FORLOH and Montana Knife Company team up to produce the ultimate knives for hunters
Last fall, as Wes Jackson and a group of friends were horse packing out of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness following a successful hunt, disaster nearly struck. When a carcass shifted on one of the horse’s backs, the animal startled, toppled over, and pinned down its rider. Unsheathing his knife from his belt holster, Jackson leapt from his own horse and used the blade to slash away the wide, thick leather straps of the saddle and free the horse. The hunter was injured, but it would have been a lot worse if the situation hadn’t been handled quickly. Jackson says the experience drove home the importance of carrying the right knife, in this case a fixed-blade model crafted by Montana Knife Company.
“A lot of hunters carry pocket knives or replaceable blade knives, but in a survival situation those won’t do you any good,” says Josh Smith, founder and master bladesmith at Montana Knife Company. “Knives are tools. And it only makes sense to carry a tool that works in the broadest range of situations.”
A fifth-generation Montanan who grew up in a hunting family on the footsteps of the Bob Marshall, Smith has been working on developing the perfect hunting knife for almost three decades. He began learning how to make knives at age 11 from a baseball coach versed in forging Damascus steel, passed the Journeyman bladesmith test at age 15, and became the youngest ever Master Bladesmith at age 19. In addition to crafting dozens of knives a year to sell, he typically builds a new personal knife to carry with him hunting each year, partly so he can continue tinkering with design but also for practical reasons. “Usually someone sees the one I’m carrying and wants to buy it, or I give it away to a friend,” he says. “So yeah, I’ve been constantly refining my hunting knives for decades. It gives me a strong sense of what works.”
It felt inevitable, then, when FORLOH approached Smith, whose business was right down the road, to craft the ultimate hunting knife. The results, a collaboration between Montana Knife Company and FORLOH, adds another key piece of gear—the hunting knife—to the apparel brand’s technology-driven range of equipment.
FORLOH is launching two exclusive Montana Knife Company models: the Blackfoot, built for the majority of backcountry mountain hunters, and the Speedgoat, a lighter model aimed at sheep hunters and high-mountain expeditions. Both knives feature fixed blades forged from high-carbon ball-bearing steel. At less than an eighth of an inch thick, the blades are burly enough to withstand the rigors of skinning, gutting, or whittling wood for a fire or shelter, but still plenty precise for caping and detail work around antlers.
The Blackfoot has a 3.5-inch-long blade with a stain-resistant thermoset composite handle and weighs just 2.7 ounces. Lighter still is the Speedgoat, at two ounces, with a slightly thinner 37/8-inch blade and a skeletonized handle wrapped in eight feet of paracord that can be unspooled for utilities such as hanging meat, tying up a pack, building a shelter, or creating a tourniquet. Both knives include a Kydex sheath that mounts both vertically and horizontally and yields fast knife access with just one hand.
What sets these knives above others are the blades, which undergo a laborious manufacturing process to hone performance. While many people obsess over how hard a blade is, that’s not the most important metric, according to Smith. “We can make a knife harder than a woodpecker’s lips, but it won’t hold an edge long and you’ll never be able to sharpen it,” he says. Instead, a hunting blade finds a perfect balance between rigidity and durability through a series of temperature treatments.
First, the blades are heated to 1525°F before being plunged into oil, which precipitates a rapid cooling process that increases the rigidity. Next they’re tempered to increase durability, which involves heating to 350°F and holding it there for several hours. Finally, the blades are alternated between liquid nitrogen, at -327°F, and 350°F oven heat, which sets the metal’s properties. It’s a time-consuming process that few manufacturers replicate.
Smith says the blades on the FORLOH knives will take rigorous side flex before they break, but they’ll also hold up to a season of skinning. “You’d have to be doing something really wrong to flex these knives to a breaking point,” he says. “At the same time, we’ve had a guide field clean 11 deer with one of these knives without ever needing to sharpen.” He says the blades’ thin profile and tough composition will make them easier than other knives to maintain in the field. And Montana Knife company offers free sharpening services for the knife’s lifetime.
Crafting something that lasts and the concept of posterity is one of Smith’s biggest motivations. He says he imagines that most if not all of the knives he builds will be passed down from father to children over the course of generations. “In our throw-away society, it’s gratifying to make something that will stand the test of time,” he says. “Look how many knives from centuries ago are in our museums. It’s neat to think that something I’m creating today might be an artifact a thousand years from now or longer.”
Smith acknowledges that Montana Knife Company products are more costly than many pocketknives and replaceable blades favored by some hunters, but he maintains that the benefits far outweigh the cost. He compares many of the knives in the field these days to a razorblade. “A razor is good for pretty much one thing—shaving,” he says, “But in the same way you’d never use a razor for butchering meat or cutting wood for a fire or any of the other things you have to do in the field while you’re hunting, most knives just aren’t that capable.”
And he sees a quality knife such as the Blackfoot or Speedgoat as the perfect complement to FORLOH’s high-quality apparel. “If you are buying the best apparel in the industry to help you survive in the elements, then you’re going to also want the best knife to keep you alive.”
The FORLOH/Montana Knife Company Blackfoot and Speedgoat will sell for $300 and $225 respectively.