What is a hunting knife?

When the topic of hunting knives brought up, people often think about a man in a loincloth swinging from tree to tree, running through the jungle with nothing except his trusty hunting knife, and thrusting it into the heart of a beast.

But back in the real world, hunting knives are not used to kill game. These knives are designed for preparing and processing game, they are designed to skin and bone your catch.

When it comes to choosing your hunting knife, you must do your research and know what you’re doing. Nobody wants to see you hack into a carcass with a Damascus steel kitchen knife.

In this guide I will take you through the different designs of hunting knives, the different materials available and what you should think about when choosing one for yourself.

Blade Design: The basics

The point end of the knife, there are 2 common designs found and each have different purposes. It is crucial that you choose the one for your needs.

Clip point

A clip point pocket knife blade with a nail mark.
Ivan yulaev at the English language Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

This is one of the most common designs in the knife world. The spine of the knife is initially straight when coming out of the handle, but then dips down sharply towards the tip of the knife. The dip can be straight or curved.

Clip point knives provide good penetrating power with their sharp tips, and a large edge for you to cut with. It is is also easy to control and can perform a variety of functions aside from cleaning a carcass.

There are also draw backs with clip point knives. Their tips while sharp, have little material; meaning they can get blunt very easily. The sharp tips may also break the skin or cause undesired damage to the muscles.

Drop point

A close up of a drop point pocket knife blade.
Ivan yulaev at the English language Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Another extremely common blade shape. The spine of the drop point extends straight out of the handle, the cutting edge then curves up to meet the spine at the tip.

This design is sturdy and tough, the sharp tip would last longer than the clip point. It is able to skin an animal very efficiently and is less likely to cut the skin or damage the muscles. There is also a large cutting edge and the knife gives the user great control and precision.

The issue with this design is that they have more trouble reaching crevices and hard to reach areas, due to the increased mass on the tips. They may also be not as suited for penetrating muscle and skin.

Blade Designs: The extras

Like a teenager trying to pimp their first car, choosing the flourishes on your hunting knife is quite exciting. After we’ve decided on the blade design, we must think about any extra things we may want.

Serrated edge

A black handled folding pocket knife with a serrated edge on the blade.They are another surface that is used for cutting. Rather than the straight edge of the traditional knife, the serrated edge is toothed and appears like a saw. It is commonly found on the spine of the knife or near the heel.

The serrated edge allows you to bite into flesh and bone easier, it could assist in cutting through cartilage.





Gut hook

A knife blade removed from its handle, it has a gut hook on the tip.

The iconic hunting knife, nothing else will make a hunting knife stand out more.

The gut hook is located just behind the point of the knife on the spine. It is sharp and allows the user to slice open the abdomen or skin easily without damaging the underlying structures.

However the gut hook will need special tools to sharpen it.





Knife Design: Fixed or Folding

I think everyone would be able to understand what is a folding and what is a fixed knife, just from the knife alone. Fixed knives go in sheaths, folding knives can be folded into their handles.

Fixed blades

These blades are rigid and cannot be folded. Their design is simplistic but durable, they can withstand punishment.

With fixed blades you have the option to choose how long the tang of the knife is. The tang refers to how much of the blade is embedded in the handle. A full tang would mean the material of the blade is long enough to reach the end of the handle. A full tang knife is also able to absorb a lot more force across the entire knife and distribute it, it is also more durable since at any moment, there is no one area that is withstanding a lot of force.

When it comes to choosing how long you would like your tang to be, think about how long/big the knife is. A small knife will not be required to handle and receive a lot of force, thus a smaller tang might suffice and you’ll have a knife that is lighter and will perform its function.

Fixed blades are also easier to clean and have fewer areas for rust to develop. It also has no mechanical parts that will break.

But let’s face it, fixed blades are often just not as cool as folding knives. They are simple tools and sometimes may lack the flair that folding knives have. Fixed knives may also be a bit more difficult to store.

Folding blades

The iconic pocket knife design that everyone thinks about. When you were younger everyone cool had one, so now maybe you want one too?

These knives are cool to have and fun to keep, they are also easier to store and carry.

However they are often more likely to develop rust and harder to clean.

It is difficult to talk about the durability of these knives. Technically not having any tang will mean these knives are weaker than fixed blades. But will this actually matter? Folding knives are designed to be smaller, and strictly speaking they should be able to skin and process the game without any issue. It does not take a lot of force to properly process an animal.

Materials: Look deeper than the surface

A clip point hunting knife with a serrated spine.

THIS IS CRUCIAL! The materials will make or break your knife, you are looking for something hardy and easy to clean. This is a knife that will get dirty and bloody.

Blade material

The blade is generally some sort of steel. Carbon, industrial or stainless.

1. Carbon steel

These knives are strong and holds edge well. They are also easy to sharpen. HOWEVER, they are the least rust resistant and I would not suggest these knives for hunting purposes. The blood and guts can really do some damage to a knife. If you would like to use these for hunting purposes, I would suggest you pre-treat it first.

Carbon steel is also quite brittle and is better suited for fixed blades.

2. Industrial/tool steel

They are more rust resistant than carbon steel and they are strong and tough. However, when it comes to sharpening, specialist equipment may be required.

3. Stainless steel

The most rust resistant of common steels. These knives are usually shiny and smooth. The one drawback is that they may not hold an edge as well as the other knives. However I would suggest a stainless steel for most hunting knives, you just can’t walk past that rust resistance.

Handle material

1. Plastic handles

They do not absorb water (and blood), they are very practical and durable. Plastic also offer some grip in cold and wet weather. You don’t want a hunting knife slipping out of your hands.

2. Rubber handles

They are very similar to plastic, however they are less durable but they offer more grip. The one main drawback is rubber handles may get damaged by harsh sun, but it is very unlikely for you to experience those conditions when hunting.

These handles are my go to handles for hunting knives.

3. Metal handles

They are very durable, however they offer very little grip. I wouldn’t suggest these for hunting knives. More often than not you will find blood on your blade and handle. Metal handles offer very little grip and may easily slip out of your hand.

4. Wood handles

I love them, call me biased but I love them. They are durable, they are beautiful, the grain of the wood is just so captivating. But would they be good for hunting knives? Well maybe. While they do not offer as much grip as rubber handles, they may still be enough. The issue comes with the fact that wood is porous. Blood, bacteria and other debris could penetrate the handle and dirty it, or cause it to break down. If you do choose a wood handle, I would recommend one that has been properly treated and sealed, preferably with a coating of some sorts.

How do I choose my very own hunting knife?

A damascus steel knife on the left corner with its sheath as the main focus.

This is without a doubt, one of the most exciting parts when it comes to hunting. Don’t get me wrong, stalking and taking down the game can be great and all, but knives are my thing.

When it’s time to buy your own hunting knife, ask yourself one important question.

What do I want to use it for?

Every decision you make will be based on function. After you have made your decision on what your knife will do, you can go through the above list and pick out the different parts that are important to you.

For example if I want a knife for skinning and general use, I would pick a drop point fixed blade knife with stainless steel and rubber handle. What you want may be different to this, everyone is different.

Relate each of the above sections to the question, “what do I want to use it for?” and you should have a knife that suits your needs perfectly.

Another highly important factor is the look of the knife. Other than function, look at how the knife’s design. Choose a knife that resonates well with you, something you like looking at. Go out and think about the function but don’t forget to buy a knife that you like.

Where do we go from here?

The sky’s the limit. Take some time to research what you would like and what you’re interested in. I have posted various knife reviews on this website to give you a good idea of what’s available out there. If you would like then feel free to take a look around.

I wish you happy adventures in the future.


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