d expect after 118 years of business, Buck Knives certainly have the process dialled in!
The sheath is a hard-wearing polyester affair with a plastic insert which can be partially pulled out for cleaning, if required, with a doubled-stitched belt loop for hip mounting.
On the first trip when I used the 656 Pursuit, it received a good workout with campcraft – helping cut firewood, shave kindling and in general food prep work, etc.
Unfortunately, no animals were taken on that trip, and I chose not to sharpen the knife after use in order to test the blade’s ability to hold an edge.
The second trip was a day outing with my two kids in tow where gutting and field butchery were required. The 656 Pursuit made short work of a fallow spiker which was first gutted – this is where the drop point did its job of keeping clear and not nicking any vitals – then, with tenderloins removed, it was on to testing the knife’s skinning ability to access the backstraps. This is where the 656 was in its element – having a good blade length, it made short work of the process. Following this, I then processed three of the legs, given the 150gr 308 projectile had done a job on the other leg.
I found the thick point of the blade good for the work around the hip joint/ball socket area. Once home, after hanging the legs for 24 hours, it was used for skinning and boning them out. Finally, I skinned the head, as I’d decided this would be a good test of the knife’s ability to tackle various cut angles and the hard, bony areas.
On completion, the blade still had an edge, albeit a little dull near the point due to the head skinning where I got too close to the teeth.
A quick honing on the diamond stone had the blade as good as new in minutes and ready for the next hunt.
Being the first fixed-blade knife I’ve used in the field, I found the 656 Pursuit solid and well balanced with an excellent non-slip grip when things got messy. For a larger knife, I found it surprisingly easy to use – I didn’t find the heavier weight fatiguing. The drop point blade proved to hold its edge well and sharpened easily when required. I also enjoyed the fact it was easier to clean than a folding knife due to no moving parts!
The downside was the overall weight: with the sheath, it comes in at 230 grams (8.11oz). If you’re an ultralight packer and a space saver, then you might want to try the smaller folding Pursuit knife in the range.