Since the mid-1960s, the vast majority of big game hunters have preferred a folding lock-blade knife configuration. The reasons behind such a choice lie primarily in a shift in our style of hunting. Today, most hunters spend more time in some type of vehicle (i.e. truck, car, ATV, etc.) or sitting in a blind, then they do on their feet. When you’re in a seated position, it’s far more comfortable to carry a compact lock-blade folder than having a full-length fixed blade knife poking you in your hip. Moreover, a lock-blade folder provides all of the advantages of a fixed blade in a smaller and more easily managed package.
Throughout the cutlery industry, manufacturers produce nearly identical folding lock-blade hunting knives. Most feature a 3 1/2 inch long clip pattern, stainless steel blade contained in a heavy-duty frame with either a back spring or inner frame locking mechanism. The similarity between various manufacturers’ lock-blade folders is so great that it takes a closer inspection to distinguish one from another. The popularity of a knife design and having a choice of manufacturers isn’t a bad thing, it just exhibits how well that particular configuration performs its designated functions.
Despite that nearly uniform nature of lock-blade folders designed for big game work, every once in a while something new and somewhat different in the category comes along. L.L. Bean, one of the oldest and most trusted names in mail order outdoor gear, recently introduced a rather unique version of the folding lock-blade hunting knife. The new Allagash folder features a 3 1/2 inch long, hollow-ground, drop-point pattern blade crafted from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel with a liner-locking mechanism and an ergonomically designed zebra wood handle. An addition, the knife comes in a black saddle leather carrying case, with a snap closure.
Many may not be familiar with 8Cr13Mov stainless, which is offshore manufactured steel. Without getting into the weeds by listing the actual chemical formulation, this steel is very similar to AUS-8 stainless, which is used by many manufacturers in a wide range of cutlery. Heat treatment is in the Rockwell range of Rc58-59, which provides excellent toughness along with good edge holding. When you consider strength, corrosion resistance and cutting ability, 8Cr13Mov is a well-balanced steel that’s value priced.
At first examination, the knife appears to be just another lock-blade folding hunting knife. Indeed, that’s what it is, but with significant differences. The drop-point blade pattern offers far greater strength at the tip than does a similar length clip pattern. Since many users have been known to apply lateral pressure (pry) to their knife blades, the result is clip-point tip breakage. Simply put, the drop-point blade pattern has more blade mass at the tip and is less prone to accidental damage in that area. Furthermore, the drop-point configuration is the preferred blade design for hide removal.
Another difference between the Allagash folder and similar folding lock-blade hunting knife designs is the locking mechanism. Many lock-blade folders feature a back spring lock that some users find difficult to manipulate in cold weather. Freezing temperatures can impact eye/hand coordination and individual finger strength. An inner-frame lock is somewhat easier to manipulate, all without changing your grip on the knife, than a back frame lock release.
The knife handle is another extremely significant departure from the usual rather angular handle found on similar products. Rather than just having inset handle scales that possess square edges, the Allagash folder has zebra wood scales that are contoured and cover the entirety of the knife frame itself. This alone provides a level of user hand-to-knife comfort seldom found in similar designs.
I used the Allagash folder on a recent Wyoming pronghorn antelope hunt and found it an excellent choice for any big game hunt. The knife was used to field dress, skin and bone-out an entire antelope without any edge maintenance. Afterward, while the blade edge needed a little attention, the knife was still functionally sharp. All it took was a few strokes with a carbide sharpener to bring the edge back to its original sharpness. Best of all, because of the ergonomically designed handle, the knife was comfortable to use without angular pressure points causing hand-to-knife strain. In my book, I call that solid performance!–Durwood Hollis