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 the 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. Use the links below to quickly navigate to what piques your interests, and don’t miss the frequently asked questions section or our video about choosing a hunting knife.
- Best Overall Hunting Knife
- A Super Value Folding Knife
- Best Budget Hunting Knife
- Best Ultralight Hunting Knife
- Best Hunting Knife From a Small Brand
- Best New Hunting Knife for 2022
- Best Replaceable Blade Hunting Knife
- Best Hunting Knife for Elk
- Best of the Rest
The Best Hunting Knives
Best Overall Hunting Knife: Buck 113 Ranger Skinner Knife
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 ($106). I’m not sure of the Rockwell hardness, but the stuff just doesn’t dull. This steel has become very common in recent years, but even though newer steels now outperform it, S30V is still fantastic.
It’s also the perfect size for my hand. And while the handle 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 easy to manage in cold weather. And the rosewood handle? Beautiful.
A less expensive model ($70) is available in 420HC steel. These are made in the USA.
Note, the photographed model above has a black finish and was a Cabela’s exclusive design. Today, you can get the same S30V steel directly from Buck, but only as a custom blade. And it requires an 8-week lead time, so be sure to buy early.
A Super Value Folding Knife: Opinel No. 8 Beechwood Handle Knife
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.
Best Budget Hunting Knife: Morakniv Basic
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.
Best Ultralight Hunting Knife: Benchmade Altitude Fixed Blade Knife
Introduced in 2019, the Benchmade Altitude ($245) 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 and 2020 to great success. Read our full Benchmade Altitude review here. Spoiler – this is also one of my favorite hunting knives, period. And if weight is an issue, it’ll be the one I chose to throw in my backpack.
Best Hunting Knife From a Small Brand: Argali Carbon Knife
The hunting brand Argali Outdoors specializes in lightweight backcountry hunting gear. And with that, it developed its own run of hunting knives. The Argali Carbon Knife ($193) fits the lightweight theme to a tee.
At just 1.8 ounces, the featherweight is barely noticeable. And yet, it doesn’t compromise prowess. Our field testing has proven it to be an agile and effective knife on big game in the field.
The grippy handle ensures that you don’t lose control even in wet and difficult conditions. And Argali offers a lifetime mail-in sharpening for their knives, at no cost to customers.
Best New Hunting Knife for 2022: Benchmade Raghorn
OK, you can’t buy this one just yet. But if you’re in the market for what is soon to be the best hunting knife, period, and are willing to spend more than $300, you might want to hold off another month.
The Benchmade Raghorn ($370) is a next-level hunting knife. We just began testing this one and can already tell it’s going to be tough to beat. It packs in the best technology in a wonderfully user-friendly package. That means cutting-edge steel (CPM-CruWear hardened to 63-65 Rockwell hardness) on the easy-to-see blaze orange blade and carbon fiber scales. Aggressive jimping along the spine and finger choil provide an excellent grip. And the thin blade profile leads to easy, accurate, clean cutting.
And best, this rather large knife (4.64″ blade, 8.88″ overall) weighs just 3.5 ounces or 5 ounces including the sheath. It’s incredibly light in the hand and should perform beautifully. We look forward to testing it in the field!
Best Replaceable Blade Hunting Knife: Gerber Gear Vital Big Game Folder
In recent years, I’ve begun carrying a replaceable-blade knife along with my fixed blade on any elk hunt. That’s because it’s impossible to beat the sharpness of a scalpel when it comes to fine work while quartering a game. I still carry my fixed blade too, but a replaceable-blade knife is indispensable.
But 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-points and two blunt, to get the work done fast and efficiently.
Best Hunting Knife for Elk: Gerber Randy Newberg DTS
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 testing of this knife shows it to be tough and effective for breaking down big game in the field.
Best of the Rest
At a mid-tier price, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better fixed-blade knife than a Buck. The Pursuit series is a great modern hunting knife line that takes advantage of Buck’s excellent steel-hardening capabilities.
The 656 Pursuit Large Knife ($60) uses low-priced but well-hardened 420HC steel in its 4.5″ full-tang blade. It’ll hold an edge well enough to process big game. And the slip-resistant nylon/Versaflex handle will stay secure in your hand.
Want this knife at an upgrade? Check out the Pursuit Pro line, which rocks S35V steel at a higher price.
The CQC-11K is a newer 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 ($56) 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 ($140) 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 it’s 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.
Personally, this knife leans more toward bushcraft and survival than hunting. But it will certainly skin a buck or break down an elk, especially if you carry a sharpener in the field. And if you’re leaning toward a bigger, tougher knife, this is one of the best.
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.
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 ($315 for this one), the Pinnacle 1 is definitely one of the best hunting knives on the market.
The handle is handmade 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.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team and I are avid hunters with decades of experience in the field. And we also happen to be total “knife knuts.” We put the knives listed here through rigorous testing in the field. Some of the knives listed here have gone through more than 10 years of testing.
We also travel to trade shows to meet with brands and learn about their newest products. We then put those through testing to decide if they’re worthy of this guide. Ultimately, we recommend the same knives here as we do to our best friends and hunting buddies.
Best Knives for Hunters: Personal Preference
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.
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, all right. It’s just not mine.
Finally, I prefer fixed-blade knives in general for hunting. That’s because, if they need to shift into survival or bushcraft mode, you have a tool you can baton through firewood with less risk. That said, folding knives can serve you well and I do include some here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Sharpen a Hunting Knife?
In short, you sharpen a hunting knife the same way as you would any other outdoor knife. That means using a sharpening tool and following its instructions. You can use a sharpening stone, a powered sharpener like a WorkSharp Knife and Tool Sharpener, or a guided sharpening tool like the Worksharp Precision Knife Sharpener or Lansky Precision Knife Sharpening Kit. Using those tools is straightforward but requires reading and following instructions beyond the scope of this article.
What Is the Best Hunting Knife Brand?
If I had to pick one “best” hunting knife brand, I would probably say Benchmade. But Buck, Kershaw, Gerber, Spyderco, Havlon, and many other brands make great hunting knives.
What Makes a Good Hunting Knife?
A good hunting knife will first and foremost be razor sharp. High-quality steel that will hold an edge for a long time helps keep that sharpness during the long process of cleaning a game animal. Next, you want a great handle that won’t slip in your hand. Finally, make sure the knife blade shape is appropriate. I personally prefer a blade around 3.5 to 4 inches long with a drop-point or clip-point shape.
Can I Carry a Hunting Knife on My Belt?
You sure can, at least while hunting. Many good fixed-blade hunting knives come with a belt sheath designed for this purpose. Just be sure not to run afoul of the law while walking around cities or towns with open or concealed-carry knife restrictions.
How Should I Care For or Clean a Hunting Knife?
To clean a hunting knife, simply wash it with soap and water. But don’t put them in the dishwasher as the powerful heat and detergents could damage the handle. Make sure to dry them well before storing them. If you have high carbon steel, wipe them down with a light coating of oil before storage to inhibit rust.