Humans have field dressed four-legged sustenance since that first caveman chiseled a pointy tip on a downed tree branch. Did he, or the millions of hunters who came after, have a gut hook knife? Nope. Not for many millennia, until it showed up in the mid 20th century.
Its origin story is murky. Many folks say custom knifemaker Merle Seguine added a hook to his knife to lift a pot from a campfire, and later sharpened the hook for field dressing. Others say the gut hook was invented for hunting by Sid Bell (a silversmith, geologist, and outdoorsman), who gave a wooden prototype to Seguine to produce.
Regardless, the gut hook is used today to “unzip” a downed animal’s hide without piercing muscles or intestines.
Many designers misinterpret the gut hook knife by sharpening its top or messing up the geometry of its C-shaped opening. This can result in unintended cutting and difficulty in sharpening after use. Also, most gut hooks are on a blade’s spine, meaning the primary edge must face you as you split the hide; like a gun’s muzzle, it’s not ideal to have the business end pointing at you.
So, in this issue, we take a stab at gut hook knives to see if they’re something preppers should add to our tool kits.
Uncle Henry Stag Horn Gut Hook Skinner
D2 tool steel
If the SwingBlade is the oddball of folding gut hooks, then this Uncle Henry model is the nonconformist among the fixed blades in this buyer’s guide. It’s a hybrid of sorts, combining elements of the gut hook, a trailing-point fixed blade, and the Inuit blade called an ulu to produce a tool that’s made specifically for field dressing medium to large game. Old-school aesthetics in a unique package, it offers solid slicing abilities.
- Gut hook is a great “zipper” tool.
- Primary edge’s huge belly equals precise skinning.
- Quality leather sheath
- Though popular, D2 isn’t our favorite blade steel; it’s hard to sharpen and isn’t a stainless steel.
- Sheath can only be worn vertically and — if the knife is pulled up slightly while holstered — can expose the sharp bottom corner of the skinning blade.
Outdoor Edge SwingBlade
AUS-8 stainless steel
Outdoor Edge is a Colorado-based company that makes a wide range of innovative knives and tools, and its SwingBlade is one such model. As the oddity of the bunch, it’s not a true gut hook knife. Instead, it’s a skinning blade that flips around to reveal a slightly curved gutting blade on the other end. Part folding knife, part straight razor, this two-in-one design frees up space in your kit while offering superior in-the-field performance.
- Both the gutting and skinning blades slice like precise lasers.
- Outside-the-box design
- Nylon sheath has plastic liner and provides the best no-rattle lockup of all the sheaths in this buyer’s guide.
- Opening the SwingBlade requires two hands and extra effort to keep your fingers out of the path of whichever blade is closing.
- Sheath is vertical-carry only.
7Cr17MoV stainless steel
Despite being made in China, this is a robust multi-tool consisting of three folding stainless steel blades: a gut hook, a bone saw, and a drop-point. Each are secured with a sturdy lockback and housed in a wide handle with grippy injection-molded scales. The gut hook’s tip is rounded to prevent accidental punctures. The saw has two rows of staggered teeth for effective sawing, while the drop-point blade is sharp and versatile.
- Saw and drop-point blade offer multiple bushcraft uses
- Multi-tool design means you’ll haul fewer tools
- Comes with a well-made nylon sheath
- Gut hook doesn’t so much slice as it does pull.
- Handle will be a tad too fat for those with medium to small paws.
- Handle’s finger grooves are pointless, considering the closed blades always protrude out; your fingers will always be gripping two uncomfortable blade spines as you use the third blade.
Buck Knives 660 Folding Pursuit Large Guthook Knife
420HC stainless steel
Designed as a midrange hunting knife, the 660 features a smartly designed gut hook on the spine of its folding drop-point blade. The gut hook’s opening is wider than most, and its sharpened edge is almost rectangular, allowing for a smooth slicing motion. Thanks to its performance, lightweight frame, durability, and portability, this U.S.-made folder is a serious contender. But we’d expect nothing less from the iconic Buck Knives.
- Gut hook’s superior edge geometry
- Thumbstud opening and lockback mechanism provide safe operation
- Ergonomic handle
- Nylon sheath can be carried vertically or horizontally
- Though well made, the handle scales are made of glass-filled nylon and VersaFlex synthetic rubber. We’d prefer Micarta or G10.
Bear & Sons Cutlery 444
440 stainless steel
Knife snobs might scoff at the 444’s Kraton (polymer) handle and 440 stainless steel blade, but both have proven themselves in real-world applications. Once upon a time, 440 was considered a super steel; even though other fancy steels have come along, it still provides strong rust resistance and edge retention. Speaking of which, both the gut hook and the primary cutting edge are crazy sharp. Made in the USA.
- Ergonomic and comfy Kraton handle
- 440 stainless steel blade and gut hook perform well
- The blade shaves off tiny bits of leather from the sheath every time you pull out the knife. The sheath could use a plastic liner to prevent this annoyance.
- The sheath’s snap-button strap rotates too much, making opening and closing a pain.
Gerber Gator Premium Gut Hook, Fixed
S30V stainless steel
Some longtime fans have lamented that the quality control on Gerber knives have dropped in recent years. You won’t have that fear with the Gator Premium. From the S30V stainless steel of its full-tang blade and integrated gut hook to the comfy, rubberized Gator Grip handle that inspires its name, this 21st century reincarnation of Gerber’s bestselling lineup elevates this genre in aesthetics, performance, and craftsmanship. It has Best in Class written all over it.
- Both the primary edge and the gut hook cut like lightsabers.
- Gator Grip handle offers traction and comfort.
- Quality sheath has plastic liner to protect the leather.
- Steel finger guard and pommel
- Sheath can only be carried vertically.
Utah Knife Works UKW Survival Knife
9Cr18MoV stainless steel
Utah Knife Works owner Mark Russon says his father, Robb, came up with the design for what would eventually become the Tom Brown Tracker knife, but never got credit for it. So, 40 years later, the younger Russon gave his dad’s model a modern makeover. Every section of this jack-of-all-trades blade has a different survival function, including the utility hook that’s promoted as being capable of processing game, among other uses.
- In spite of the Chinese steel, the blade is durable and its many edges are razor sharp, including the hook.
- Feels good in the hand
- This tracker knife is a sturdy bushcraft multi-tool.
- Unfortunately, if you use the gut hook for game, the saw teeth on top of the knife’s spine will rip into the guts you’re trying to avoid. (As a consolation, the hook can be used on sticks to shave off tinder or to craft arrow heads.)
- While well crafted, the leather sheath is vertical-carry only.