How to Choose a Hunting Knife

­Choose a hunting knife based on what type of game you hunt and how often you trek out.
­Choose a hunting knife based on what type of game you hunt and how often you trek out.

A quality huntin­g knife is versatile enough to do everything the average hunter needs -- from skinning the animal to splitting through its ribcage and bone. When you're choosing a hunting knife, it's important to consider how you'll use it and the type of game y­ou plan to hunt. Clearly, the big game hunter will use a different type of knife than someone who hunts rabbits. And, if you think bigger is always better, you'd be wrong. An oversized knife will make cleaning small game harder, not easier, and increase your chances of cutting yourself.

Once you've determined what size knife you want, consider how often you hunt. If you only hunt occasionally and you want a knife that can be used for a variety of purposes, you may want a smaller folding blade knife. If you're a dedicated hunter and plan on using your knife only for hunting, a solidly-built fixed blade knife may make more sense.

­Next, you've got to decide whether you want to carry your knife in a sheath or keep it in your pocket. It's obviously not a good idea to carry a large fixed blade knife in your pocket -- unless you want to slice open your leg. And, as always, your budget is an important consideration as well. Hunting knives are available in a wide variety of prices, and you want to get the best knife possible for your money. Fortunately, no matter what type of knife you choose, it'll be capable of handling most hunting duties. The only reason you may require a second knife is if you're interested in a trophy mount. If so, you may consider also investing in a capping knife, but we'll talk more about those later.

Folding Versus Fixed Blade Hunting Knives

An Inuit hunter uses a knife to prepare the skin of a polar bear that starved to death.
An Inuit hunter uses a knife to prepare the skin of a polar bear that starved to death.
Sue Flood/Getty Images

Your first big choice in your hun­ting knife pursuit is between a folding or a fixed blade. A fixed blade knife has a blade that's permanently affixed in the open position. Because there are no moving parts in the fixed blade knife, they're generally considered strong and reliable. There are downsides, however. Because the knife is always open, you have to carry it in a sheath and wear it. This makes it bulkier than a folding knife with the same size blade.

The blades of a folding knife fold back into the handle. It also has a locking feature that prevents the blade from accidentally closing while you're using it. Because the blade folds back into the handle, the knife is more compact and can be carried more easily. But this design feature is also the folding knife's biggest drawback. Its hollow handle and the pivot point where the blade folds are weak points -- the folding knife isn't as strong as a similarly-sized fixed blade knife.

­One advantage of the folding knife is blade choice. Not all folding knives have more than one blade, but many do. Some people view this as a benefit. But, the truth is, if you choose the right hunting blade, you shouldn't need more than one. Also, there are several fixed hunting knives on the market that allow you to change out the blade. You can only use one blade at a time, but you can carry a selection with you.

The choice between fixed blade and folding blade is largely practical. For the serious hunter who wants a dedicated hunting knife, a fixed blade design is the best choice. For a person who only hunts occasionally, who will use the knife for other purposes and prefers to carry it in a pocket, the flexible blade handle may make a better choice.

Choosing Your Hunting Knife Blade

Hunting knives come in all shapes and sizes. Take your pick.
Hunting knives come in all shapes and sizes. Take your pick.

Once you've made ­the choice between fixed and folding, it's time to choose your blade. There are several types of blades available, and the choice boils down to personal preference and the type of game you typically hunt. There are three common types of blades -- clip point, drop point and skinning blade.

The clip point knife blade is thin with a well-defined point. The blade itself is relatively flat. This knife is versatile enough to be used for general camp chores and specialized hunting jobs, including field dressing and skinning. The hunter who wants a good all-around knife should consider the clip point blade.

The drop point knife is a specialized hunting knife. It's used to dress the animal and skin it, but shouldn't be used to cut rope or twigs, or do other general camping-related chores. The blade of a drop point knife is thick and curved. The point is not defined, which makes it easy to use the entire blade for skinning. Using the entire blade not only speeds up the process, but reduces the risk of damaging the meat. Because it doesn't have a distinct point, you're less likely to tear into the meat while you're skinning the animal. The blade's robust design allows the hunter to use the knife for gutting and other field cleaning duties.

­Skinning blades are designed to skin big game animals. The blade quickly and neatly separates the skin from the meat of large game. Although the blade is specifically made for skinning, the knife can also be used for other hunting chores.

Once you've decided among the clip point, drop point and skinning blades, you should consider whether you want the blade to have serrations. Serrations allow you to use the blade for heavy jobs, such as splitting through a rib cage, and typically take up only a small portion of the blade's length.

The Best Hunting Knife -- How to Recognize Good Quality

An Inuit hunter skins a polar bear that starved to death.
An Inuit hunter skins a polar bear that starved to death.
Sue Flood/Getty Images

Quality hunt­ing knives typically have either carbon steel or stainless steel blades. Each type of blade has advantages and disadvantages. Carbon steel blades rust, so they require special treatment. Regular use is the best way to prevent rust from forming on the blade, but you can also coat the blade to prevent rust. To coat your carbon steel blade, clean your blade thoroughly, allow it to dry completely, then apply a wax that contains silicon. Waxes made specifically for this job are available. Once it's coated, the carbon steel blade should be resistant to rusting. Carbon steel blades tend to be easier to sharpen and remain sharp for longer than a stainless steel blade.

Stainless steel knife blades are rust resistant. This makes them extremely popular with hunters who hunt in areas with rainy conditions. However, stainless steel knives are more difficult to sharpen and more expensive than carbon steel knives.

­If you're interested in a folding blade knife, examine the pivot point thoroughly. This is the area that will be under pressure as you open and shut the blade. Also, check the locking mechanism -- if this fails, it can cause a nasty accident. A quality blade, a sturdy handle and a strong intersection of the two are all important points in both a folding and fixed blade knife.

Whether you choose a fixed or folding blade knife, the handle should be sturdy and feel relatively heavy in your hand. Examine the area where the knife's blade enters the handle -- this can be a point of weakness. If you choose a folding blade knife, check how the blade folds into the handle. Does it line up and move relatively easy, or do you have to force it? A quality knife should move with ease.

Hunting Knife Maintenance

If you'd like to turn your kill into a trophy mount, you'll need a capping knife.
If you'd like to turn your kill into a trophy mount, you'll need a capping knife.
Simon Willms/Getty Images

­Proper care will extend the life of your hunting knife. You'll normally store your fixed blade knife in a sheath, but if you don't plan on using it for a while, you'll need special long-term storage solutions. For long-term storage, wrap your clean and dry knife in plain paper, and store that package in a plastic bag. Add a package of desiccant to the bag to absorb any moisture.

It's also important to keep your knife sharp. A sharp blade cuts easily, which will prevent you from accidentally cutting yourself by trying to force a dull blade. You can have your knife blade professionally sharpened, but it's actually an easy project to complete yourself. Just get a knowledgeable person to show you how to sharpen your hunting knife for the first time, and you'll be able to do it yourself after that. It's important to learn how to do it from an expert because the wrong technique can actually dull your hunting blade.

­Day-to-day care is the best way to extend the life of your hunting knife. Clean the blade and handle thoroughly after use, using a product made specifically for the job. A quick wipe down in the field is a good idea after you use your knife, but it doesn't replace a thorough cleaning when you arrive home. Use a product made specifically for your knife's material. There are many multifunction cleaners that can be used on metal, wood and leather. These products make it easier to clean your knife because you don't have to worry about ruining your handle when you clean your blade.

Often these commercial cleaners also work as a lubricant and protector. Using all-in-one products can save a great deal of time for you in caring for your knife. Proper care of your hunting knife will extend its life and reduce your risk of accidentally cutting yourself. A sharp blade that's securely set in the handle is the safest blade to use.

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  • Haskew, Mike. "Retro Steels: Performance Never Gets Old." Blade. October 3, 2008.
  • Hollis, Durwood. "Taking Care of Your Blade Babies." Blade. Dec. 8, 2008. (Dec. 10, 2008)
  • Hollis, Durwood. "The Complete Guide to Hunting Knives." 2001.