Author | Dominic Trimboli
Brand | Schrade & RMEF
Choosing a hunting knife is much more than looking for a sharp blade and calling it a day. With a little research and effort, it’s easy to get better performance from your gear wherever you’re hunting.
What to Look for in a Knife
There are four main traits to look for when choosing your knife; we’ll go in depth on each of them to help you decide which knife is best for you.
- Type of Game: Depending on what you’re hunting for the type of knife that works best will vary.
- Blade Shape: Blade shapes aren’t just for style, they are all specifically tailored for certain jobs.
- Handle Style and Material: The style and material of your handle will affect your grip on the knife and impact the cost.
- Replaceable or Fixed Blade: To sharpen or not to sharpen, that is the question.
Type of Game
The first thing you need to consider when choosing a knife is what you’re going to be hunting with it. These first few tips are some of the most important in determining the type of knife that’s best for your situation. We’ll focus generally on small and large game with a little bit of info about fishing as well. Don’t worry too much about blade types for now, we’ll get to them next.
From rabbits to turkey most small game are more meticulous to dress. Because of that you’ll want a thinner, shorter knife that’s able to work around the smaller body cavity. You’ll want the blade of the knife to be no longer than 3.5”, any longer and it will be more difficult to get the dexterity or pressure needed when making cuts.
Often these types of knives are referred to as bird and trout knives, however you want to make sure you’re paying attention when you choose one. While most knives meant for mammals and birds will work on fish, they don’t always work the same in reverse. For example, fillet knives are great for dressing trout but too flexible for most mammals and birds.
For an example of a perfect small game knife, look no further than the Isolate Caper Hunting Knife. The size and shape is ideal for hunting any small game, so you can use this as a good gauge of what to look for. It strikes a perfect balance between being thin and flexible, but also tough enough to withstand persistent use. If your goal is to go hunting for small game with only one knife, this is it.
While your first instinct might be to grab the biggest, meanest looking knife you can find for hunting big game those types of knives rarely have a practical use when you’re actually in the field. While there isn’t one holy grail knife that’s able to do everything, you can find one that will cover the main things like skinning and gutting.
Generally, we say a sturdy fixed blade knife between 3.5”-4.5” is more than enough to handle your field dressing. (If you’re hunting larger game like elk, then increase that by about an inch.) While foldable knives are nice for travel, they sacrifice some of the strength fixed blade knives have. In addition, the open blade channel can get filled with refuse during use, requiring extra cleaning.
If you’re looking for an example of a great big game hunting knife for whitetail and boar, take a look at the Wolverine Fixed Blade Hunting Knife. With a 3.75” drop point blade this knife is sturdy and sharp enough to skin your kill with ease. In addition, the G10 handle is great for a tight, confident grip when getting your hands dirty.
Pro tip: If you plan to quarter your kill, then consider bringing along a compact bone saw to make getting through it easier, and extend the life of your knife. The less time spent sharpening, the happier we all are.
For the most part when looking for a fishing knife you’ll want to follow the same guidelines we laid out for small game. The main difference is that you’ll want a more flexible blade, often referred to as fillet knives. The more flexible blade makes it easier to get around the small bones without tearing up the fillet.
The second most important part of a fishing knife is the grip. You’ll need to ensure you get a knife that you can hold securely even when it’s wet or slimy from gutting your catch. We look for non-slip rubberized handles with an additional texture for grip. The last thing you want is to drop a knife or accidentally cut yourself when it can be avoided by spending a little extra on your grip.
Which Blade Shape is Right?
With dozens of different blade shapes it’s not always easy to know which one is right for the job. While you can get blades meant for specific tasks, like a guthook, you can often get the majority of work done with a Drop Point, Clip Point, or Trailing Point knife.
Drop Point knives tend to be the most popular for hunting due to the vast versatility of the blade. They’re called drop points because the spine of the blade slopes down to the point of the knife. This ensures you have a decent knife tip for detail-oriented work and a slightly curved edge for easier skinning. While not the best at any single job, these blades are great for their ability to be a jack-of-all-trades. A great example of a drop point knife for hunting is the Exertion Drop Point Fixed Blade. This extremely balanced knife will be able to handle almost everything you encounter.
Clip Point knives are another highly popular blade shape, known for their well-defined tip that’s below the spine of the knife. Their name comes from how it appears a piece of the blade has been clipped off from the spine. These knives are tailor made for detail-oriented work because you’ll have much greater control over the tip of the blade. Unfortunately, that extra dexterity does come with a downside, these knives aren’t nearly as good at skinning and gutting as the other two we mentioned.
If your only goal is to find a knife perfect for skinning, then Trailing Point knives are the way to go. These knives were specifically made for skinning medium and large game with their long, curved edge. While they’re capable of doing a lot of the cleanup work drop point knives are capable of, they are not good for any kind of detail-oriented work. These knives are also the thinnest and most flexible of the three we’ve mentioned, so they aren’t going to take on cartilage or bone well at all.
Handle Style and Material
While focusing on the blade is admittedly more fun, it’s extremely important to make sure you get a knife handle and grip that’s right for you. You’re going to want a knife you can keep a tight grip on in the rain, or when your hand is inside the chest cavity of a deer.
The main three materials that makeup handles are metal, wood and synthetics. While metal handles like steel and titanium are extremely durable, they are often slippery when skinning or gutting even in the best conditions. Synthetic materials like G10 offer a great combination of grip and durability as they can be textured for extra grip during manufacture. Wood handles often look great, but they tend to be the least durable over time unless they’re made with reinforced hardwood. If your goal is to get the most durable, and best grip regardless of how the knife looks, synthetic handles are going to be your best bet.
When it comes to safety features, you should look for knives that are contoured to keep your finger from slipping into the blade. Ideally, you’ll find a knife with a finger stop or some other kind of guard. It may not sound like a lot, but just this little bit of extra protection will make a big difference down the line when you’re not nicking yourself.
Are Replaceable Blade Knives a Good Option?
Replaceable blade knives have come a long way in recent years and are garnering some respect in the hunting world. With the ability to replace the blade at any time and always have a razor-sharp edge, these knives definitely have a place in your gear bag.
For the most part replaceable blade knives are shorter and thinner than their fixed blade counterparts, and almost always foldable. These knives are known for their compact package and unbeatable precision when getting your hands dirty. For example, check out the new Enrage series of replaceable blade knives made in conjunction with Schrade and Rage. These knives take a century of knife crafting experience and combine it with the unrivaled sharpness of one of the best selling broadheads in the nation. They’re the ideal example of a replaceable blade knife that can be used for hunting, or every day carry.
Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to replaceable blade knives due to their design. Since they’re thin and foldable they are not as stable or durable as fixed blade knives. While you can replace the blades whenever you want, they will go dull faster than other knives. It also goes without saying that replaceable blade knives will cost you more money throughout their lifetime than a fixed blade knife. Always having a sharp blade is convenient, but that comes with the added cost of buying replacements. Finally, due to their size most replaceable blade knives are best suited for small to medium size game.
For a look at a massive selection of quality hunting knives of all kinds, check out this link.