Hunters, particularly deer hunters, appreciate a good knife. When you bring a deer down you want something that’s not too big, that’s sharp, that’s simple, and easy to clean. In this article I want to detail the ESEE Izula, what could be the best knife for deer hunters.
Minimalist [min–uh-muh-list], adjective: being or offering no more than what is required or essential.
Izula [ is-ooh-lah], noun: Peruvian fire ant, known for its fiercely aggressive behavior.
ESEE Izula [ ess-EE is-ooh-lah], noun: minimalist deer knife, EDC, and utility perfection.
I mention a variety of different products and tools in this article. For convenience’s sake, they’re all assembled in the chart below:
|Knife Country USA
|Work Sharp Micro
|Knife Country USA
|ESEE Knife Maintenance Kit
|Knife Country USA
|ESEE Model 5 Tactical
I’ll make one thing clear up front: I am not a “Knife Guy,” though my friend has kind of taken me under his wing and opened my eyes to subtle nuances of blade design and higher-end designers and manufacturers. But honestly, I just can’t sit there and blab on about different steels, edge angles, jimping (grinding notches into the spine of the knife), and a thousand other attributes just by reviewing a picture and a tech sheet.
I need to hold a piece in my hand and USE it. Really use it. Take the mental concept to physical reality via experience. I love reading reviews and appreciate the solid baseline they provide for the unknown to be tangible – but at the end of the day, the mettle must be tested.
Release the ESEE Izula
I got my ESEE Izula from my friends at Blade HQ over a year ago. You’ll notice right off the Blade HQ exclusive red-orange color (other colors such as black, Dark Earth, OD green, and “Venom” green colors are available – take your pick!).
I selected this red-orange color because I knew I’d be using this knife outdoors all the time. I’ve lost back and OD green knives in the woods before by simply setting them down on the forest floor on a windy day. The bright color helps me keep track of my knife – whether I’m using it, or lending to others.
Also, the color is fantastic for ensuring the knife is still on your person or strapped to your kit at a quick glance. It’s a concept that works well, and I recommend it heartily.
Why did I get the Izula? In all honesty, I wanted to take the “best knife for deer hunters” concept for a drive. The knife holds some appeal due to its very minimalist nature.
Size Really Does Matter
Here’s the deal: the ESEE Izula straddles a beautiful line in the fixed-blade size department. Its overall length is just six and a quarter inches long, most of which is handle; the drop point, non-serrated blade measures a skosh under three inches.
The knife itself comes with no grip scales; its minimalist mentality provides you with a skeletonized full-depth handle that provides adequate area to mostly fill a medium-sized hand. (As an aside, if the Izula’s short-ish handle length is too small for your tastes, ESEE does offer the Izula II with an extra half-inch of gripping length.)
The blade and handle steel is approximately 5/32 of an inch thick, comprised of high-carbon 1095 steel (the steel found in all ESEE knives, as a matter of fact). Its featherweight 2-ounce weight is utterly delightful.
All those dimensions provide a frame of reference to wrap your mind around the ESEE Izula: it’s small. But not THAT small. It’s definitely not big. Really not even medium.
As a matter of fact, the knife is smaller and lighter yet undoubtedly tougher than my favorite EDC folding knife, a Benchmade Mini-Griptilian, which weighs 2.8 ounces and is a half inch longer with the blade locked open.
Beyond being a strong contender as the best knife for deer hunters, if you’re paddleboarding, canoeing, or just looking for an EDC knife, the Izula would likely be a quality partner as a sturdy knife to accompany you. It’s great out of the box, but I morphed the Izula and mound its new configuration to be eminently more pleasurable to use.
Upgrading the ESEE Izula
Yes, the outright bare-minimum-yet-utterly-useful mentality of the Izula is what drew me to the knife in the first place. However, Blade HQ offers a really slick little kit to substantially improve the Izula as a survival knife – all for a mere twelve dollars extra.
Twelve bucks nets you an upgraded ambidextrous sheath with belt clip, some paracord, a push-button cord lock, a clip to snap the Izula to your gear, a split ring, a whistle, a firesteel, and, of course, instructions.
The instructions will teach you how to wrap the handle of the ESEE Izula with the OD green paracord, which really does improve the handling characteristics of the little knife while also providing you with a couple feet of the Survivalist’s Best Cordage Friend. The procedure is simple, and a fun project for a rainy day.
I rocked the paracord handle for a while and enjoyed it, but at the end of the day, the cordage absorbed blood, sweat, and water – byproducts of its intended use – and the handle eventually became kinda skanky.
Fear not, however! For a paltry sum, ESEE offers black G-10 or tan Micarta grip scales. For $17, I ordered up the latter, screwed them onto the little Izula, and haven’t looked back. C’est magnifique.
Back to the kit – the sheath is what makes the ESEE Izula a real winner in my book: the injection-molded sheath is small in design yet well thought out.
The kit’s sheath provides mounting surfaces on either side for ease of use by both southpaws and righties. However, the stamped steel belt clip really makes the ESEE Izula a full package for me.
Using the belt clip facility in lieu of the neck knife configuration, the lightweight, basic Izula mounts securely to your belt yet can be removed as easily as popping your favorite clip knife from your bellbottomed corduroys pocket.
Even sitting in a car or truck seat for long period of time or during day-long stalks of whitetails in the mountains, the belt-mounted mighty little ESEE Izula positively disappears from your memory until the moment it needs to be deployed to pluck a splinter from your hand, create a featherstick, or dress fallen game.
The ESEE Izula for Deer Hunting
The ESEE Izula is a magnificent outdoorsman’s knife, and a very good light-duty survival knife. Regarding the Izula’s survival-oriented angle, the Izula’s basic premise of “Everything you need in a knife but nothing you don’t” is almost spot-on.
However, if you’re throwing the Izula in your kit as THE one knife you’ll need when the chips are down, you’ll find it wanting when heavier tasks present themselves.
The 3” blade doesn’t offer enough length or beef to baton wood or hack down tree limbs to create a shelter; rather its thin, short blade lends itself beautifully to precision work like feathering birch bark to create a surface for a firesteel’s spark to catch, or gutting a freshly caught Brook Trout.
For the survivalist, the ESEE Izula is best suited for the day trip while hiking or scouting; otherwise if you’re serious about bugging out the Izula should be combined with a hatchet or serious survival knife such as ESEE’s #5.
Where the ESEE Izula really won my heart is the pursuit of game. As I mentioned before, the Izula is so light and unobtrusive that it blends into your body when clipped to your belt.
For the hunter or outdoorsman that is constantly on the move, this attribute is a real boon. However, when the Izula is needed by the hunter or fisherman, it truly performs.
Izula and Ruffed Grouse
The first test on game the Izula was subjected to was on Ruffed Grouse, taken during a Northern Maine bird hunt.The small scale of the game doesn’t lend itself to processing by larger blades; however the Izula’s brilliantly sharp drop point was perfect for the precise cuts needed to trim the small, delectable breasts out of the birds. The blade was also quite sturdy enough to cut through bird bones and cartilage with aplomb.
Izula and Deer Hunting
Later in the hunting season, I was fortunate enough to down a nice plump little whitetail buck. While not worthy of the Maine Big Buck Club, it certainly put meat in the freezer. Some hunters seem to insist on hunting blades that Rambo would raise his eyebrows at, the delightful little Izula again proved its worth by skillfully navigating the ins and outs of the deer’s innards.
The 1095 steel blade clung to its fine edge, even through hunks of clinging fat and tenacious cartilage. The blade was precise enough to cut the esophagus cleanly by feel while arm-deep in entrail cavity, yet small enough that I was sure I wasn’t going to drive the point into myself or parts of the deer that didn’t need to be cut.
While the blade wasn’t sturdy enough to split the pelvis, it was certainly detailed to cut the last part of the intestines and the butt out of the deer without perforating the bladder or intestines. The ESEE Izula performed brilliantly on game, and won its permanent place on my belt in future hunting excursions or jaunts through the woods.
Wrapping it Up
I can sum this review of the ESEE Izula up quite easily: GO GET ONE, IT’S A BRILLIANT KNIFE. I freaking ADORE this knife. I don’t think I’ve yet found a knife that rises to the outdoorsman’s occasion as naturally as the Izula, while maintaining utter simplicity and dependability.
While the neck knife function may be dubious, its belt knife qualities far exceed anything I’ve tried in the size price range and it is well worth your time and focus if you’re looking for a lightweight, sturdy, and absolutely functional blade to have by your side whether you’re hiking, canoeing, fishing, camping…you name it.
It should be mentioned that the 1095 steel holds an edge very well indeed, and a couple quick strokes down a ceramic rod will bring the worked edge back to razor sharp in moments. However, do keep in mind that it is a high carbon steel, and non-coated edges WILL rust quickly – so occasional maintenance is required.
While it may not be the optimal dedicated survival knife, the ESEE Izula does so many things so well that it deserves to be considered when you’re shopping for the best knife for deer hunters.