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CRKT Free Range Hunter Folding Knife

An impromptu family cookout gave me a chance to try out my new Hunter folding knife, model 2041 of the Columbia River ‘Free Range’ series designed by Alaskan outfitter Russ Kommer.  Though designed to be a big game knife, I subjected the Hunter to an almost disrespectful barrage of camping and pocket knife tests.

The Blade

While I prefer a fixed blade to a folder for dressing game, the Hunter inspires confidence.

At 3.75 inches, the sturdy blade is as long as you’ll ever need for East Woods quarry.  At a hair over an inch wide, I feel that it’s a little beefy for detaching intestines from the pelvis, where a narrow blade is preferable, but I imagine it’s just the thing for elk or mule deer, certainly for a moose, which are exactly the species that Mr. Kommer designed this for.

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A clip-point tip is always welcome in a folder designed for field-dressing game, enabling a clean and precise puncture in small quarry, as well as doing some delicate big-game work.  I look forward to caping a buck with this tool, and after preparing my first European mount, I imagine this Bowie-like tip would come in handy for that precision job as well.  But the swedge and clip-point design worked well for certain camp job tests too, like gouging a starter hole in a fire board, or for kitchen tasks like opening plastic food-packaging.

On the spine, the thumb ridges provide good bite, and the blade remains thick as it swoops past a swedge into the clip point. Below the jimping, thumb studs extend to both sides, making this model equally useful for the left-handed smoke-shifters among us, and the adjustable pivot allows you to determine just the right amount of resistance for you.  For all those tasks that make me wish I had an extra hand or two, both in camp and around the yard, I found myself relying on the thumb stud more than I ever have.

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The out-of-the-box bevel and hollow grind made short work of some applewood hotdog skewers, and later it refreshed them to serve as marshmallow sticks.  Wood fibers can wreak havoc on a blade, but after the rough task of sharpening a few tarp stakes, a quick thumb test revealed no burs on the edge. And the Hunter still performed beautifully at dinner, particularly when slicing my overcooked steak.

The Handle

While dual-injection molding sounds like a cutting-edge advance, I would prefer that the whole handle were coated in rubbery soft polymer. Plastic or rigid nylon can be a liability, even for the partially plastic handle on the Hunter.  The dense polymer has a low coefficient of friction, meaning it’s not grippy, weakening your hold during slippery jobs likes gutting game, making the task more dangerous as well as more difficult. ( Editor’s note: I don’t disagree with Todd’s premise in theory, but in practice I’ve used a lot full polymer handles of various types and not really had any issues. I also handles the Hunter and for me at least, think the combo of polymer and rubber would work fine. )

On the other hand, the change of texture enables me to know where my fingers are in relation to the knife, if I’m not wearing gloves, so that I can easily tell by touch whether my fingers are near the finger grooves or the pivoted latch.

Ridges in the latch assist my grip on the spine when I press to disengage the lock, and the fulcrum is a good distance from the ridges, which gives me more leverage.  A hole is provided at the end of the handle so you have the option of lacing a wrist lanyard.

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As a former industrial product designer, I can tell you that there is no such thing as optimally sized finger grooves, despite Columbia River’s claims.  The four grooves on the Hunter impose limits on whose hands can fit the knife, and they restrict the ways you can use it.  While field dressing a deer, for instance, a back grip might help with simple but cautious tasks like detaching the innards from a spinal column, when all you’re doing is drawing the knife toward yourself – but I also hold a knife in other ways, such as when I’m struggling through a breastbone, and I have to think that finger grips will make those tough chores all the more difficult.

But there were pros, as well.  Much like the change of texture from hard to soft handle material, the finger grips helped me to orient my hand to the tool.  This was especially helpful when I was wearing gloves.

The Sheath

One nice feature of the Hunter’s otherwise standard nylon sheath is that, instead of using a Velcro seal, which can wear all too quickly, a nylon hood fitssnugly over the knife and secures with a sturdy snap that will only be a problem for sound-sensitive buyers.

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At first, the belt loop seems taut for a snug fit, but an examination of the stitching revealed a lot of play in mine, making me wonder how long the sheath will cleave to the hip, or hold at all.  Time will tell.  In all fairness, though, when I buy a knife, I’m buying the knife, not the obligatory sheath.  Only when I find that I love a knife will I need to find the ideal sheath to fit.

The Verdict

To my surprise, I carry the Hunter everywhere since the cookout, degrading it with general use, like opening blister packs and effortlessly denuding two old box-spring mattresses – and I have yet to resharpen it! The Hunter has become my new best friend, even as I dishonor it with inglorious odd jobs, ranging from cleanly trimming excess foam insulation to skewering a dead mouse so I wouldn’t have to touch it.

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The CRKT Free Ranger Hunter folder is a sound investment for a modest $49.99, though some careful internet shopping might earn you a 40 percent savings.  If you use it exclusively for the purpose for which it is intended, it might well last you a lifetime.  Despite the dual-injection molding of the handle and dubious value of the finger grips, the Hunter’s overall quality and clever blade design will satisfy your need for a reliable game knife.

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