Tomahawk Talk

Edge weapons are, and likely always will be a mainstay of the modern battlespace (until we get lightsabers.) I actually don’t know of a military member or law enforcement officer who does not carry at minimum a folding knife. However, are edge weapons still a sidearm? The short answer in my mind is no, they are at best a tertiary weapon and tool. They simply do not compare to what is available to us in modern pistols. In fact, there are now quality firearms that give heavy blade fighting knives a run for their money in the weight department. The knife and other edge weapons have now been relegated to the tertiary or “backup to my backup” status.


The Survival Knife vs. Tomahawk debate is an extremely interesting one when we consider performance in a survival situation.

So, what about the recent rise of the Tactical Tomahawk? Let’s face it they are pretty much the ultimate in Badass Look Cool Factor (BLCF.)  They look scary as hell, and for some of you, that’s enough reason to carry them.  The question is: are they worth their weight and BLCF in real life situations? I recently finished a very interesting book Combat Application of the Tactical Tomahawk by Benjamin Bradak, which proved to be a great read. I don’t think anyone can dispute the effectiveness of the Tomahawk as a self-defence or edge weapon tool as Sensei Bradak demonstrates in his book, but any weapon can be deadly. Gunslinger Research wanted to discuss the ‘hawk from a more practical standpoint, and dive deeper into the operational value of the ‘hawk.

Edged weapons are a great tool.  They can be used as a last line after one runs out of ammo, they can be used silently, and some edged weapons can be hidden better than most firearms.  In the first instance, a tomahawk is a great choice, as long as one has the skill and space to use a ‘hawk (Combat Applications of the Tactical Tomahawk might be a good place to start for many of us.)


The above photographs clearly demonstrate the difference between a Tactical Tomahawk blade, and a traditional axe. Generally, Tactical Tomahawks are more “knife-like” in their design.

Before we can go any further we need to talk about some realities of modern unarmed combat. As anyone in the police or military will tell you many unarmed confrontations will sooner or later end up on the ground. This explains the rise of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other grappling systems as the go to starting point for most unarmed combat training programs. In enclosed spaces, or on the ground where you are no longer able to complete a strike the Tomahawk becomes useless. This situation is where a knife truly shines, it’s much easier to get in a lethal strike with a knife on the ground.  A tomahawk is louder due to impact versus incision, and, well, it’s tougher to carry a ‘hawk!

So, what is the reason for the tactical tomahawk, besides BLCF? They were sold as a breaching tool, and aren’t really good at that, either.  Explosives, bolt cutters and sledgehammers are much more effective, as they generally require one application. Even the application of certain power tools can be more effective.

Now, let’s take a look from a survival perspective: at this level, the axe versus knife debate becomes extremely interesting.  It is a clear fact that there is a level of skill required to use an axe effectively. Lacking that skill leads to a higher (and needless) expenditure of calories, and that can be lethal in a survival situation where every calorie counts.  A lighter piece of kit that requires less skill and would be more effective at multiple tasks would be a folding saw or a pruning saw.  A saw requires less energy to process wood for fires and shelters, and partnered with a quality survival knife, can do more than an axe can in anything less than highly skilled hands.  A survival knife can be used to “baton” firewood easily, and can be done with less risk than using an axe.  Take a look on YouTube for axe accidents, and you will quickly realize that a mistake with an axe can quickly become lethal in a survival situation.  The weight saving and wider functionality gives a knife and saw the edge over an axe in a survival situation.

When it comes to combat load outs, Tactical Tomahawks and axes are large, heavy and bulky.  The biggest drawback is weight…in a situation where ounces equal seconds, the weight of a tomahawk is a killer.  The large size means that the axes take up a lot of real estate on a vest or pack, and the handle will snag on everything. Snags mean noise, which in a combat environment, is never a good idea.

The axe and tomahawk are great tools, however do they have a place in the modern survivalist’s pack or soldier’s battlespace? The answer, in our opinion is no. We have far more effective options that save weight, energy, or time and offer greater general versatility. We do not hold this opinion to downplay those military units that use axes as part of their unit history or those survivalists who favor the axe over other tools. I say this, because for the “everyman” the regular soldier, hunter, survivalist or even prepper the time required to become proficient with an axe is time that could be spent gaining other skills (first aid, weapon manipulation, mission-specific training etc.)

For uniformed professionals, if you want to the BLCF factor of a ‘hawk, and you are willing to deal with the looks and constant ribbing from your teammates, it’s not really an issue.  For those who aren’t uniformed professionals, but want to carry a ‘hawk, there is another issue that needs to be discussed.  Heading to a range or the backwoods with some guns and tactical gear is a fun day trip.  Add in a traffic stop by a local law enforcement officer, and things can be a little tense.  The appropriate firearms license for your jurisdiction, an explanation of where you are going, and you would normally be on your way without any issue should the LEO see what you have in your vehicle.  Start adding ‘hawks, machetes, broadswords, explosives, drones (you know the usual BLCF stuff) to your gear, and suddenly it’s going to be more difficult.  Tomahawks are legal in the jurisdictions where GR staff live, (you should always research any jurisdiction specific laws or regulations regarding weapon systems before training or venturing into outdoors), but no matter what the legal expectation the BLCF is going to work against you. A tactical tomahawk is designed as a weapon, and while they can be used as a survival tool, the back spikes and thin profile means that they are less effective than more traditional axes.  A ‘hawk will have the LEO convinced you are, at minimum, a poser who plays too many video games, and at worst, someone with a penchant for nefarious activities.

We here at Gunslinger Research believe that outside of military units that carry axes and tomahawks out of tradition, and those who have spent many hours building up their skills, a ‘hawk is a waste of space and weight and have no place on a tactical loadout.  That space and weight would be much better served by carrying a quality survival knife/fighting knife. For those of you who do carry an axe or tomahawk as part of your system, does badassery outstrip efficiency and effectiveness? Where do you draw the line? Or is it part of tradition? Let us know in the comments!




Categories: Camping & Survival

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  1. Survival Basics – Gunslinger Research

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