Jagdmesser: The Classic German Hunting Knife
Every country has its traditional styled knives, and Germany is no exception. Among the many diverse German models is the “Jagdmesser”, which translates to “hunting knife” in English. While many variations of the Jagsmesser fixed-blade hunting knives exist, the most familiar styles feature handles made of one piece of solid deer stag. Solid deer stag handles are naturally curved and fit nicely into the palm of a hand. One marvelous attribute exhibited in those stag handles is the absolute uniqueness of each one. Though most Jagdmesser knives are factory made, they all have the look and feel of a custom knife with those beautiful distinctive stag handles. Lovely nickel silver caps usually cover the back end of the handle, often with simple to ornate decorations around the edges. Some of the caps have sides which wrap around the handles, while some only cover the back end. One interesting variation of the deer stag handle is the “crown” type. Crown stag refers to the piece of stag which is attached to the deer’s skull and flares out as it meets the skull. This type of stag presents an interesting shape along with a natural pommel for a more secure grip.
Another common feature is the one-sided handguard which is often formed as part of the blade. The blades are usually a flat spear or drop-point shape which is a very good universal design for outdoor use. Some higher end models come with factory file-work along the back side of the blade. While that serves no practical purpose, it does provide an added touch of beauty to an otherwise good looking knife. The blades have a tang which generally run part way or all the way through the stag handle. Most models with the curved stag handles also have a cone shaped decorative metal collar covering the front side of the handle transitioning to the handguard. Those collars also have graceful decorations around them in similar form to the handle end caps. The fixed-blade Jagdmesser knives always come with a sheath which is made from leather and generally has nickel silver trim on each end of the sheath. Because the blades usually have a flat wedge shape, the sheaths have the same inside shape to perfectly fit the blades.
While it is not known for certain when this style of Jagdmesser first appeared in Germany, it was most likely during the 1850s to 1860s. The earliest example shown in print is seen in a J. A. Henckels factory catalog from 1877, but it’s fairly certain that similar models were produced at least a decade or two earlier. Other German catalogs from the 1830s and 1840s show fixed blade hunting knives, but not in the same style as the stag handled Jagdmesser knives described within this article.
By the late 19th century, and throughout the 20th century, German cutlers produced quite a variety of different hunting knives, but the stag handled Jagdmesser knives were a cornerstone of nearly every German cutlery company. These models were not as popular in the United States since America already had a tradition of its own Bowie and later Marbles styled hunting knives. But throughout Germany and much of Western Europe, the Jagdmesser was a well-respected hunting knife.
Four classic German-made models are shown within to highlight the universal design along with some slight variations. On the far left is a model from J. A. Henckels which was one of the premier cutlery companies from Solingen, Germany. This knife has a flat nickel silver cap at the back end of the handle. Next to the Henckels sits a model made by Kuno Ritter which is better known today as Hubertus. This knife has a nickel silver handle cap with sides that wrap around the handle. A nice detail is seen in the decorative file work on the back side of the blade. The third knife from the left was produced by Puma and has a wonderful crown stag handle with a domed shape cover at the back end. This Puma model also features some decorative file work on the back side of the blade. The last knife on the far right was also manufactured by Kuno Ritter (Hubertus) and boasts a three color etch on the front blade side. That etch depicts a man holding a rifle with his dog beside him. Also seen in the etch is a bird and an elk.
All Jagdmesser models shown are roughly the same size at around 8 to 9 inches in length, and all have similar leather sheaths. These examples were all made during the mid-1900s, but similar examples are still being produced today by various German cutlery companies.