Which bowie?

Jun 21, 1999
I am considering the purchase of a bowie knife. It's just one of those things that I feel like I "need". If you were going to purchase one which would it be? Are there any I should avoid? I kinda like the classic styling but the CS Trailmaster looks like a good user.

If I gotta buy one I'd get the Cold Steel Bush Ranger. Really one of the best buys around at $60. The 3/16" blade thickness is not so thick that it adversely affects cutting.

If you're into large bowies the in the 9-11" range, I think you'll be getting better value with Marble's 10.5" Trailmaker. Discountknives have them at a fantastic value.
I agree the Marbles Trailmaker should be a great choice for a traditional but high performance Bowie. The CS Trailmaster might be a better choice if you wanna use it like you hate it but the Marbles is made from 5160 and should be quite tough in it`s own right. If you`re looking for more of a traditional looking fighting bowie you might also want to give the Ontario Hells Belles a look too. Marcus
Do you want a fighting or utility bowie?

If you know about fighting bowies, and you can find a bladesmith who does too, I reccomend getting a custom piece done. There are any "production" or "benchmade" pieces that particularly impress me.

I don't like the Black Cloud versions mostly because of the way they do the gaurd. They make them integral with the bladestock, which means they're pretty thing. I don't find this to be very comfortable with many techniques I use, and considering that I also use my fixed blades as pigstickers it's worth noting that those style gaurds can be singularly uncomfortable when ramming the blade home. That should piss off half the bowie enthusiasts on the forums.

I don't like the gaurd on the Hell's Belle or it's production versions either, mostly because it's made from flat stock, which means sharp corners. Also, the gaurd intersect the handle at a hard angle, which can make the gaurd dig in too. To illustrate what I mean, think about the "softer" way in which the gaurd on the Project 1 meets the handle. All curve. Very comfortable. Oh yeah, this should piss off the other half of bowie enthusiats on the forums.

I'm not so into utility bowies. A well designed bowie will be useful for both utility and combat, and damn well better make a good pigsticker too!
I like the Trailmaster myself. IF you want a heavy knife that'll really do the trick in a fight, have you considered the CS kukri? I haven't gotten to play around with one yet, but when I do, you can bet it's gonna be a while before I put it down! If I like it as much as I think I will, I'll buy one of my own ASAP.

I think in terms of bang-for-the-buck, the Bagwell/Ontario collaborations are a hell of a good deal. I held the "Gambler" variation at the BAKCA show and was highly impressed with it's balance, feel and light weight.

DAMN fine piece. I was shocked at how light it felt. Definately a "finess" type versus "power smash".

I'd consider Ernie Mayer's Black Cloud types a small step up from there. Granted, the guards are thin, but there's ways of dealing with that. A few holes drilled in the guards and you could do small "grip scales" in wood to fatten them out if that's your thing. I find that with 1/4" stock, the resulting areas that your thumb rests on in the Saber grip and area that your trigger finger jams up on in a thrust are sufficiently fat enough to prevent discomfort...but everybody's hands are different.

The balance and handling on the Ernie Mayer pieces is just phenomenal. The Ontario/Bagwell Gambler was also very good. I haven't handled the Bagwell/Ontario Hell's Belle but I've heard good things about it.

The very best handling "Bowie" or similar is, I think, the Mad Dog Panther. But that's $900 worth of knife...Ernie can do good work in the $300 range, the Ontario/Bagwells are under that if I remember right.

What else...try and find the Paragon Larry Harley Battle Dagger or Battle Bowie, see how they feel to you. They're out of production(?) but turn up at shows pretty often. The Battle Bowie is strange because it's tuned for a "power smash gorilla grip" for use in stabbing wild boars to death I kid you not. NOT a finess piece but godawful power if that's your thing. The Battle Dagger is the finess "skinnier version". The Paragons are only AUS8 steel but once you've handled them, you can get Larry to make you one custom in ATS34 at prices comparable to Ernie Mayer.

Jim March
PS: compared to any of the above, the CS Trailmaster feels like...well, like a pig. Like a big clunky unwieldy monstrosity. Any of the "light, properly balanced, proper ergos" pieces will feel so much nicer it's not funny. The Battle Bowie is a semi-exception, it feels good but the grip style is deliberately limited to "power stabbing", it's not a "true fighter" like the rest.

A Trailmaster *can* be used as a "heavy smash" weapon with good effect, but if somebody knows what they're doing with a "real fighter" the guy with the Trailmaster is screwed, even if the opposing "true fighter" is a bit shorter.

Um, the original post never mentioned "fighting," though it did say mention usability, which I interpretted as use like a large camp knife or something similar.

Just wanted to point this out.

I hear good things about Marbles and I like what little I've seen.

I like the looks of those Marbles bowies, too. Haven't gotten to handle one yet.

On the fighting bowie side ... Jim, I found the Gambler felt nice in the hand, but I consider the Mayer fighting bowie -- at least the 8" Gen4 version Steve has -- to be a big step up in terms of nimbleness in the hand. You should feel that one again, it's pretty incredible. I think Steve has 1 or 2 other of Mayer's fighting bowies, but none feel as good as that one.

Here we go again! I have 2 Randall knives: a 6" Hunter's Bowie and a 7" No. 1. Both are excellent camp type knives, although I have used the Hunter's Bowie rather more (say, 40 years). While they are expensive, some $200+, they are, IMO, very well made. I would suggest a micarta or other hilt over the leather washer hilt that is standard.

Walk in the Light,

The Cold Steel Trailmaster is far too weak in the tip to make a decent utility knife. Plus it is not balanced far enough along the blade for heavy work. It does however handle light brush well and does not have a heavy wrist fatigue factor. Lynn did design this as a "fighting knife" though, for example the thin tip does give great penetration and the relatively light balance does lower wrist / hand strain during light use. The steel is decent, too hard though and could be more ductile as it chips under moderate - heavy impacts.

Mad Dog's TUSK has a much better geometry for heavy utility work, discuss the design with Ed Schott. He makes similar knives out of 3V with a few improvements (better steel, better edge geometry -> recurved and thinner).

As yet another choice (by reputation only) try the RTAK or Battle Mistress. The RTAK for light strain cutting and the Battle Mistress for heavier work.

A few of the above are not thought of as bowies by some. For a classic bowie I would probably go with Tim Zowada based on emails with owners and get a "Therapy" model.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 03 September 1999).]
I own a couple of the newer Marble's - I like them a lot.....lots of knife for the $ IMHO. I love the leather handles

The Cold Steel SRK (Survival Rescue Knife) is very nice, too. I was surprised by the extremely sharp factory edge - I didn't expect that on a $70 retail knife!

What about the very, very LOW priced Camillus
Marine (CM5684K)Knife w/ Kydex. One of the best buys out there - Will Fennel turned me on to this little baby. The m.o. price will make you thing something is wrong...lol (~$40 shipped!). I just ordered one

Just my $0.2 worth

Ray 'md2020'
Production bowies, blech.

Snicker: eveb as one of Black Cloud Knives best customers, I find your comments are sensible. Ernie's bowies are developed for fighting though, and I wonder how similar that is to killing wild pigs. Have you used one of Ernie's bowies for pig? Ernie's design generally depends on the pistol grip shaped palm swell more than the guards for grip retention. The guards are for parying more than stopping the hand.

Lonnie: I personally would not pay over $100 for a production knife. There are just too many really superb handmade bowies available for $200 to $400 that would be well worth the money. One of Newt Livesay's Hunter Killer Retreiver bowies are only $200. Ernie Mayer's Black Cloud Fighting Bowies are some of the best available for around $400. At the BAKCA show last weekend, I saw two of the most beautiful bowies I've ever seen, made by Dan Pfanensteil, they were 5160 with a double temper line, thick oval guards (I think Snickersnee would have approved of them), and he was only asking $375. I would have bought one, but they were too pretty to use.

By handmade fixed blades. The superior workmanship, materials, and heat treating are well worth the extra cost.

I have an Ontario Spec-Plus Raider Bowie that cost around $45.-$50. that I feel was money well-spent. It is structured for strong chopping and the synthetic grip handles well when wet or sweaty. I am also pleased with the front-heavy feel if I ever had to whack someone in the head with it. I once had it in hand when confronting a pack (5) of large stray dogs that were trying to decide to fight or flee (growling like a bigger dog and stamping my feet helped them decide), it definately made me feel better. Mine has held an edge well and the tip has not broken under duress. The black finish holds well also.
I also have an Ontario/Bagwell Hells Belles "Stealth" Bowie which I would not regard as a utility knife at all. The blade has a slender reach and fairly even balance that does not lend itself to utility-type hacking. The user profile of this blade is more for combative fast slash-and-thrust and back-cuts. It's a fighting knife. It is far to slick-looking to use for mundane camping chores. I doubt the hardwood handle would maintain integrety under extended moisture/stress, especially salt-water. Although I like this knife a lot, I don't share the religious reverence for it that others express. I paid $75.00 for mine, new in the box and am relieved that I didn't pay more for it. It is a good knife to have, but I would wait until the feeding frenzy dies down and the honeymoon wears off and pick up an unused second-hand one, because there are going to be a lot of them.
I'll second the RTAK from Newt Livesay. Or if you want a smaller bowie maybe his "company" knife.


I use an Ontario SP-6 for Boar hunting. Strong sharp blade (and easy to get a good edge) and the rubbery handle provides a good grip. I suppose the blade could be a little longer, but its dropped 'em in their tracks so far. Its very inexpensive, and I prefer spending the big bucks on things with springs.
Steve, `haven't had the opportunity to try killing a pig with a Black Cloud yet, but having played the game for a few years I can say two things about them;

1. The actual blade shape on some models would be perfectly servicable.

2. Those type of thin gaurds are real uncomfortable when dispatching boar `cause you really have to ram the point home, and the techniques are different for pouncing on a boar's back and stick'n him in the armpit than they are for fighting a human while standing on both feet.

Retention is a neccessity on a pigsticker, but I think I could make some of those Black Cloud's work, the main thing is just the gaurd. I've been cut by both types of gaurds I listed in my above post doing this and related activities.

On a pure fighting knife they probably work fine because you're talking more finness than brute force, but even then I'd prefer a different treatment.

On either type of those gaurds you can improve them substantialy by radiousing the corners, and I mean to a semicircle, not just taking the edge off'em.

If you do that, they're not so bad. They still can concentrate the force on a small area and so aren't as comfortable as they could be, but they won't cut you if you do that fix.

Black Cloud is close, a Hell's Belle is close, and the Project is close; if we could just somehow make a hybrid...

Oh yeah, I'd thought about doing the "gaurdscales" too, the only thing is, on a knife that's that expensive I don't think I should have to. And, depending on material used, it will alter the point of balance to one degree or another if it's really as fine tuned as reported.

Still, I'd rather buy the Black Cloud and have something worth while than waste 900 frig'n dollars on a Mad Dog. No knife, hell, no sword, is worth 900 dollars unless it's an antique or something. If you really think about it, your $900 doesn't get you much in a Mad Dog, just something that looks like a kitchen knife that's reputed to have a comfy handle.

I have never seen a knife that was so uncomfortable as to make me want to spend that kind of money to correct that flaw.

By the way, being singularly unimpressed with Mad Dog's, I don't follow their pricing, so I'm just going by what I heard on that price. If they don't cost $900, and in fact are significantly lower, like a fourth of that or something, then I withdraw my statement.

Except the part about no knife, no matter what tactical boy wonder made it, is worth $900. I had a bloody hard time shucking out $300 for my Project, and it actualy offers something that's substantialy different that you get with a mass produced knife.

Oh yeah, that Spec Plus Marine Raider is a good bang for buck knife. I'd buy one, especialy at their msrp. I'd want the gaurd done different though...