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 the GearJunkie staff wants to hear 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’re 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.
Editor’s note: This article was first written in 2015. It has been updated to include a few new models and prices for fall 2018.
Best Hunting Knives
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-inch blade is just about right for cleaning small and midsize 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.
Mora Basic: $12
This is a cheap knife that can take a beating, and it’s a true fit for even big game hunting. One GearJunkie tester said, “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 fancy, but it’s all you need.” Made in Sweden.
Where’s the Havlon, you ask? Well, it’s been bumped off by a replaceable-blade knife from Gerber. After using the Gerber Gear Vital Big Game Folder, we found it much easier to replace blades in the field. And that means it’s safer and overall easier to use than its competitors. Many guides have made the switch, and this year we are too.
With the safest exchangeable-blade systems available, you can keep a surgically sharp blade ready and replaced in seconds. The 3.75-inch blades aren’t made for breaking a bone or batoning wood. Instead, these are for intricate, perfect cuts. That’s what you want for quality meat. This model ships with four extra blades, two drop point and two blunt, to get the work done fast and efficiently.
Buck Omni Hunter: $42
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.
This knife is made with a serviceable (and well hardened) 420HC steel blade with a thick 3.25-inch drop point and a contoured rubber handle. It will sit nicely in the hand and shouldn’t slip even when wet or bloody. Made in the USA.
This knife is purpose-built for deboning big game. But with a 3.6-inch 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 CQC-11K: $35
The CQC-11K is a new model to Kershaw’s hunting line. For 2018, it replaces the previously-featured Diskin Hunter as a blade that will work great for hunting but can also transition into the survival realm and back. Made in collaboration with renowned knifemaker Ernest Emerson, the CQC-11K has a 3.5-inch blade of 8Cr14MoV stainless steel.
The blade is a great shape for the hunter, with a deep belly for skinning or game processing. It’s a folding blade, which can save some space in the pack or pocket. On the handle, G10 front scales will give a good grip even when wet or bloody.
Deep jimping on the back of the handle adds to your secure grip, and the thumb stud or wave opening system allows for quick deployment for EDC. The stainless steel back and sturdy frame lock will keep it open and safe. It has a reversible pocket clip for left- or right-hand carry.
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-inch blade and overall length of 8 inches. 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.
Designed to hit the dead center of hunters’ preferences, the Benchmade Steep Country is a solid choice. It has a 3.5-inch 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 also available. Made in the USA.
This is my personal favorite hunting knife. I have used it to quarter and process multiple elk. At the end of these fairly significant jobs, it remains usefully sharp even before hitting the whetstone to fine tune again. 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-inch 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 this 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-inch VG-10 blade to hold an edge. And it’s 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 $300 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 resharpen.
The short, 2.55-inch blade is designed specifically for skinning. But, looking at the shape, it should work fine for most processing tasks. The micarta handle makes up much of the 7.2-inch overall length, and the shape is curved to sit in the hand while working to put dinner on the table.
If you’re itching for a knife you can use for a lifetime of hunting, it’s one to consider. Made in the USA.