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If you were out to find the best factory-made folding knife for general big-game hunting, you’d be hard pressed to do much better than the Benchmade Grizzly Creek or the Helle Bleja. I own both and like them very much. But I’m mostly a whitetail hunter, and I’ve always thought, Man, if these knives were just a bit smaller, they’d be perfect little whitetail knives.

And now they are smaller, in essence. The brand-new Helle Nipa is, for all intents and purposes, a downsized version of the excellent Bleja—same steel, handle material, blade profile, and grind. The Benchmade North Fork is pretty much a smaller Grizzly Creek, minus the gut hook. The North Fork is not brand new, but it’s been sort of hiding—both in the shadow of the highly touted Grizzly Creek, which won an F&S Best of the Best Award when it debuted in 2014, and somewhere in the recesses of the Benchmade website’s search function. (You have to search for it by name to find it there.)

I’ve had both knives in hand for a little shy of six months now, and they are exactly what I was imagining a mini-Grizzly or downsized Bleja might be. Which is, just right.

The blades (both under 3 inches) are just long enough to deal with any deer and not any longer, and they are drop-points, ideal for field dressing and sporting plenty of belly for skinning. The handles (both under 4 inches) are just enough for a four-finger grip and the control that gives you, with nothing to spare. This makes both knives light and maneuverable in the hand and easy to carry. The Nipa comes with a nice leather sheath, and you’re welcome to carry either on your belt, but it’s nice to have a folder that fits in a pocket unobtrusively enough that you might just forget it’s there, and both of these fit the bill.

In the end, though, it comes down to this: You think, What do I want in a deer knive? Then you put either of these in your hand, and about three seconds later you think, Ooh, that’s what I want in a deer knife.

Here’s a closer look at each.

The Helle Nipa

photo of Helle Nipa
The new Nipa is as strong as it is good-looking. Helle
  • Blade Length: 2.7 inches
  • Handle Length: 3.7 inches
  • Blade Material: Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel
  • Handle Material: Curly Birch
  • Locking Mechanism: Back Lock

Helle is a Norwegian company known for two things: making beautiful hand-crafted knives, generally, and for a unique blade-making process that involves sandwiching proprietary high-carbon steel between layers of 18/8 stainless to produce strong, corrosion-resistant blades that come razor sharp and are very easy to keep that way. Their newest folder, the Nipa is a handsome, sturdy lockback that measures 6.5 inches open and 3.7 inches closed. The curly-birch handle scales are shaped and finished by hand, which means the ones on the knife you get will be unique, as if they were made for you.

Like every Helle I’ve ever used, this one is simple and elegant and functions perfectly. It’s strong, too. The marketing folks at Helle are savvy; they commission slick photography that shows off how pretty these knives are (see photo above), usually in an environment that hints at their ruggedness. But you can’t really grasp how sturdy the Nipa is until you get it in your hand and find that it has some nice heft, and that the scales fill your palm, and that the blade opens and locks with a satisfying snap, and that it generally feels like you could pry nails with it all day and it wouldn’t bat an eye. (Don’t pry nails with it.)

There’s nothing you’ll do while deer hunting that’ll pose any real challenge to the Nipa. It’s best suited to the field dressing and light skinning chores typical on a deer hunt, but even if you have to break a deer down in the field, the Nipa will be more than up to the job, and it will look great doing it.

Benchmade North Fork

photo of Benchmade North Fork knife
The North Fork’s handle is just long enough for a steady four-finger grip. Dave Hurteau
  • Blade Length: 2.97 inches
  • Handle Length: 3.9 inches
  • Blade Material: CPM-S30V Steel
  • Handle Material: Diamondwood
  • Locking Mechanism: Axis

All the praise that hunters and outdoor writers have heaped on Benchmade’s Grizzly Creek over the years applies equally to the North Fork. It’s smartly designed for its purpose and well-executed, with a 2.97-inch drop-point blade of S30V steel that snaps open via the company’s excellent Axis lock mechanism, which allows for one-handed, ambidextrous deployment. The handle scales are composite Diamondwood, which has the look and warmth of wood but is impervious to blood and guts and bad weather.

The North Fork is not as elegant or robust as the Nipa, but in exchange it’s lighter to carry in a pocket, and the open back of the stainless-steel liner makes this folder easier to clean. Basically, you can pour water right through it. The drop-point, slightly recurved blade is a made of S30V steel, which is a real plus if, like me, you can be a little lazy about cleaning and sharpening your knives. S30V is extremely rust-resistant, and all Benchmade knives made with this steel come scary sharp and stay that way for a surprisingly long time. (I hunted for years with an S30V Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner and dressed and skinned multiple deer with it before I bothered to sharpen the blade.) The one downside to this sintered super steel is that requires a little more patience to resharpen when it finally needs it. But when you’re done, it won’t need it again for while.

Neither knife is cheap at right around $200 (a little less if you search around), but neither is overpriced for what you get and either one will last a lifetime if you take care of it.

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