A hunting knife has a single purpose: Processing meat after a kill.
Of course, it should have secondary characteristics that make it useful for survival, as a camp knife, and for all-around utility. But the big job, the one it must conquer, is getting meat field dressed quickly so it is preserved and will taste great on your dinner plate.
What to look for? The knife should hold an edge or be easily field-sharpened. It should fit well in the hand to protect the user from accidental injury, and a good hunting knife is usually stout enough to crack bone.
It doesn’t need to be big or bulky like some sort of weapon. Remember, the animal is already dead when the knife comes into play.
I know I’m going out on a limb here with this kind of “best of” column. Whenever you say “best,” someone’s going to get left out. Someone’s going to get their feelings hurt.
But I’m OK with that. Suck it up, Buttercup. And feel free to tell me why your knife deserves to be on this list. There are a ton of great blades in the world, and we all want to hear the story about your favorite.
Before I get into the specifics, a word about my selections. I don’t like huge knives for hunting, as I feel they are more dangerous to the user when it’s dark, rainy, slippery or God-knows-what is going on. They are also heavier. I also don’t like gut-hooks as I feel a well-handled knife does the job of opening the body cavity just fine. If that’s your bag, alright. It’s just not mine.
I’ve included retail prices, as well as links to buy knives at a significant discount online. Happy hunting.
This is a great, inexpensive camp knife, and it works fine for small game preparation. It’s the only knife on this list that I’d be hesitant to choose for big game because it has zero finger protection. That said, the superb palm swell in the wood handle makes for a confident grip.
For the money, it’s a darned fine knife. No wonder it’s been around since the 1880s. The 3.25″ blade is just about right for cleaning small and mid-size game and the high-carbon steel takes an incredibly keen edge. Not my first choice, but for the money, it’ll do the job. Made in France.
This is a cheap knife that can take a beating, and it is a true fit for even big game hunting. Said one GearJunkie tester, “My longstanding adventure partner knife has been a Mora — a stainless steel blade with a bright blue plastic handle, which is easy to find when you set it down.”
He continued, “It’s survived me hammering on it with a log to break a deer’s pelvic bone. I’ve also gutted many fish with it. It’s a do-all blade. It’s light, cheap, easy to replace and easy to sharpen. Not at all fancymora but it’s all you need.” Made in Sweden.
This knife comes with 12 replaceable scalpel blades, so if you’re doing serious game processing in the field and don’t want to waste time sharpening, you can have a crazy-sharp instrument in seconds.
This isn’t a good knife for breaking through bones, but it will make clean cuts, not ragged edges. That’s what you want for quality meat. Made in China.
Buck Omni Hunter – $48
Buck Knives have been processing big game for more than 100 years, and the Omni Hunter is designed specifically for the job at a reasonable price.
Made with a serviceable (and well hardened) 420HC steel blade with a thick 3.25″ drop point, and with a contoured rubber handle, this knife will sit nicely in hand and shouldn’t slip even when wet or bloody. Made in the USA.
SOG Huntspoint Boning – $80
This knife is purpose built for de-boning big game, but with a 3.6″ straight drop point blade of AUS-8 steel, it appears to be a perfect all-around game processing machine. It has an ergonomic glass reinforced nylon handle and deep jimping both on the top and bottom of the blade for a secure grip.
It is available in a skinning model with a wider blade, and it can be upgraded to exceptional S30V steel for an additional cost. Assembled in the USA.
Kershaw Diskin Hunter – $95
The Diskin Hunter is a hunting knife that will move easily into the survival realm to hunting and back. The 4″ Sandvik 14C28N blade is 4″ long — a little on the longer size in my preference, but it narrows to a perfectly shaped drop point. the overall length of 9.5″ provides a nice balance with the slim G-10 handle.
The arcing curve of the overall knife points to an easily managed large knife. I like the finger guard and notch for sparking ferro rods. Made in the USA.
This is a classic knife with a wide Tru-Sharp surgical steel drop-point blade and leather handle with hand guard. It’s a bit big for my taste, with a 4″ blade and overall length of 8″, but the burly design will serve to cleanly slice meat, skin and break bone if needed.
The Case Leather Hunter knife is made in the USA.
CRKT Onion Skinner – $90
Renowned knife maker Ken Onion conducted an extensive testing program with Alaskan guides and professional hunters during the development of the CRKT Onion Skinner, and the result is an unorthodox but excellent hunting knife.
The 3.75″ blade is made of Bohler K110 steel hardened to Rockwell 58-60 to hold an edge. The narrow tip for fine work coupled with a “hump” for working along the paunch without hitting innards is a smart shape. The textured handle won’t slip in the hand. The Onion Skinner is discontinued but may still available on knife sites around the Internet. Made in Taiwan.
Designed to hit the dead center of hunter preferences, the Benchmade Steep Country is a solid choice. It has a 3.5″ drop point S30V blade.
Add a grippy Santoprene handle in blaze orange (easy to find!) with aggressive jimping for even more grip, and you’ve got a tool to get the job done in the field. A gut-hook equipped model is available. Made in the USA.
Buck Alaskan Guide Series 113 Ranger – Starting at $94
This is my personal favorite hunting knife. Last year, I used it to quarter and process an elk, and at the end of the fairly significant job, it was still usefully sharp. Not many knives can do that job and still retain a keen edge.
The key to this guy is the S30V steel. I’m not sure of the Rockwell hardness, but the stuff just doesn’t dull. It’s also the perfect size in my hand and, while the material could get slippery, in my use it remains secure because of the excellent shape that blocks the hand from sliding. The 3.125″ blade is easily managed in cold weather. And the rosewood handle? Beautiful.
A less expensive model is available in 420HC steel. Made in the USA.
Bill Moran has more than 50 years of experience designing knives. All that knowledge goes into the drop point hunting knife by Spyderco that carries his name.
The knife has an oversized FRN/Kraton handle that will give the hunter a firm grasp on the project. The business end of the knife is a 3.87″ VG-10 blade to hold an edge and is tapered, from thick where the blade joins the handle to a thin ground tip. The shape is superb and carries Moran’s signature. Made in Japan.
If you’re cool with dropping $260 for a knife, this is an incredible option and regarded as one of the world’s absolute best hunting knives. Made with a process called “friction forging,” the D2 steel blade is hardened to a crazy 65-68 on the Rockwell scale. That means it’ll take forever to dull (and just as long to re-sharpen!).
The short, 2.55″ blade is designed specifically for skinning, but looking at the shape it appears that it would work fine for most processing tasks. The micarta handle makes up much of the 7.2″ overall length, and the shape is curved to sit in the hand while working to put dinner on the table.
If you are itching for a knife you can use for a lifetime of hunting, it’s one to consider. Made in the USA.