A hunting knife has a single purpose: processing meat after a kill. We did the research to help you find the best hunting knife for your needs and budget.
Of course, your hunting knife should have secondary characteristics that make it useful for survival, camping, and for all-around utility. But the big job, the one it must conquer, is getting meat field dressed quickly so it’s 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 else. They’re also heavier. And I 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 2020.
Best Hunting Knives
This is a great, inexpensive camp knife at ($18), and it works fine for small-game preparation. It’s the only knife on this list that I’d hesitate 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. Opinel makes the No. 8 Beechwood Handle Knife in France.
This is a cheap knife ($13) 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.” Morakniv makes the Basic knife in Sweden.
Where’s the Havalon, you ask? Well, it’s been bumped off by a replaceable-blade knife from Gerber. After using the Gerber Gear Vital Big Game Folder ($51), 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 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.
New for 2020, Buck introduced a large line of hunting knives. And of those, the Pursuit family is the most versatile. The 658 Pursuit Small Knife ($48) strikes a great balance between size, weight, and price. With a 3.75-inch 420HC blade hardened to Buck’s legendary standards, this knife will be ready to tackle anything from deer to small game and camp chores.
The versatile drop-point blade has deep jimping for excellent grip, and the full tang runs through an ergonomic, grippy handle. At 3.4 ounces, it’s light enough for most foot-based hunting. If you love the shape and want upgraded steel, Buck makes the Pursuit Pro model with S35VN steel for $95.
Randy Newberg is a renowned elk hunter. He brought his decades of experience to Gerber to help the brand build the DTS ($60), a task-specific big-game hunting knife with some unique attributes. First, the DTS has two blades. A primary blade of mid-grade 440C steel gives you a reliable cutting tool. And the DTS’ secondary “tendon tool” is made of extremely tough D2 steel.
This gives hunters a second, tough blade to use when cutting tendons or other burly flesh, bone, or hair, which helps save the steel in the primary blade for more delicate cuts. Our initial testing of this new-for-2020 knife shows it to be tough and effective for breaking down big game in the field.
The CQC-11K is a new model to Kershaw’s hunting line. In 2018, it replaced 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 ($40) 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.
Designed to hit the dead center of hunters’ preferences, the Benchmade Steep Country ($125) 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. Benchmade makes the Steep Country in the U.S.
Here’s one for those who want a tough fixed-blade knife that can transition from skinning game to batoning firewood. The Becker Campanion ($89) has a 1095 Cro-Van blade. It’s not particularly hard steel but is easy to resharpen in the field.
The 5.25-inch drop-point blade gives enough length to manage a lot of bushcraft jobs. But it’s still short enough to not be a liability when cleaning game with multiple hunters working on the same animal. The contoured Zytel handle scales give a confident grip, and it comes with a sheath for belt carry.
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 Wicked Edge GO sharpener 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 ($140). 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 ($70) is available in 420HC steel. These are 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. The Spyderco Bill Moran ($60) is made in Japan.
New in 2019, the Benchmade Altitude ($200) is incredibly light at just 1.67 ounces. But it packs huge capability into this ultralight package thanks to the premium S90V steel construction. It’s a simple design that’s almost entirely steel, with a couple of carbon fiber micro-scales and abundant jimping to add grip.
But don’t let the simplicity fool you. At 7.38 inches overall and a 3.08-inch blade with a 2.875-inch cutting edge, this knife is ready to get to work. And thanks to the ultra-high-end steel, it will hold an edge long enough to process an elk, deer, or most any big-game animal in North America.
We put it to the test hunting in Colorado in 2019. Read our full Benchmade Altitude review here.
DiamondBlade uses a unique friction-forging process that results in some of the hardest D2 high-carbon steel on the market. Its blades hold an edge for an incredibly long time. While these come with a hefty price ($299 for this one), the Pinnacle 1 is definitely one of the best hunting knives on the market.
The handle is hand made and contains handset mosaic pins. The 2.55-inch blade has a deep belly for excellent skinning and shallow cuts for field processing. Crisp jimping on the blade spine helps assure a stout grip and varied hold methods. Overall, it’s close to the ideal hunting knife if your wallet can handle the high price tag.
Benchmade worked with hunter Steven Rinella of MeatEater to build a knife with the express purpose of turning wild game into food. So the Meatcrafter really comes into play when the hunt is over.
The 6.7-inch trailing-point blade uses premium S45VN steel to hold its extremely keen 14-degree edge angle. A gorgeous Grivory handle sits beautifully in the hand. We tested the knife and loved it for meat processing.
While we wouldn’t carry this blade in the field, it would live in camp or at home to complete the large task of butchering an animal into freezer-size steaks, chops, and loins. It, too, comes with a hefty price at $300. But with that, you get an heirloom-worthy tool that is a joy to use.
Read our full review of the Benchmade Meatcrafter here.