An Ideal Elk Hunting Knife: The Bugler Blade

The best designs are collaborations between highly experienced users and creators, and that’s how the new Bugler Blade was developed. A world-class elk hunter and a fine craftsman have teamed up to make what they consider the ideal hunting knife. The blade is shaped from experience and forged from the finest steel. It’s not a budget blade, but it should be tough enough to become an heirloom your grandkids will fight over.

The Bugler Blade comes in Blackout, Ranger Green, and Hunter Orange.

Making An Heirloom

Knives set us apart from all other animals and Man’s desire for knives is instinctual — every child sees their usefulness and wants one well before they are mature enough to handle it.

For hunters, there is a lot of pride in knives handed down generation to generation along with the knowledge of their use and care.

Handles with replaceable scalpel-like blades are all the rage right now. You can swap the blade when it dulls and then finish processing a large animal, like an elk, without taking the time to sharpen the blade. However, these disposable knives are not likely to become family heirlooms and lack the romance of traditional hunting knives.

These knives are made from S90V “super-steel” and can last more than a lifetime.

Kennen Mynear makes a living on the romance of traditional knives. His custom-crafted knives have supported his family for more than eight years. He wanted to make the quality and thoughtful design of custom knives available to more people by producing one knife in greater volume.

A Full-Bull Blade

Mynear realized that his perspective is much more informed than his clients’ which allows him to design the answer to their needs better than they can imagine themselves. He was wise enough to understand that that must also be true for other professions. So instead of designing what he thought would be the perfect hunting knife, he consulted closely with an expert hunter.

Dirk Durham is an expert elk hunter and the perfect partner to create a custom purpose knife.

Dirk Durham is a world-champion elk caller and hunting educator. He has killed dozens of elk and other big game. His experience processing game informs this blade’s design from end to end.

This expert knife maker and this professional hunter aimed to make a tough knife that could process an entire elk without sharpening. “We wanted something that felt good, looked good, and could make it through an entire elk,” says Mynear.

Durham says that he has now used his Bugler Blade to quarter, skin, debone, sever the head from the spine, and cape the head of an entire bull elk before sharpening.

Although it’s a production knife, they’re all handmade in Idaho at Mynear’s forge.

Mynear and Durham feel they have truly created a blade that can process an entire bull. Now Mynear has turned that blade into a production knife with the quality of a custom build.

A Sharp Drop-Point

This Bugler Blade is a drop-point design with a skeletonized grip and Micarta scales. The first thing you’ll notice is that the tip is markedly pointier than most hunting knives. The tip is shaped to make initial cuts easily, and it just the right size for the intricate work of caping out a skull and around antlers.

The blade has a drop-point profile, but it’s more acute than most hunting knives for easy initial cuts and dextrous caping.

The blade still has enough belly to facilitate skinning. It’s 3.25″ length is also enough for deboning through the thick muscles but not so long that you’ll be nicking the bones too often.

This full-tang knife is shaped with a radius along the spine that continues from end to end. Its Persian-like drop-handle fills your palm. The 7.5″ overall length is well-balanced and it feels dextrous in your hand.

Grip Details

The grip has large good-looking cutouts that reduce weight. It’s covered with canvas Micarta scales. Micarta is layered canvas saturated with a thermosetting plastic. The textured nature of the canvas has a large surface area and the layers bond together durably. The canvas’s porous nature also maintains a grip-able surface when wet.

Canvas Micarta scales are durable and grip-able.

Other materials, like G10, were tested extensively, but Micarta holds up the best to the water-jet cutting used to shape the scales. It also provides a more positive grip compared to other materials. Plus, the canvas Micarta develops a patina over time that will be unique to each knife.

The spine is 3/32″ thick with jimping above the bolster. There’s a finger choil that bridges the base of the blade and the grip. A sharpening choil denotes the end of the cutting edge.

The spine has jimping and there’s a finger choil for control and a sharpening choil at the base of the blade.

Although scales make the knife slightly heavier than skeletonized steel alone, I think it’s worth it for the comfort. The Micarta gives you a good grip.

The Steel: S90V & AEB-L

The Bugler Blade is crafted from Crucible’s S90V steel. This martensitic steel is made with a powdered process for exceptionally uniform particles that increase its toughness. Its high Vanadium content makes it ideal for a long-lasting sharp edge.

While it’s technically a stainless steel, it may oxidize if left wet for a long time. Mynear used aluminum oxide and Cerakote to enhance the steel’s corrosion resistance.

Blade blanks are wrapped in foil and heat-treated without oxygen. Photo: Kennen Mynear

S90V is known for its edge retention, but also for being difficult to sharpen. Mynear says that using diamond sharpeners is key. Those who complain about it are typically trying to use ceramic sharpeners, which are too soft for this hard steel.

Considered a “super steel,” S90V is not the cheapest metal. In the near future, another option of the Bugler Blade will be available made from AEB-L stainless. It’s more corsion-resistant and sharpens more easily. However, you’ll need to sharpen it while working on a kill whereas the S90V will last much longer.

Liquid Nitrogen Makes It Better

In production, the steel is first cut into knife blanks with a water jet, including the two cutouts in the grip. Then the blanks heat-treated using a foil envelope to keep oxygen out. Normally, they are then tempered three times. Mynear says this process in the S90V steel yields a Rockwell hardness of 58-59.

The blanks are heated to a uniform temperature and then rapidly cooled in liquid nitrogen. Photo: Kennen Mynear

But he uses cryogenic hardening to make the knives even tougher so the edge lasts longer. After the heat treatment, the blanks are rapidly cooled to less than 300 degrees Fahrenheit in liquid nitrogen. This increases the amount of martensite in the metal. The martensite crystal structure in the steel makes it stronger and harder. The S90V blanks are cooled for 8 hours, while the AEB-L blanks are cooled for only a couple of hours. The S90V end up at 60-61 Rockwell.

Finishes

The S90V knives come in three different blade and grip colors. First is the Ranger Green with a bead-blasted aluminum oxide finish, which is grey, with khaki green Micarta scales. This comes with a green Kydex sheath.

After tempering, the blades are ground and prepped for finishing. Photo: Kennen Mynear

Next is the Blackout with a black Cerakoted blade and black Micarta scales. It includes a black Kydex sheath.

Hunter Orange features an orange Cerakoted blade with black Micarta scales and orange camo Kydex sheath. The contrast between the orange metal and the scales is striking. You won’t accidentally leave it on the mountain, and it’ll look great on your belt, too.

Each color comes with a matching Kydex sheath that fits tightly.

The AEB-L version comes in stainless with black Micarta scales and a black Kydex sheath.

Sheaths

Each knife includes a Kydex sheath, and it’s one of the best Kydex builds I’ve seen. Matte textured Kydex is .080″ thick and the edges are all finished. The knife snaps in and out so you won’t worry that it’s come loose. The riveted holes are compatible with Tek Lok-style accessories. There’s also a drain hole to help keep your blade rust free.

The sheaths are compatible with Tek Lok-style accessories, sold separately.

Pack The Bugler Blade In, Pack Your Meat Out

Dirk Durham and Kennen Mynear’s Bugler Blade is intended to be the last hunting knife you’ll ever buy. Its design feels good in your hand and is just the right size.

This is Mynear’s first production knife, and he’s very pleased with it. But don’t imagine that there’s an Asian factory turning these knives out: Mynear makes each one by hand in Idaho. He personally sharpens your knife before shipping it to you. But it’s produced en masse with the same pattern, so it’s a production knife.

The handle drops like a Persian blade and fills your palm.

Durham says he’s cleaned, skinned, and deboned and entire bull elk with this blade and the tip was still sharp enough to cape out the skull. Of course, he’s processed more kills than most people will ever have the opportunity to do and probably nicks bones less frequently than you or I do. Still, it’s remarkable that the S90V version of this knife gets him through an entire bull without sharpening.

This knife is well-made of quality materials. It’s a modern knife with timeless styling and will certainly be the envy of all your grandchildren.

Bugler Blades are shipping now. MSRP for the S90V is $260, while the AEB-L will be available soon for $175.

These are the S90V options. The AEB-L blade will have a stainless finish with black Micarta scales.

Specs

  • Steel: Cryogenycally hardened CPM S90V, 60-61 Rockwell hardness; AEB-L available soon
  • Blade dimensions (in.): 3.25 long, .875 (7/8) wide
  • Steel thickness (in.): .0938 (3/32)
  • Overall length (in): 7.5
  • Handle length (in.): 4.25
  • Scales: Canvas Micarta
  • Weight: 2 oz.
  • Sheath: Kydex, .080″-thick, Tek Lok-compatible
  • Finish: Ranger Green bead-blasted, Blackout, and Hunter Orange Cerakote
  • MSRP S90V steel: $260
  • MSRP AEB-L steel: $175

About the author: Levi Sim is an avid hunter, and an increasingly avid shooter. He strives to make delicious and simple recipes from the game he kills. He makes a living as a professional photographer, writer, and photography instructor. Check out his work and he’d love to connect on Instagram: @outdoorslevi

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Scott Smith March 20, 2020, 6:11 pm

    Thank God I have a pair of M stamped Ruanas.

  • Steve March 20, 2020, 2:01 pm

    Hunting knives are very personal items. That is definitely not my idea of a perfect elk knife. The whole article reads like a sales ad for the knife to include the B.S. about it being forged. Anything with S90V is not going to be a forged blade but it sounds good to those that don’t know any better.

  • Mike W March 20, 2020, 9:14 am

    WHERES THE GUT HOOK?

    • Kennen Mynear July 14, 2020, 3:59 pm

      This knife was designed to be Dirks ideal elk knife. The more we use and hold this knife the more we fall in love with how it performs. The standard version in AEB-L is also worth a look. Amazing steel as well. But a guthook was not something he wanted in this design and I agree with him 100% I personally never use the guthook if one is available anyways. Thanks for your comment.

  • Dusty March 3, 2020, 4:10 pm

    Nice looking knife, and it’s an appropriate blade length for a hunting knife as well. As far as shape goes, I prefer more drop at the point. If I hold a knife edge up with my fingers and back of the blade against a flat surface- I don’t like the point to be near contact with the surface at all- otherwise they tend to cut into stuff I’d rather not when dressing game. The orange doesn’t appeal to me much, but to each his own!

    • Dirk Durham March 11, 2020, 3:02 pm

      Interesting perspective on the drop point. This knife does have a drop point to some degree, but it still allows for articulate cuts while caping you’re bull or buck. After years and lots of bulls worked up, I really wanted a semi-drop point so you can quickly start your cuts through the hair into the hide on elk. Then also, working around the antler pedicles and burrs while caping. I found this design to be far superior to a more aggressive drop point. Also, if you look at the line from the blade point to the end of the handle, you’ll notice enough curve to allow for a good grip of the knife and still be able to make nimble cuts. I’m with you on the orange. I prefer the black, but after listening to feedback from consumers, we added the orange as an option for those who sometimes misplace their knife while working up a bull. Thanks for the feedback and reading the article! Good luck this fall 😊

    • Kennen Mynear July 14, 2020, 4:04 pm

      thanks for your perspective. Interestingly enough the oramge is the most popular so far. We had many people ask for it and thats why we added it to the line up. If your more of a non cerakote person we also offer a standard version in AEB-L with a nice 220 grit satin grind finish. More will be available in early August. Thanks

  • Glen March 2, 2020, 5:38 pm

    Dirk , I have to have one of those knives in hunter orange .

    • Dirk Durham March 11, 2020, 3:04 pm

      Thanks for looking! I can’t wait for you guys to take these to the woods this fall! I was thoroughly impressed with its performance.

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