How to Choose a Hunting Knife

Smooth edged folding knife for hunting
Smooth-edged folding knife

There are many different types of knives available for the outdoorsman.  Each one is designed for a specific task.  The most popular are folding, fixed blade, filet, skinning and boning knives. 

When choosing a knife, there are a several important questions to think about.  What will you being doing with it? A folding or fixed blade?  Do you want a serrated blade?  Can the blade be sharpened? Is the blade made from good quality steel and are the mechanisms sturdy?

The most important decision to make is what type of knife do you need?  Chefs have many different types in the kitchen, and each has its own special purpose.  When choosing a knife for the outdoors the same decisions apply. Choose a knife that suits the task at hand.

Types of Knives

Folding knives are very popular. Folding knives usually have a short blade length of 2” to 4” and are useful for light duty chores around camp such as cutting cord or rope. The folding blade makes them very portable. There are many different models at very different prices. Choose a sturdy model that opens easily and has a strong locking mechanism. If the blade wiggles at the hinge when open and locked, there is the risk it can un-lock during use and cause serious injury to the user. A non-slip grip is important on any model you choose.

Fixed blade knives are designed for much more specific purposes. Fixed blades are stronger as the blade doesn’t have any moving parts. Typically, they are the best style to choose for field dressing animals and as a general hunting knife. The bowie knife is very popular for this purpose. Length is determined by the job it is required to do. A 3” to 5” long blade by ¾” to 1 ¼” wide is best for deer and other animals. A larger one is great for bear or moose. Be aware that bigger is not always better. A blade that is too long can hinder your ability to make delicate cuts in tight places.

Skinning knives have an upswept (or curved) blade and are designed for removing the hide from animals. These are a special purpose knife for the serious hunter. They generally range in length from 3” and up. A 4” to 6” length is most common for deer and larger animals.

Filet knives have a long thin blade and are best for removing filets from fish. The blade flexes slightly left or right to make it easier to cut around bones. Filet knives vary in length from 4” to 8” by ¼” to ½” wide. The 6” length is the most common and works well for most game fish in North America such as Bass or Pike. The 4” version is useful for panfish and the 8” for the big lunkers such as Muskie or Swordfish.

Boning knives are the butcher’s knife. They are similar to the filet knife in blade shape and length with the 6” to 8” being most popular, but slightly wider at ½” to ¾”. They are used for cutting up the dressed game animals into steaks and roasts. Many hunters use this same knife for field dressing, but the thinner, longer blade can be a bit difficult to break through bones with, however the narrow width makes it very useful in closely spaced or tight areas.

Parts of the Knife

Blades are of course the most important part of the knife. They must be strong enough to accomplish the job without dulling or chipping, yet in the case of filet and boning knives have a slight flex to them that does not cause the blade to break.

There are two main types of edges on blades. Smooth and serrated. Smooth blades are best on any fixed blade knife such as the bowie, skinning, filet, or boning. Serrated blades have teeth in the edge which can be useful in cutting through rope or string more easily. Serrated blades look cool, but are more difficult to sharpen and tend to snag on the objects being cut. They can be a nice option to have on a general purpose folding knife.

When choosing a knife, price is the most obvious indicator of quality. Typically, the higher the price, the better the quality of the steel and the parts that the knife is made from. Cheaper blades tend to dull faster and bend or break. Higher priced knives usually have blades that stay sharp longer and better quality handles. Ensure any knife you purchase can be sharpened repeatedly, and purchase good quality sharpening stones to keep your knife sharp.

Handles and grips come in many shapes and styles. Wood is the most common and can be very decorative. However there are many different plastic styles available too. Wood can get slippery when wet, a rubber grip is great for working in wet conditions. Choose the style that is most comfortable to you.

Shop around and look at different manufacturer’s websites to see the different choices that are available.   Buck, Rapala, Spyderco, as well as other companies all make quality products that are available in a wide range of models and prices that if properly cared for will give you a lifetime of use.

Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson