Derrek Sigler 04.29.21
A wise man once told me when I was much younger than I am now, that one should never, ever venture into the wilds without a good knife. He went on to add that anyone who goes hunting must carry a knife – Period. That was some pretty sage advice and I have taken it to heart. But what makes a good hunting knife? There are lots of little things that go into it. Construction, fit, balance and finish are all key, as well as how the knife fits you personally. There are lots of knives out there, but we wanted to share what we feel are the best hunting knives to carry afield.
Sadly, there are knives that would have made this list if the company was still in business. Being a Michigan native, I always wanted a true Marble’s knife. You know, one of the classic knives handmade in Gladstone, Michigan. Yes, there are “Marble’s” knives for sale, but they run around $30, and are not made in the U.S. Part of what makes a hunting knife so great is the connection to our hunting traditions. Luckily, there are many new hunting knives that you can create new traditions with.
Cover images: Shutterstock/VZWER
Table of Contents
2. Ontario Knife Company Hunt Plus – Budget Pick
I picked up the drop point version of these knives and I have to admit, it’s a darn nice hunting knife. Ontario Knife Company took the technology from one of their most popular survival knives and brought it into the hunting area. These knives are American made and come with a stainless steel blade, skeletal tang and rubber compound handle. The four-inch blade has a hardness rating of 55-57HRC and for me, it holds an edge as good as other, more expensive hunting knives. It comes with a simple nylon sheath and retails for under $60. I’ve found them as low as $35, too, which is a steal on a knife of this quality.
Pros/A stellar knife with a solid handle and blade for a killer price
Cons/I haven’t really found one yet
Bottom Line/If you want a really good hunting knife that you don’t have to pay a ton for, you owe it to yourself to try one of these knives
3. Buck Knives 119 Special Knife – Classic Pick
The Buck 119 has been around for decades and is one of the classic hunting knives treasured by many. In fact, I had one that was handed down to me by my father. I say had because it was stolen from my truck. These knives have the classic clip-point blade design and the black resin handle that buck has used for some time. The knife is made from 420HC stainless steel and is made in the U.S. It may be the nostalgia in me, but when I hear the name “Buck Knives,” this is the knife that comes to mind. I know I’m not the only one, too. I’m making this my Classic pick because it’s been around for years and you can get it for around $65. That’s really good for a high-quality, American-made hunting knife.
Pros/Classic clip-point blade and a comfortable handle
Cons/I found the balance to not be quite as good as other hunting knives
Bottom Line/A great, American-made classic hunting knife
4. CRKT Homefront – Best Folding Knife
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) is a unique company. They utilize custom knife makers and designers from across the globe and help them produce and market their custom knives. It’s very cool to see the knives these creative bladesmiths come up with. If you are into knives much, you know the name Ken Onion. He designed the CRKT Homefront and it is my favorite folding knife for hunting. I first played with this knife at SHOT show. What makes it so cool is the field strip. One thing I generally dislike about folding knives for hunting is that blood and “stuff” finds its way into the mechanism and hard to reach places. This knife lets you field strip the knife down to the two sides of the handle and the blade in just seconds. This is a liner-lock folder with an aluminum handle and a stellar AUS 8 steel blade. You can find these for under $100, and you’ll like it as much or more than I do.
Pros/Field strips for easy cleaning, amazing blade steel
Cons/As folding knives go, there are no cons to this one
Bottom Line/A superb hunting knife that holds and edge and cleans easier than any folder out there
5. Outdoor Edge Razor Lite – Best Replaceable Blades
Hunting knives with replaceable razor-blade style blades have become quite popular in the hunting crowd. When the knife dulls, you simply drop out the blade and pop in a new one for instant sharp knife. For the money, I’m really fond of the Razor Lite from Outdoor Edge. Outdoor Edge has been in the business of making quality hunting knives for a long time. They designed a knife with blades that change safely and easily at the push of a button. The black-oxide coated blade holder supports the razor-blade for the strength of a regular knife. The 3.5-inch Japanese-made 420J2 stainless razor-blades are heat treated and hand-finished for amazing sharpness. The knife has a rubberized handle and comes in a camo nylon sheath. The Razor Lite comes with 6 replacement blades and you can get more when you need to.
Pros/Easy, push-button blade replacement
Cons/More moving parts means more cleaning when you’re done.
Bottom Line/As the popularity of replaceable blade knives grows, this will be one that sticks around.
6. Gerber Myth – Best Combo
This is another one of those knives that you should really try for yourself. I cannot tell you how many times people have checked out my Gerber Myth set. This knife is actually two knives in one sheath. The knives are both made with a full tang high-carbon stainless steel blade with a soft, rubberized handle that helps reduce the chances of slippage when you’re field dressing game. The main knife has a wide-gap gut hook that makes quick work of the animal. The smaller caping-style knife makes precision work very easy. It comes in handy when you have to do things like skinning and caping. Both fit snugly in the composite sheath that has a velcro strap for added insurance. There is a sharpener built into the sheath as well. I’ve had friends go out and buy this set for themselves and as gifts for family members. I think that should tell you just how good these hunting knives are.
Pros/Very sharp knife set that can handle everything you’d need in a hunting scenario
Cons/Sharpening the gut hook can be tricky
Bottom Line/An amazing hunting knife set that can do it all
The difference in steel
The knife makers use different steel in the knives they produce and it plays a huge role in performance and cost. Quite often when you see a truly high-end knife, the accompanying price tag is due to the steel used to craft the blade. Various tool steels are the premium steels used in the highest quality hunting knives. These precision steels hold an edge extremely well, and allow the knife makers to create some very cool things. When looking at the Rockwell hardness scale, the tool steel types fall into the 55-57 range most often, which is considered the sweet spot. This means the steel is extremely durable, but usable. They will hold an edge, but also allow you to resharpen when needed. Steel types that are harder can be harder to sharpen, but the edge is usually extremely durable.
Stainless steel is pretty popular, especially with mid-range knives. It is simply carbon steel with chromium added to resist rust. These types of blades will resist rusting, but often the steel becomes softer, making edge retention not so great. Carbon steel is considered very tough and has excellent durability and the ability to sharpen and resharpen. The biggest trade-off is corrosion resistance. If you don’t clean off your carbon steel hunting knife, it’s going to rust.
How we evaluate hunting knives
There are a couple of us who talk about knives on this site often, and we each have our own ways of evaluating them. I cover most of the hunting knives and I have my own way of testing them out.
The first thing I do is evaluate the sharpness direct from the factory. There are several ways you could do this, but since these are hunting knives, I cut meat and other food. If a blade will slice a raw steak with one, unpressured pass, you know it is sharp. You can also slice a tomato.
Next up, I’ll treat it like a hunting knife. That means I’ll drop it in the dirt, throw it in the back of the truck. I’ll get it messy and forget to clean it for a few days. All the types of things that usually happen with hunting knives around my house.
Next up, I sharpen them. I have to be able to get a good edge and without much work.
I also look at the handle and how well the balance is. The grip needs to feel right too. I tend to gravitate toward rubberized grips for hunting knives simply because I’ve had a slip and cut before, and it sucks when you’re in the field. My wife laughs at me too, because I usually take 4-5 knives with me hunting, so in the event I get a deer, I can field test as many as possible. Oh, the life of a writer.
What do I look for in a hunting knife?
You will want a hunting knife that first, fits your budget, and secondly, holds an edge so you can completely field dress your game. I also suggest getting one with good balance and a firm grip.
What is the best hunting knife?
It’s all a matter of personal opinion. If budget is no problem, look at Benchmade, CRKT and other high-end brands for a knife with great steel and the features you want. For a budget pick, take a good look at OKC and Gerber hunting knives. You won’t be disappointed.
What is the sharpest hunting knife?
For a normal knife, look for the highest quality steel, as it will hold the best edge. The Replaceable blade knives, like the Outdoor Edge Razor Lite, are extremely sharp and are likely the sharpest right out of the box.
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