From the first time I saw James Coburn play the ultimate badass in the 1960 classic The Magnificent Seven I (and I suspect many of my readers) thought, “How cool would it be to have that skill?”
Possessing an awesome skill is, of course, impressive, no matter what the discipline, but let’s put this into context.
Does throwing a knife make sense for survival and/or hunting while in the woods? Let’s set aside the requirements of being a legal and ethical hunter for the moment, but only for a moment — at the end of the day, that should be a big factor even after all of the other considerations. Of course, in a survival situation, different rules apply, but to get so good at something to put it to use when it counts, you have to be able to be able to practice, and practice only takes you so far until you need to build experience.
While it can be a fun pastime or a cool skill to learn, I don’t see any practical value in ever throwing a knife for survival purposes.
Of course, there have been cultures that are perfectly fine using throwing knives for hunting and warfare, but this is a different story. They would often have multiples of the tool, and within easy reach of replacements or support from others, or failure wouldn’t have the same catastrophic consequences, compared to a survival situation.
Essentially, even a low-quality throwing knife (and many if not most of them are bad quality, as far as edged tools go) is still better in your hand than hurtling through the air in a one-time chance to hit something to accomplish your intended purpose.
If said target is an animal for food, it can run off when hit, and you risk losing the knife, or having it damaged, and you no longer have your useful survival tool. If it’s a threat, unless you’ve dropped that threat, you are now unarmed, it now has your weapon, and is newly inspired to do you harm.
I’m sure I don’t even have to explain what happens if you miss — if you’re throwing hard enough to have good results on contact, you’ll have dire consequences on missing. It’s hard enough trying to find something large and blaze orange in the deep bush, let alone a small sliver of black metal. And if you were using it as a defence tool?
Here are some alternatives to consider for that knife:
- Prepare the wood for a fire. You’ll need it for heat, and to purify water, keep predators away, signal for help, and of course, cook a meal.
- Use it to help in the construction of your shelter.
- Carve a spear, either for game or for fish. You can harden the tips in your fire.
- Make traps and snares. You’ll need some precision to carve notches.
- Carve slivers for gorge hooks to fish.
- Scrape bark and mark trees to leave an emergency message.
- Sterilize for medical aid if needed.
- Clean your fish/game.
Can you do all of the above without a knife? Of course. But it will take more energy, more frustration, and there’s more potential for failure without the right tools.
Think of the ratio of not-perfect knife throws you get in perfect practice circumstances, and now multiply it by ten because you’re getting bitten by mosquitos, yelled at, growled at, have run for 40 minutes straight, are shivering from cold or hunger, or all of the above, and rethink the idea of throwing that very useful, hard-to-improvise tool.
All that having been said, though, it’s great fun at the cottage.