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Published Dec 28, 2021 1:03 PM

When we sat down to start planning our survey of the best hunting knives, it felt like a time to swing big. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to look beyond the usual suspects, dig a little deeper, and find the very best — and most interesting — hunting knives from around the world. We didn’t just want knives that work; we wanted knives that you’ll be excited to see every time you pull one out of the sheath. 

To that end, we tracked down knives from six countries on three continents, from bushcraft blades to precision instruments. We spent hours comparing and contrasting various steel alloys, handle materials, blade shapes, and edge grinds. Then, to be absolutely sure that each of these knives was up to the task of serving as your go-to hunting blade, we handed them all over to the pros at Outdoor Addiction Meat Processing in beautiful Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, to see how they stacked up in the eyes of people who turn animals into delicious meat for a living.

The result is one of the most thorough gear roundups we’ve ever done, and it’s one hell of a resource in the search for your new favorite knife out of the best hunting knives out there. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Best Overall

You should always expect style from the Italians, but they also make one of the best-performing hunting knives money can buy in the LionSteel M4. This sub-four-inch blade is a fantastic balance of utility and portability. It carries like a compact knife but performs like a bushcraft knife. If we had to choose only one (and thank goodness we don’t), this would probably be it.

Our fascination with the LionSteel M4 starts with the blade steel. One of the most popular steels for knives right now is Bohler’s M390. It’s a strong performer in general, but its edge retention is phenomenal. Combine that with solid corrosion resistance and this is about as low-maintenance as a blade can be. The olive handle falls to the hand comfortably. The fit and finish are excellent. The spine of the blade and edges of the tang are rounded for comfort, but the portion that extends from the end of the handle is squared off for use with a ferro rod.

Of course, every knife has its weaknesses. You won’t have to sharpen this blade very often, but when you do it will present more of a challenge than other kinds of steel. We love the durability and color of the olive handle, but the protective coating washed off the first time we cleaned it, so regular applications of mineral oil or wax will be necessary. In addition, our butchers noted that a larger handguard would have made them feel a lot more comfortable handling this blade. Finally, the sheath’s snap didn’t work out of the box, but over time the leather stretched and allowed it to reach.

Italian goods sometimes get a bad rap — almost always from people who’ve never used them. There are idiosyncrasies here and there, but it’s not fair to judge products like this based on internet lore about 1970s Fiats. This knife is impeccably built. It’s the perfect size. We’d be shocked if you see someone else carrying one, and there’s something cool about having the only one around.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: Italy
  • Blade length: 3.75
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Steel: M390
  • Handle: Olive
  • Sheath: Leather
PROS

Bushcraft knife disguised as a hunting knife

M390 steel is extremely desirable

Long, flat grind is great for slicing meat

Fits the hand like a glove

CONS

Handle gets slippery when wet

We’d like a more pronounced finger guard

Is LionSteel a cool or dorky name?

Best Value

The Buck Vanguard is such an iconic hunting knife in the U.S. that it might be surprising to see it as our value pick. Make no mistake, this isn’t a cheap knife — you can expect to pay $100 for one even during a sale — but it performs so well that you’ll still get more than you paid for.

Hunting knives do not lead an easy life. They spend a lot of time being exposed to water and bodily fluids that wreak havoc on most metals. The 420HC steel used in the Vanguard 192 is known for corrosion resistance. It’s also relatively affordable and easy to work with. The hollow grind on this blade earned high marks from our butchers for making clean, precise cuts with minimal effort. The exaggerated finger guard does a great job of keeping hands in place and away from the blade. The overall shape of this knife is undeniably American and taps into our inherent love of Bowie-style knives.

One odd detail is the gap between the cutting edge and the handle. The sheath is serviceable, but we would have liked something a little more robust for field use. As pretty as the knife is, it might be a bit shiny for some people. Anyone with OCD tendencies is going to spend hours polishing the handguard and butt of this knife.

Buck Knives isn’t just American in the sense that the company is headquartered here and slaps a flag on its boxes (like some companies). The family business began making knives in 1904 and has produced folders and fixed blades, along with more than 250,000 M9 bayonets for the U.S. military. All of its knives are made in Post Falls, Idaho. You can even take a tour.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: USA
  • Blade length: 4.125 inches
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Hollow
  • Steel: 420HC
  • Handle: Walnut
  • Sheath: Leather
PROS

All the features of a good hunting knife

Looks like a quintessential American hunting knife

Priced way below what the level of craftsmanship would suggest

Hollow grind is great for slicing raw meat

CONS

We’d like the edge to reach the handguard

Too shiny for some hunters

Imported sheath doesn’t match the knife’s build quality

Cypress Creek Knives’ Woodthrush is an endearing little knife that we can’t help but love. The one-man shop is operated by Jared Beavers in Collinsville, Illinois. The craftsmanship in every detail will probably have you storing it in the kitchen just so you’ll have more opportunities to use it.

The Woodthrush’s short blade is great for making accurate incisions; it’s more like a scalpel than a steak knife. The blade uses CPM-S35VN steel that’s incredibly well-balanced in terms of toughness, corrosion resistance, edge retention, and ease of sharpening. The blade is the star in photos, but the handle steals the show in person. The Osage orange is shaped perfectly and feels so smooth that we didn’t want to put it down. The touch of orange material between the scales and the full tang is eye-catching and adds a little character without being gimmicky. Our butchers heaped praise on this knife for its utility and unique aesthetic style.

We love the short blade, but it might be limiting for some people. It’s great for small game and use around the kitchen, but we wouldn’t want to go to work on a deer with it. The Woodthrush also doesn’t come with a sheath, so you’ll have to either store it in the wooden case (which is very cool) or get creative. This is also one of the most expensive knives here, which might make it hard to justify since it isn’t going to be your do-it-all blade.

If you’ve been to the central U.S. at the right time of year, you’ve probably seen trees that cover the ground with bright green, grapefruit-sized fruit. Those are Osage orange trees. Osage orange wood is extremely hard, strong, and rot-resistant––properties that made it popular with wagon builders during the westward expansion. It’s ideal for knife handles and makes for a great conversation starter anytime you use your Woodthrush.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: USA
  • Blade length: 2.875 inches
  • Blade profile: Straight
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Steel: CPM-S35VN
  • Handle: Osage orange
  • Sheath: None
PROS

Where else will someone literally sign off on a knife?

Short blade is precise and user-friendly

Osage orange is durable and full of history

Presentation is excellent and creates a sense of occasion

CONS

Small blade can be limiting

Doesn’t come with a sheath

Some yellow pigment rubbed off in the first washing

Most Durable Hunting Knife

Leave it to Spyderco to provide the most advanced materials and manufacturing techniques on this list. The Enuff uses durable materials that are almost maintenance-free to create an all-weather knife that we’d be quick to choose for any hunting trip involving nasty weather.

The pattern on the Enuff’s handle is the same one that’s used on other Spyderco knives. Its directional shape provides outstanding grip, wet or dry. About an inch of jimping on the blade’s spine adds more grip and peace of mind when cutting raw meat. Japanese VG-10 steel is one of the best available, and it’s hugely popular in wet and humid regions because of its excellent corrosion resistance. Between the fiberglass-reinforced nylon handle and VG-10 blade, this is the most low-maintenance knife here. We also love the utility of the rugged sheath that holds the knife firmly in place with no moving parts. Our butchers’ test notes on the Enuff were short and direct: “Spyderco: only the best.”

Like the Woodthrush, this knife’s biggest limiting factor is its size. A 2.75-inch blade is akin to a folding knife, so it’s not going to be your go-to for big game trips. We’ve also found that Spyderco knives are a bit of an acquired taste. Photos don’t convey their appeal. They’re frankly not that good-looking next to the hand-sanded exotic wood handles on this list. Put one to use, though, and you’ll quickly understand why the Japanese brand has a cult-like following.

According to the product guide that comes with the Enuff, most cutting is done with the first few inches of a blade’s edge, where leverage is optimal. It stands to reason, then, that this small blade is all you really need. There are certain jobs that call for a larger blade, but the people at Spyderco have a point. We can certainly see the appeal of keeping this little knife within reach for the majority of tasks and having something larger squirreled away for those times when it’s not, as it turns out, enough.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: Japan
  • Blade length: 2.75 inches
  • Blade profile: Straight
  • Blade grind: Flat Steel:
  • VG-10 Handle: Fiberglass-reinforced nylon
  • Sheath: Injection-molded polymer
PROS

Nothing is indestructible, but this is close

Best grip of any handle here

Damn-near impervious to rust and corrosion

Sheath is legitimately tactical

CONS

Blade length isn’t necessarily always enough

Lacks the old-world appeal of some other knives

May result in a Spyderco addiction

Best Heavy-Duty Hunting Knife

The Jeo-Tec No. 29 proved itself as one of our favorite survival knives by acing our bushcraft test of creating fire from a single wet log. It’s the largest, heaviest knife on this list and it comes with its own ferro rod. If your style of hunting involves an aerial insertion and wilderness survival, this is the blade for you.

Carrying a bushcraft knife for hunting is kind of like driving a Unimog to the deer stand; unnecessary, but awesome. This is the biggest knife here in every physical dimension. The blade is comically thick, but that’s helpful if you’re going to baton logs into firewood like we did. Thanks to the long, flat grind, it still performed surprisingly well for our butchers. They loved the positive feel from the handle, and the cocobolo wood is famous for being durable in the face of moisture and insects. The leather sheath is just as beefy and well-designed. It can be carried vertically or horizontally and has a loop to hold the included ferro rod, which we used to light a campfire with great success.

The most significant downside to the No. 29 is that it’s the polar opposite of knives like the Enuff and Woodthrush: It’s massive. The sheath is bulky, too. Hunters who cover a lot of ground on foot and don’t need bushcraft capability will probably want to opt for something lighter and more focused on dressing game than overall survival. This definitely isn’t what we’d choose for making delicate cuts on smaller game.

Bushcraft is a tricky business because it requires each piece of gear to do many jobs. This knife, for example, has to be able to hack through wood like an ax, scrape metal shavings off a ferro rod to create fire, and field dress various game animals — oh, and do all that in harsh climates where maintenance opportunities are minimal to nonexistent. That’s no small feat, but Jeo-Tec pulled it off.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: Spain
  • Blade length: 4.92 inches
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Steel: MOVA-58
  • Handle: Cocobolo
  • Sheath: Leather
PROS

Legitimate bushcraft knife for wilderness survival

Includes a ferro rod for lighting fires

Overbuilt sheath can be mounted vertically or horizontally

Flat grind creates an excellent cutting edge

CONS

Size and weight may be an issue

Length isn’t ideal for certain hunting tasks

Overkill for most situations

Best Hunting Knife for Skinning

The Boker Integral Hunter is the most expensive knife on this list. After holding it in our hands and getting a chance to appreciate the meticulous German engineering that went into it, the price makes total sense. The small handle and surgically sharp edge are perfect for turning everything from deer to doves into dinner.

Every knife on this list comes from the factory with an excellent edge, but this Boker takes the cake. Calling it razor-sharp might be selling it short. Don’t think that makes it fragile, though. The 440C steel blade retains its edge well and is more than hard enough to provide enough toughness. The thick tang and oversized bolster were popular with our butchers. The Integral Hunter is a great example of what happens when you combine traditional knife-making techniques with modern manufacturing (in Germany, no less).

We were genuinely surprised by how dainty the handle feels — it doesn’t even cover the palm of our hands. This allows it to be used with the fingertips to achieve incredible accuracy, but our butchers noted that it didn’t inspire as much confidence as they were used to. If you have a lot of heavy-duty cutting to do, this isn’t the knife for you.

Conversations about knives are almost always centered around the blade, and that’s not fair. Handles play a significant role in how a knife is used. The Integral Hunter has a very small handle — just four inches. It felt odd until we realized it’s meant to be held with the fingertips. This knife is about precision, not brute force. You’ll appreciate that when you’re relying on finesse and feel to dress a game animal.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: Germany
  • Blade length: 3.5 inches
  • Blade profile: Drop point
  • Blade grind: Flat
  • Steel: 440C
  • Handle: Lacewood
  • Sheath: Leather
PROS

Surgical sharpness out of the box

Oversized bolster improves grip and overall strength

Perfect for skinning and making precise cuts

Fit and finish are superb

CONS

Small handle is limiting

Sheath isn’t exactly heavy-duty

Not as versatile as our other picks

Best Heirloom Hunting Knife

Helle celebrated the Temagami’s 10th birthday by building a limited-edition version that’s worth a mention in your will. Upgraded steel makes this popular hunting knife even better, and it’s now a viable option as a survival or bushcraft knife. If you liked the all-purpose Helle Eggen we reviewed a while back, you’ll love the Temagami.

Our butchers gushed over the beautiful curly birch handle on the Temagami, and we whole-heartedly agreed. It’s a masterpiece. The shape and feel are also excellent. Don’t overlook the blade though; Helle upgraded the Temagami with 14C28N steel that’s sharpened along the spine for use with a ferro rod. The scandi grind is a Helle calling card, and it’s superb for woodworking and bushcraft. Its sharpness is remarkable, too. This limited run of 10th anniversary Temagamis won’t last long but the normal version of the knife is a smash hit for a reason.

There are a lot of times when a scandi grind comes in handy, but it’s not great for slicing meat. The thickness of the blade is chosen for strength, not dexterity. Scandi grinds are simple to sharpen because of their broad edge surface, but that also means you’ll be removing a lot more material and, therefore, have to work noticeably harder. The shiny finish of the blade might also draw attention at times when hunters need to lay low.

The craftsmen at Helle make all kinds of knives, but they’re fishermen at their roots. Everything they carry needs to survive relentless salty air and ocean spray from the North Atlantic. Corrosion-resistant metals are key. Varnish and lacquer are no match for that kind of environment, so they sand wood smooth and treat it regularly with beeswax. It’s an approach to building knives that has worked for centuries, so you can assume it’ll be good for as long as we’re around.

Product Specs
  • Country of origin: Norway
  • Blade length: 4.33 inches
  • Blade profile: Straight
  • Blade grind: Scandi
  • Steel: 14C28N
  • Handle: Curly birch
  • Sheath: Leather
PROS

Craftsmanship is a real thing of beauty

Blade is incredibly strong and durable

Legitimate bushcraft tool for longer hunts

Provides plenty to talk about around the campfire

CONS

Scandi grind isn’t for everyone

Shiny blade reflects light like a signal mirror

Act fast to land one of the limited-edition knives

Why you should trust us

Here at Task & Purpose, people either show up as a knife nut on their first day or quickly become one. We’ve written reviews on knives for survival, everyday carry, and bushcraft. Hell, we can even help you pick a knife to bust out of a car crash or chuck at a target. If a manufacturer makes a particularly bold claim about their product, you can bet we’ll push it to the limit with something like our signature road-salt immersion test. There’s a lot of ground to cover and we take pride in doing it well. Sometimes that means enlisting the help of people who cut for a living. We’ve reached out to butchers and meat processors more than once to make sure our knives get a thorough shake-down.  

Types of hunting knives

Hunting knives encompass a lot of different things, and we spread the love to represent a lot of different styles and tastes on this list. In each case, there’s a reason why we chose what we did. Here’s a breakdown of which factors you need to consider and some of the information we used to get in the right headspace for this guide.

Fixed blade

Hunting knives have typically used a fixed blade, and that’s still true in most cases. Many of the tasks hunting knives are expected to do require a fair amount of force, so being rigid allows them to hold up to the abuse. The lack of any moving parts makes them much stronger than folders.

In terms of size, fixed-blade knives are generally larger than folding knives. That’s fine in this case because hunters don’t need to restrict themselves to knives that fit in a pocket. Large blades are useful when setting up a blind, breaking down big game, and doing chores around the campsite.

We also can’t overlook the maintenance our gear requires. Keeping a fixed-blade knife in peak shape is as simple as sharpening, oiling the steel, and maybe rubbing some wax into the handle.

Folding

The biggest advantage folding knives possess is their compact size. One of our favorites is the Benchmade North Fork, which folds down to a closed length of 3.9 inches. With its slim handle and movable pocket clip, it’s a wonderful, high-end EDC or backup to your primary hunting knife.

No matter what kind of mechanism a folding knife uses, it’s never as strong as a solid piece of metal. Folders aren’t well-suited to more rigorous tasks like breaking down large game animals.

All the small moving parts that allow a folding knife to open and close get filled with gunk, too. Using one as a hunting knife will result in sticky blood and all kinds of other nastiness gumming up the works. That requires stripping the knife down to individual components, cleaning each one, and (worst of all) putting it all back together.

Key features of hunting knives 

Type of steel

A knife’s worth arguably begins and ends with the steel used to make the blade. Garbage in equals garbage out, as they say. Blade HQ has an informative resource for navigating the best blade steels, but there are a few basics you should understand whether or not you venture down the rabbit hole.

Every steel used in knife-making is judged by four metrics: edge retention, toughness, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening. Improving one often leads to sacrificing another. Improving everywhere involves a lot of costs that are passed on to the consumer.

None of the four metrics is inherently more important than another, so you’ll have to decide for yourself which takes priority in your buying decision. The knives on this list perform respectably in all areas but have very different characteristics to consider if you want to get into the weeds. 

Profile 

A knife’s profile is the shape of the blade when viewed from the side. Different profiles are used to perform different tasks. Most hunting knives use a drop point because of the profile’s strength and ability to perform most tasks well. It’s great for both slicing and puncturing and can be used to make very precise cuts.

Two of our picks use a straight profile. This old-school shape is simple (read: less expensive) to manufacture and has been used for thousands of years with great success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The tip itself is finer than that of a drop point, which technically allows more precision and less strength, though we didn’t notice a significant difference between the two in that regard.

Grind

The grind of a knife creates the actual cutting edge you use. Grind types are just as varied as blade profiles, and each has merits and drawbacks. Most hunting knives––and most of our picks––use a flat grind. This shape is versatile and strikes an excellent balance between strength and slicing ability. You’ve probably seen this type of grind on kitchen knives that need to delicately slice through food.

One of the more uncommon grinds we included is the scandi grind. This grind is rarely used and many knives that are labeled as having a scandi grind actually have more of a compound bevel. The scandi grind results in an incredibly strong blade, but it’s not great for slicing. We’ve prepared potatoes with one, and they didn’t cut so much as crack in half due to the blade’s thickness. Still, it’s an ancient shape that’s still worth using in certain situations. 

Handle material

Knifemakers probably get to exercise more freedom when building their handles than doing anything else. The materials at their disposal are practically limitless. Hardwoods like walnut, cherry, and birch are timeless, but there are also more synthetic materials than we can count. We’ve even seen manufacturers stack layers of canvas on top of one another, inject resin, and press them together under intense heat.

We love a pretty handle, but function does take priority in the world of hunting knives. Handle materials need to be durable and provide huge amounts of grip, even when wet. Maintenance-free materials like fiberglass-reinforced nylon are a great option. That being said, there are plenty of beautiful wood handles on this list that can last a lifetime if you take care of them properly.  

Pricing considerations of hunting knives

Budget

There are loads of hunting knives available for less than $100. These can certainly get the job done, especially if you’re hard on your gear, if your belongings seem to grow legs and walk away, or if you just aren’t ready to commit to a more expensive knife just yet. With occasional use, you probably won’t have any problems.

The more you ask your knife to do, the better it needs to be. Cost-cutting measures will have consequences over time, and usually at the worst possible moment. One of the biggest ways manufacturers save money on entry-level hunting knives is by using cheaper steel. Oftentimes, what’s marketed as stainless steel is barely capable of resisting rust under light stress. Edge retention will suffer, and more brittle steel might even break.  

Mid-range

We’re very happy with the selection of knives that’s currently available between $100 and $250. By increasing your budget to this level, you’ll gain access to better-quality steel and tighter quality control. This is where you’ll find legacy brands like Buck Knives and imported ones like Spyderco and Helle. Boutique knife makers like Cypress Creek Knives also cater to this market.

Here, you can expect steel that is well-known for creating durable, sharp blades. Wood will be finely shaped and sanded for a perfect fit in your hand. Sheathes will either be high-quality leather or some kind of seriously tough synthetic material. You can also expect a rock-solid warranty for this price. One of our knives even came with a hand-signed identification card from the maker.

Premium

The air is rare in the hunting knife world north of $250. Most of the time, these knives use the very best steel for the blade and rare materials for the handle. They’re equal parts tool and art. That may not be what you want to carry in the woods when you’re hunting in all kinds of inclement weather, but the option exists.

One premium knife we included was the Boker Integral Hunter. It’s priced just a shade above $250, and there’s no doubt where all that money goes. Calling the edge razor-sharp would be a disservice. The finish on the blade is almost too consistent to believe. And that lacewood handle is something special. 

How we chose our top picks

Above all else, we only recommend gear that does what it’s supposed to do. Every hunting knife on this list is well-built using quality materials. Most of the jobs hunting knives have to perform are best served by a fixed blade, so that’s where we focused our attention. Beyond that, we wanted to find knives that are satisfying to own. When you spend the kind of money it takes to get an heirloom-quality knife, it should have a sense of occasion about it. You should be excited to show it off and tell people about it. That’s why we hand-picked knives from all over the world that each tell a story.

FAQs on hunting knives

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. What should I expect to pay for a good hunting knife?

A: “Good” is a subjective term, but we recommend starting your search around the $100 mark. That’s where you’ll start to see better types of steel and manufacturing practices. The sky’s the limit, but our picks fall between $100 and $300.

Q. What makes a good hunting knife?

A: A good hunting knife is one that can get the job done and make your life easier. That might mean a precise blade that can delicately dress a dove in the field or a bushcraft knife that can just as easily break down an elk as split firewood. Buy what works for you, not someone else.

Q. How long should a hunting knife’s blade be?

A: A lot of knife reviewers seem to adhere to the Crocodile Dundee school of thought when it comes to hunting knives. There are times when making careful cuts with something small is more appropriate. We chose blades ranging from less than three inches up to five inches for this guide.

Q. Can I use a folding knife for hunting?

A: You sure can. Some of our favorite folding knives are made for hunting. Assuming size isn’t an issue, the main drawback is the amount of cleaning that’s required afterward. We’d rather not disassemble a folding knife to get it clean if we don’t have to.

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​​Scott Murdock is a Task & Purpose commerce writer and Marine Corps veteran. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. We independently evaluate gear by putting products in the hands of subject matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by Task & Purpose, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence. Learn more about our product review process.

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