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Updated Jul 31, 2023 1:46 PM
Hunting knives are critical tools for any outdoorsman, but picking out a new hunting knife can be tricky. There are many different types of hunting knives on the market today. Do you want a clip point knife or a drop point knife? Should you go with a folding knife or a fixed blade knife? Answering these questions can be difficult if you don’t know what to consider. To help, our experts have compiled a comprehensive guide that will help you find the best hunting knives for your needs.
How We Picked the Best Hunting Knives
What do you want from a hunting knife? First and foremost, it’s got to be reliable. A blade can’t bend under pressure. A handle can’t slip when it’s bloody or wet. You need to know the knife will help you, not get in your way. To quantify that, we have a short list of qualities we looked for:
- Solid blade: Even in a folding knife, we want a blade that is sturdy when it locks, no wobbling. This ensures the knife moves when and where you want it to, and it allows you to put pressure on the blade.
- Good handle: If it’s traditional material, we like to see some grooves for grip. If it’s a newer, more purpose made material, we really want it to be explicitly non-slip.
- Sharpens well: This is a bit of a two-part. We want our knife to 1. sharpen relatively easily, but also 2. hold an edge for a decent amount of time. Nothing’s worse than always having to shave away steel to get an edge.
Best Hunting Knives: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner
The Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner Fixed Blade Knife has everything you need out of a big-game hunting knife. cabelas
- 4.2-inch clip point blade
- Leather, pressure fit sheath
- S30V stainless steel blade
- Clip point blade for quick insertion and clean cuts
- Wood handle looks good
- Contours of the handle give solid grip
- Blade is actually between a clip point and drop point, making it hard to gauge pre-purchase
A fixed blade is a classic style. It exists in contrast to a folding blade knife. The lack of a folding point means you get no weak points in the knife. You’ll notice that anyone who does serious dressing uses a fixed blade, because the style makes for a strong knife that can hold up to the stresses of processing game. A happy side effect is that they’re easier to clean easier due to the lack of nooks and crannies.
When it comes to the best hunting knife overall, we were always going to choose a fixed blade. With that in mind, we love what Benchmade did with its Saddle Mountain Skinner. This knife features a 4.2-inch stainless steel clip point blade, and a contoured stabilized wood handle. This makes for a classic-looking knife with impressive field functionality. It’s ideal for field dressing and skinning big game.
The one particularity with this knife is the blade. Cabela’s lists it as a clip point, and Benchmade lists it as a drop point. It’s a minor difference, but one that can seriously sway the type of knife you purchase. We’ll say: It’s a little bit of both, a “best of both worlds,” situation. The point is clipped, but ever so slightly. giving the knife smooth, quick penetration through hide. But, the blade has a thick, sturdy spine, like you would expect from a drop point, that feels like it can handle some pressure. If you need something more specialized, whether it be precise or powerful, consider a different knife. If you want a real do-it-all, this is the one for you.
Best Folding: Buck Knives 110
The Buck Model 110 has been around since 1963 and has been used to gut countless deer since then. Buck Knives
- 420HC clip point blade
- Brass bolsters
- Folds down to 4 and 7/8 inches
- Easy to carry
- Incredibly tough for a folding knife
- Tough to clean
- Will always be a bit less sturdy than a fixed blade
The Buck Model 110 is an iconic hunting knife. (It won Best Classic in our behemoth Pocket Knife guide) It’s a timeless knife that’s functional, versatile, and surprisingly strong. The razor-sharp clip point blade provides plenty of cutting power, while the folding design makes it convenient to carry. If it’s a carry-into-the-woods knife your after, a Buck 110 is a solid pick, because it’s a folding knife. It’s more compact than a fixed blade, and it’s easier and safer to carry in the woods. Though your own safety is mostly down to you, you’re far less likely to have a freak accident when carrying a folding hunting knife.
That said, many hunters have an aversion to folding knives, because they aren’t quite as strong as fixed blade hunting knives, but there is a case to be made on carrying a folding knife. Yes, folding knives must be able to fold, which means there will always be a weak part in their design. Still, many manufacturers make high-quality folding knives that are plenty tough to handle some of the butchering you need to do. For all but the most difficult tasks, folding knives perform more than well enough.
Best Drop Point: Knives of Alaska Elk Hunter Suregrip
We went over it briefly above, but when you’re purchasing a new hunting knife, there are typically two blades to consider: clip point and drop point. Clip point blades are the more traditional hunting knife. On the whole, they’ll penetrate skin more quickly and smoothly, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better. Clip point blades are made with a convex spine that arches down from the handle to the point. In contrast, the spine of a drop point blade begins like a clip point blade before “dropping” in a concave arch to the knife’s tip. Drop point blades may feel less precise, but they’re almost always a sturdier option.
And if it’s a drop point you’re after, the Knives of Alaska Elk Hunter Suregrip is for hunters who mean business. The knife’s backbone is an impressively sharp D-2 tool steel blade. The rubberized handle has an ergonomic grip that allows for precision when gutting game.
You should consider the Elk Hunter Suregrip fore its versatility. The sturdy design of this drop point hunting knife means it’s wide, great for tasks like disjointing and prying. Like most other drop points, it has a shorter blade (3.25-inch), allowing you to cut precisely. This shorter design also reduces the chance of unintentionally puncturing the stomach or intestines while you’re field dressing your kill. For the no-frills hunter, a drop point knife is a phenomenal option, and the Elk Hunter Suregrip is a phenomenal drop point.
Best with Gut Hook: Benchmade Saddle Mountain Gut Hook
- 4.2-inch gut hook blade
- S30V stainless steel
- Wood handle
- Looks: just like the other benchmade, it looks sharp
- Ergonomic grip: stays in hand when you’ve gotta pull that gut hook
- Leather sheath is a premium touch
- The hook itself is tough to sharpen
When you’re shopping for a new hunting knife, you’re going to come across products that feature gut hooks. What is a gut hook? Gut hook knives feature sharp semi-circle “hooks” that jut backward from the knife’s tip. The gut hook serves one essential purpose: helping you open up the gut cavity of your kill. First, you need to make a small incision on the underside of your kill. Then, you can put the gut hook into the small opening and pull it down like a zipper. This makes it easier and potentially faster to field dress your game, and greatly reduces the chance of puncturing an internal organ.
And when it come sto knives with gut hooks, Benchmade’s Saddle Mountain Gut Hook is a standout. It has a 4.2″ fine edge gut hook blade that is a great size for use in the field. The CPM-S30V steel blade stays sharp, and the fixed blade design means it’s a strong knife. This is a high-quality option for anyone who wants to reap the benefits of a gut hook hunting knife.
The drawbacks? Well, for one, it is darn difficult to keep the gut hook itself sharp, but that’s a feature of all gut hook knives. The hook-shaped design makes it difficult to sharpen. Some hunters use a file to sharpen the gut hook but be aware—this process can be tricky. You’re also not going to be able to sharpen the spine, which some hunters like to do with other types of hunting knives. Still, for many hunters, the gut hook feature is a must-have when field dressing game.
Best Budget: Cabela’s Hunt Series Drop-Point
- 440 stainless steel blade
- Nylon sheath
- Rubber over-molded nylon handle
- No nonsense
- Easy to clean
- At this price point … we can’t find any
A new hunting knife can be expensive, no way around it. In this list, no other knife is cheaper than $75. Elsewhere, you’ll find knives with price tags that range into the hundreds and well-into in the thousands. When you get to those prices, you’re talking about works of art, sure, and custom knife makers will encourage you to use their blades as hard as you would any other … But are you really gonna do that?
That’s why budget knives exist. You need something that you can beat up, something that, more importantly, you’re not afraid to beat up. And for under $20, you won’t find better than the Cabela’s Hunt Series Drop-Point. Rust resistant high-chromium 440 stainless, full-tang construction, and a sturdy drop point blade, there’s nothing this knife can’t do, and at this price, you’ll be more willing to push it as far as it’ll go. It comes with a nylon sheath, for a more tactical look, and over-molded nylon grip handles for no-slip safety in hand.
This is a great knife if you need something to beat up, and it’s a great first adult-sized knife for young hunters.
What to Consider When Choosing a Hunting Knife
Hunting knives are more than just another piece of hunting equipment. They’re prized tools and, sometimes, heirlooms. They often tell a story and say something about who you are as an outdoorsman. This means that when you’re shopping for a new knife, you need to find one that is functional, well-made, and fits your character. The two main considerations are the style of blade and the style of the knife itself. Beyond that, there are a million things to get into—handle material, blade length, overall look—that are more personal choices or aesthetic preferences.
Style of Knife
Hunting knives come in a wide array of choices that not only look different but also function differently. Ultimately this comes down to fixed blade or not fixed blade. Fixed blades are the big sturdy knives you’ve always hunted with, but non fixed blade knives, like folding blades, can be just as valuable. Are you field dressing big game regularly? Then you probably want a fixed blade knife. Is portability important to you? Consider a folding knife. Pretty simple.
Style of Blade
This one is a bit more down to preference than actual performance. For a hunting knife, you’re probably going to have a clip point or a drop point. Clip points are a bit more tapered towards the blades point, hence they look as though they’ve been “clipped.” A clipped blade will give you easier penetration through skin. That ease of puncture means you’ll have to put less pressure, and you’re less likely to accidentally push through to organs. A fixed blade doesn’t have quite the same penetration, but these are generally sturdier knives. You’ll have an easier time working with bones and joints when using a fixed blade.
But as with our Best Overall winner, there can be some grey area when a blade is lightly clipped. Figure out what is most important to you, and ideally find some buddies that’ll let you try out their knives, so you can get an idea of what you prefer.
Another note, certain blades will have specialized tools. Most notably is a gut hook, which we’ve picked a favorite for in this roundup. Less for everyday carry, but it can make processing game a whole lot easier.
Q: How long should a hunting knife be?
It depends on personal preference, but there are a couple of key factors you should still keep in mind. Hunting knives typically range between 2 to 6-inches. Four inch blades are especially popular length because it allows for smooth and precise cuts without becoming too bulky. The longer the knife is, the more difficult it can become to field dress your game properly. When in doubt, go small. Most 2 to 4-inch knives are great options for hunters.
Q: What is the best steel for a hunting knife?
The best steel for a hunting blade depends on several factors. Most hunting knives are made with either stainless steel or carbon steel. Stainless steel knives resist rust and are ideal for places that have high humidity levels. That said, stainless steel knives are not known for their edge retention. You will need to sharpen a stainless steel blade more often than a carbon steel blade. Carbon steel makes for a harder and potentially sharper blade that holds its edge longer than a stainless steel blade.
Q: What is the best knife to gut a deer?
This question is likely to start a heated debate at any deer camp. There is no clear answer to this question, just like there is no clear answer to what the best rifle is to shoot a deer. For most hunters, a 3 or 4-inch fixed point knife will get the job done well. From there, it all comes down to personal preference.
Best Hunting Knives: Final Thoughts
Every real hunter owns a hunting knife—and likely more than one. Hunting knives are tools of the trade, and the kind of hunting knife you use can make a big difference when you’re out in the field. The best hunting knives come in all different designs and sizes, from fixed blades to gut hook blades to drop point blades. Each type of hunting knife has its benefits and drawbacks. But when it comes right down to it, you need to get one that you’re comfortable carrying and using when the time comes. Then, get your knife out and get to work.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.