Down To The Nitty Gritty: Caping Knives

The four test knives come in a variety of blade and handle shapes, from left: Puma SGB Smooth White Bone Caper, Bear & Son Rosewood Caper, Utica Shoehorn Elk 1 and A.G. Russell Knives WEB Pocket Caper.
The four test knives come in a variety of blade and handle shapes, from left: Puma SGB Smooth White Bone Caper, Bear & Son Rosewood Caper, Utica Shoehorn Elk 1 and A.G. Russell Knives WEB Pocket Caper.

Caping Knives, Or Capers, Are Necessary For The Finer Parts Of Creating Taxidermy. They’re Also Capable Carving Knives Or A Great EDC.

Caping knives, a.k.a. capers, aren’t mentioned very often in the grand scheme of all things cutlery—though don’t tell that to those who like to mount their trophy game. The caper is a huge part of skinning game in preparation for taxidermy where preserving the fine details is absolutely essential.

Tasks such as trimming around the animal’s eye sockets and mouth area are particularly critical, and the blade must be sharp and small enough to get down to the nitty gritty. That’s not to say a caper can’t handle other functions, such as fine carving and cutting cord. Heck, it can even be used as an EDC.

WEB Pocket Hunter-Caper

 The A.G. Russell Knives Pocket Caper cut nice, tight circles in the suede thanks to the sharp tip and thin blade geometry. The two cutouts at lower right were made with the Russell blade, and the one on the lower left by another blade that didn’t fare as well.
The A.G. Russell Knives Pocket Caper cut nice, tight circles in the suede thanks to the sharp tip and thin blade geometry. The two cutouts at lower right were made with the Russell blade, and the one on the lower left by another blade that didn’t fare as well.

The WEB Pocket Hunter-Caper is produced under the War Eagle Blades division of A.G. Russell Knives, hence the WEB in the name. We’ll just call it the Russell Pocket Caper for simplicity’s sake—and what a simply utilitarian knife it is! The hidden-tang fiberglass-reinforced-nylon (FRN) handle comes in black or bright orange. The blade is a straight-back style with a V-grind from edge to spine. The snap-lock FRN color-coordinated sheath has a tubed hole in the base to hold a lanyard or neck knife cord/chain.

Since one main function of a caper is precision cutting, I wanted to see which of our test knives could turn on a dime—or in this case, a nickel. Using spray adhesive, I tacked a square of suede to a smooth wood surface and drew a group of circles using the perimeter of a nickel as a guide. I then hand-cut each circle to see how precise I could be in removing it from the base. The Russell Pocket Caper, with its much thinner blade, allowed the tip to glide around the outline of the nickel with precision and cut the suede with very little effort. As you might guess, the thinner the blade, the less resistance I encountered.

Bear & Son Rosewood Caper

 Two nice features of the Bear & Son Rosewood Caper handle are 1) the choil adds excellent purchase and 2) the gimped thumb rest on the spine enables you to choke up on the blade.
Two nice features of the Bear & Son Rosewood Caper handle are 1) the choil adds excellent purchase and 2) the gimped thumb rest on the spine enables you to choke up on the blade.

The Bear & Son Rosewood Caper is a modern take on the classic trailing-point knife many of us grew up with. The upswept blade is devoted to cutting chores. The knife’s weight is very manageable and a natural leather belt sheath is included.

The Bear & Son has the second thinnest blade of the test group and placed second to the Russell in cutting out suede circles. I also tested the knives on slicing graceful curves and upward pull-through cuts and found the Bear & Son to have its own advantages.

The generously gimped thumb rest enables you to choke up on the blade, which allows more precision and force to be placed on the task at hand, and, just as importantly, with great comfort. Similarly, the index finger has a nice place to land in the reverse grip while executing pull-throughs, which makes skinning—an equally important part of caping—easier.

Puma SGB Smooth White Bone Caper

 The Puma SGB Smooth White Bone Caper slices like a house afire, cutting strips of tanned leather with ease. Drop-point blades are skinners at heart and this little gem does the job well.
The Puma SGB Smooth White Bone Caper slices like a house afire, cutting strips of tanned leather with ease. Drop-point blades are skinners at heart and this little gem does the job well.

The Puma SGB Smooth White Bone Caper is the smallest of the test subjects but makes up for anything it may lack in size with stylish good looks. The decked-out caper boasts a hollow-ground recurved blade in a drop-point pattern. Like most all of the more budget-friendly SGB models, the blade is made in Germany and the knife is assembled in Asia.

The handle is curvaceous, tapering upward from the base to a bolster that serves as a guard. A round Puma shield graces the scales and a hole in the base has a leather lanyard attached. (I removed the lanyard for photographic purposes.)

With its recurved drop point, the Puma SGB is a totally different blade design than the other test capers. Drop-point patterns are well known for their skinning ability, particularly riding under flesh without piercing organs. This is where the White Bone Caper is at home—slipping under skin and separating viscera from its meaty rewards. It wasn’t as agile cutting out tight circles of suede because where the blade is wide at the tip got in the way as I turned it. That said, it’s a superb slicer.

Utica Shoehorn Elk 1

 The Utica Shoehorn Elk I is the bull of the woods among the test capers. The blade is 4 inches long, 3.75 of that in cutting edge. Though similar in blade configuration to the Bear & Son offering below it, the Shoehorn Elk I dwarfs it in size.
The Utica Shoehorn Elk I is the bull of the woods among the test capers. The blade is 4 inches long, 3.75 of that in cutting edge. Though similar in blade configuration to the Bear & Son offering below it, the Shoehorn Elk I dwarfs it in size.

The Utica Shoehorn Elk 1 is by far the largest of the test knives. The drop-point blade has a healthy choil and a two-inch dip on the spine that serves as a thumb rest. The handle sports ample, curvaceous scales. The knife weighs over twice that of any of the other review capers. Considering the knife’s size, the price is very reasonable.

The Shoehorn Elk 1 is not billed as a caper but it has a blade configuration very similar to that of the Bear & Son test model. The Elk in the name is a dead giveaway that the knife is meant for caping and skinning large game.

I deviated from the suede leather in testing the blade and went to something tougher. I glued together three layers of tight-patterned, corrugated postal board—stout stuff—and gave the knife a go at slicing it the hard way: across the grain. It took some pressure but the blade severed 5.25-inch lengths in single strokes. I have no doubt the Shoehorn Elk 1 could take on tough hide—even alligator scute. While the tip mauled the circle in the nickel-size precision test, it would perform much better on game proportionate to its size.

Finding The Best Caper

All of the knives brought something to the table in the tests. For tight precision caping on small-to-medium game, the Russell and Bear & Son capers were virtually neck-and-neck—the former slightly more geared to precision, the latter a tad more versatile. The Puma SGB excelled more in slicing and a bit less in precision. The Utica can handle the tough hide of larger game the others can only dream of.

Bottom line, it’s really just a matter of choosing which caper fits your needs the best.

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