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hunting knife conundrum - s30v or D2?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by loonybin, Aug 6, 2009.

  1. loonybin

    loonybin Gold Member Gold Member

    May 18, 1999
    I have the opportunity to get a new hunting knife (I actually do need one), and I have a bit of an issue to decide. It will be used for field dressing, skinning, and butchering whitetails, and maybe some feral hogs. I've used my f-i-l's old Western Knife that was really nice and worked pretty good, but he wouldn't sell it. I was given a SOG Field Pup, and have used it on a couple of deer. That was the tipping point to get a good hunting knife. Money isn't the deciding factor, but funds are tight (family of 8), and this knife will likely be my only hunting knife for several years. I'd like to get it right the first time. I have some Bass Pro and Cabela's gift cards that are making a purchase possible, hence my selections:

    Knife 1: Cabela's Fixed Griptilian with D2 blade (PE edge)
    Knife 2: Cabela's Alaskan Guide Buck Vanguard with a hollow-ground S30V blade and rubber grip.
    Knife 3: Bass Pro Gerber Freeman with a hollow-ground, quasi clip point/drop point S30V blade (different from the standard Freeman drop point blade), full tang and stag handle. The handle is not quite as ergonomic as either Cabela's knife, but still good.

    With the gift cards I have been given, the price for the Gerber is about $50 less than the Cabela's knives (both about the same price), but performance is more my concern (buy right, cry once kind of thing).

    My question is which one would be the better steel for a hunting knife? The S30V would be a bit easier to sharpen in the field, I'm guessing, but may chip more easily. The D2 might not even need to be sharpened after gutting and skinning a few deer, but if it does need it, it'll be a bear to do with my Sharpmaker, even with my diamond sticks. I'm also a bit uncertain about the blade shape of the fixed Grip and how well it would work on a deer.

    If there really won't be any difference in performance of these steels when I'm gutting, skinning, and butchering 4 deer or so (yes, I do it myself), then I'll probably just get the least expensive one, but if the D2 will offer a real advantage, I will probably spring for the Grip instead.

    Thoughts, anyone?
  2. 440hard


    Feb 19, 2008
    I'd go with the D2. Tougher all around.
    Not that hard to sharpen, but you're right
    about it lasting the trip without needing to.

    Ypu could always bring a small diamond or
    ceramic stone to touch it up at the campfire.
  3. mmarkh

    mmarkh Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 16, 2005
    Although you would be good to go with S30v, from your choices I would get the fixed Grip. If it is sharp when you start you should be able to get through a couple deer before it needs a touch up.
  4. Stainz


    Jun 24, 2007
    I have both the stag/S30V Gerber Freeman and the Cabela's/Buck AG Vanguard in S30V (Mine is rosewood/brass with a leather sheath.). The Vanguard is thicker blade stock, but hollow ground with a longer/finer edge. Both have been used - on wood - and never sharpened. They still shave arm hairs. I also have a Benchmade fixed blade, a 201 Activator+ in D2, bought new 12/07. It came dull, like my only other BM - a Grip in 440C from five years earlier. Both were bears to sharpen with the basic Sharpmaker. The only S30V I've sharpened thus far has been my Spyderco Native, an EDC with lots of rough use. It was easier to return to shaver status - that BM's D2 never got that sharp, however.

    My CTS problems make longterm use of the Freeman troublesome, but it's a nice knife. lots of jimping. The Benchmade Activator+ feels better in the hand, if you can get it sharp enough. It has sufficient jimping for your thumb. The Vanguard is my favorie of the trio, it's grip being protected by the real finger guard. My first of this bunch was a Cabela's 'Pro Line' series with rosewood/brass and the standard Buck 420HC blade. I have had it for years, and used it hiking/camping and in the garden. I last used it to cut roots in a hole I dug. Sadly, when I pulled it out minutes ago, it still had mud dried on it. Still perfect edge - even popped a hair or two. It would suffice... and you can get it as the standard 692 in rubber handle and with a nylon sheath. Great plus, a standard Sharpmaker is a straight forward way to return it's edge quickly, if my 110s are an indicator.

    Another choice - the special run of Vanguards from last year with the greyish CPM154 (Like S30V, Rc 59-60.) blades. I stopped in 'St. Nick's Knife Factory' at the Tanger Mall in Foley, AL (I don't have their card, so no phone number... google them, if interested.) again a week back, they still had several. It comes with the rosewood and brass - in a nylon sheath - perfect for your use, even if that handle gets slicker in wet conditions than the rubber. At $70, it is a steal - mine, from last fall's visit, is still a shaver. Nice local folks, including local knifemaker Fred Vollmer, his wife, and son, work there. Well sealed/stabilized, it won't stain easily, that's for sure. I like the Vanguard... can you tell?


    PS The CPM154 Buck Vanguard's box end cap has '0192RWSBP9-B and a build date of: 09/26/2008 on it. I bought mine 2 weeks later - pretty fresh then. It stll has a $69.99 tag on it - like their current stock.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2009
  5. ChapmanPreferred


    Oct 7, 2006
    Of your choices I would go with the Buck.
  6. Samael


    Sep 30, 2007
    I own the exact same knives as Stainz, and have reached exactly the same conclusions.
  7. Alberta Ed

    Alberta Ed

    Jun 29, 1999
    All those are good, but for edge retention, toughness and ease of sharpening in the field, consider a high carbon steel blade. My all-time favourites include Cold Steel's Master Hunter in Carbon V, Marble's Campcraft in 52100 and Roselli erapuukko.
  8. ginshun


    Apr 6, 2004
    I am not really familiar with the specific knives that you question, so I am not going to offer an opinion.

    What I will say is that in practical use, speaking strictly from a steel point of view, there is not a whole lot of difference between D2 and S30V. They are both excellent steels for a hunting knife that will be used like you are talking about.

    The geometry of the blade is going to affect the performance of the knife more than whether it is D2 or S30V.
  9. loonybin

    loonybin Gold Member Gold Member

    May 18, 1999
    Which is why I'm glad I have the diamond sticks for my Sharpmaker.

    Benchmade did have some issues with sharpness a few years back. Fortunately, my mini-Grip came razor sharp. Do you have the diamond rods for your Sharpmaker? I found reprofiling a blade to be a pain on the regular stones, but once I got the diamond sticks, it was quite easy. You could also send the knife back to Benchmade, as their Lifesharp service is excellent.

    Is the Freeman not an ergonomically friendly knife? The only reason that it is really in the running is because I have so many Bass Pro gift cards. I might get another one soon (work incentive) and the knife will basically be free. If I pick the Cabela's card, then the Vanguard or fixed Grip will cost me only $50.

    I like the Vanguard as well! If it came in a D2 blade, it would probably be my #1 pick for a knife, followed by the 201 Activator+. However, it does not come in D2, and neither Cabela's nor Bass Pro has the Activator+.
  10. monsterdog


    Oct 27, 2008
    Do yourself a favor and look up RAT Cutlery. Get an RC-3 or RC-4 and never look back (same price range you're looking at). Its not fancypants stainless steel (but does have a coated blade), but they cut great and are easy to sharpen on your sharpmaker.

    Then use those Cabela's gift cards to get some other stuff for your hunt.

    If thats not an option, I would probably go for the Buck.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2009
  11. Samael


    Sep 30, 2007
    Loonybin, I won't say the Freeman isn't ergonomic, it's just not as hand-filling or as comfortable as some other things out there. It's not a problem for me.
  12. Stainz


    Jun 24, 2007
    When I retired from my college teaching post, after twenty plus years of drawing/writing on the chalkboard and grading papers, I decided my woodturning hobby could help my retirement check. I decided turning small items - even 12k pens & pencils over the next seven years - was a good idea. Oops. Always gripping a turning tool tightly accelerated my CTS problems - and all but halted my woodcarving, model making, and even my shooting. Going to larger handles means less closure of my hand - better for the CTS - as was going to larger revolver grips (... and less recoil!).

    The stag/S30V Freeman is not very wide at the finger groove valleys. The thickness varies due to the stag - but may be thicker than the winewood scaled BM Activator+, which feels better due to it's wider handle. The best feel is the 192 Vanguard - AG, Pro-Line, and special CPM154 variant having the same handle. I tried the rubber grip in a store (B P ?) last year - I just wasn't impressed. I guess I'd go with the Cabela's AG Vanguard in rubber for $95 or so before your coupons/credits. Naw, I'd come up with $70 + s/h and order a CPM154 special version from Fred, etc, at St. Nick's. Seriously, I've never touched a dull Vanguard.

    Oh - I nearly bought those UF Sharpmaker files there - $42, I think. My CFO had other plans for my moola.

  13. ar0maticdecay


    Jun 1, 2009
  14. loonybin

    loonybin Gold Member Gold Member

    May 18, 1999
    Interesting knives, however, they aren't available at Cabela's or Bass Pro.

    I would agree with you that blade geometry is going to be very important. I wasn't sure how S30V works for hunting applications. I have heard that it can chip more easily, which is why I wasn't sure about it for hunting. If all it takes is slipping and smacking a bone to ruin the edge, then I wouldn't want it. From what I'm reading on this forum and another, that isn't the case when the S30V is heat treated correctly (which Buck does).

    I did more digging on Cabela's site and found the Knives of Alaska series which uses D2 and has much better blade geometry than the fixed Griptilian. Some of their designs are also less expensive, so I may just take the fixed Grip off the table and consider one of the KoA knives, like the Alpha Wolf.

    The RAT knives do look interesting, however my price range is about $50 or less. The only reason I am looking at the knives I am looking at is because of the gift cards. Without them, I won't be getting a knife.

    Thank you for that tidbit of info. I don't have CTS, and my hands are on the smaller side, so it sounds like the Freeman probably won't cause me the problems it causes you. That is good to know.

    Samael, having a slightly thinner knife that doesn't fill my hand completely is not a problem for me. Thank you for the evaluation of it.
  15. loonybin

    loonybin Gold Member Gold Member

    May 18, 1999
    Well, I managed to get my hands on a Vanguard, a Gerber Freeman, and a Knives of Alaska Trekker series knife.

    The knife that felt the best in the hand was the KoA Trekker. However, I don't want a blade that's only 3.25" long. If I had the money, I'd have picked the Alaskan, which is a 4.25" D2 drop-point blade, but it's $140+.

    The Vanguard felt very good and beefy in my hand. The Gerber Freeman also felt very good in my hand. Both have great blade geometry, and I like the option of being able to attach a paracord lanyard to the Freeman. The S30V should be tough enough from what everyone is saying, so it comes down to price, basically. The Freeman is $50 less expensive for me, so I ordered one from Bass Pro last night.

    Hey, if I decide I can't stand it, I can always sell it and use the money to get the KoA Alaskan, AG Vanguard or Benchmade Activator+!;)
  16. hunterfisher808

    hunterfisher808 Basic Member Basic Member

    Dec 27, 2006
    I have both D2 and S30V skinners. Both steels are excellent and would serve you well. Heck I've gone through a stack of deer and mouflon sheep with AUS 8 steel, without sharpening (being careful not to shave bone too much when de-boning). The new steels are way, way better and as I said IMHO will serve you equally well in the field. Just a note the S30V is more rust resistant, but I have never run into problems with my D2 Dozier in that department.
  17. Torm


    Jul 12, 2007
    Although its not one of the listed options, the Fallkniven H1 is worth considering as a good quality hunting blade. The VG10 holds an edge well and is much easier to maintain than the higher hardness D2 or S30V.

    Last edited: Aug 11, 2009
  18. mdauben


    Oct 24, 2005
    I just had a question about this statement? I don't think I had ever heard of S30V being particular chip prone, while on the other hand I see people all the time warning about the tendency of D2 blades to chip. Am I mixed up, or is the OP? :confused:
  19. Samael


    Sep 30, 2007
    Some of the early knives in S30V were heat-treated to insane hardness, and had a problem with chipping as a result. Most all of the makers out there have backed off on this a bit, and as a result it doesn't seem to be much of an issue any more.
  20. loonybin

    loonybin Gold Member Gold Member

    May 18, 1999
    Talk about quick! I ordered the Gerber from Bass Pro late on Sunday night, and it arrived on Wednesday. This thing is more impressive in person than I expected. The stag handle is thicker than the wood handle on the standard Freeman, and it fits my hand very, very well. It's hair popping sharp right out of the box, and the finish is neither mirror polished, nor a satin finish. I'll let the pics speak the rest:

    Is this the only made in USA series of knives that Gerber has any more? We'll see how well Gerber's heat treat of this S30V holds up to use...


    The lanyard slot will definitely be used. I have plenty of Orange 550 paracord lying around.

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