The Best Skinning Knife (Plus a Few Others)
For deer hunters and survivalists alike, the thrill of a successful hunt is immediately followed by the difficult necessity of dressing and cleaning in the field. One of the most laborious parts of this process is skinning the game, in which having the best skinning knife for the job can be the difference between working for minutes and working for hours.
There are a huge variety of skinning knives on the market today thanks to the differences in types of game and hunters’ preferences and budgets, which can make finding the right knife for your hunt seem overwhelming. We’ll focus on finding the best skinning knife for deer and other game by highlighting the factors that differentiate skinning knives and reviewing seven high-quality knives. If skinning knives aren't for you - check out these Bowie Knives!
Key Features of Skinning Knives?
One of the first-order factors to take into account when choosing a skinning knife is that the length of the knife you use needs to roughly match the size of the game that you are hunting. For example, a longer knife with a blade greater than five inches long is appropriate for elk and moose, which have huge surface areas of hide, while deer are more appropriately skinned with a four- to five-inch blade. Having a secondary skinning knife that is shorter than your primary knife can also be helpful for cleaning difficult-to-access areas of the skin.
After length, one of the main features differentiating skinning knives from one another is the design, or shape, of the blade. Skinning knives can be divided into four different designs: drop points, clip points, trailing points, and Nessmuks.
Drop point and clip point blades are both designed such that the tip of the blade is below the spine of the blade. These knives typically have a straight or slightly curved back that then bows out in a convex curve – a drop point design – or a concave curve – a clip point – to the lowered tip. These designs are popular among new hunters and for skinning animals like deer, the hides of which are only loosely attached to the muscle below, because having the tip near the center of the blade affords more control over the tip when skinning. However, this control can come at a cost of making it difficult to use the tip of the blade to access more finely attached hide, as in the case of game like wild hogs.
Trailing points follow the same general design as clip points except that the concave curve to the tip ascends so that the blade tip is higher than the spine. Nessmuks are a hybrid design, featuring a convex curve that brings the blade above the lower portion of the spine, but then descends so that the tip is in line with the spine. Both of these blade designs provide a longer cutting edge with lower tip precision, which makes them most suitable for larger game like elk.
The grind of the blade affects both its sharpness and the strength and durability of the blade. The most common grind used by deer hunters is a hollow grind, which leaves the thinnest possible cutting edge along the blade and thus allows you to keep the blade extremely sharp for cutting through loosely attached hide. On the other hand, hollow grinds tend to dull quickly, so a common alternative grind is the flat grind. Flat grinding leaves a larger and duller cutting area, which will not work as fast in skinning a deer as a hollow grind but will not require sharpening halfway through the process.
THE BEST SKINNING KNIFE
This lightweight, 10-inch Buck Knife features a razor-sharp 4 3/4-inch blade that is able to easily glide through deer hide thanks to the hollow grind on the blade. Although the blade is designed as a tailing point, this is in keeping with the price and quality of the rest of the knife – it is not designed for beginners, but is rather a high-quality skinning knife for the outdoorsman practiced in skinning game. The brass finger guard serves its purpose well while also adding balance to the knife, and the full-tang construction ensures that the knife will hold up when skinning large or tough game.
The knife is constructed with a rosewood handle that adds to its elegant appearance and is ergonomic to grip. It also comes with a leather sheath for easy carrying within or on the outside of a pack. Another advantage to this knife is that it comes with Buck’s lifetime guarantee, ensuring that the relatively high price of this knife means that it will last forever.
GREAT SECONDARY FOLDING KNIFE
This modestly priced skinning knife from Buck Knives features a relatively short 3 ¾-inch 420HC steel blade with a drop clip design. The hollow grind provides a razor-sharp edge, which holds relatively well as you work thanks to the quality of the steel and the design of the edge. The drop clip adds balance to the knife and, combined with the short length, makes this knife very easy to control for delicate skinning work. Note that there is no finger guard on this knife, so watch yourself. However, the woodgrain handle is easy to grip and the full-tang design ensures that the knife will not fail on you while dressing game.
The knife is foldable with an easy to activate latch mechanism and takes up only a sparing 4 7/8 inches when closed, which makes it easy to keep this knife in your pocket so it is available when you need it. It also comes with a leather sheath to attach it to your belt as well as Buck Knives’ lifetime warranty.
This knife doesn’t look like any traditional hunting or skinning knife, but applies the theory behind X-Acto knives to skinning. The blade is an extremely short 2 ¾ inches, with a hollow grind for razor sharpness that dulls relatively quickly – at which point the blade can be removed and quickly replaced with a fresh blade. This eliminates issues with caked-on blood, fat, and fur that come with lifetime skinning knives as well as makes it easy to skin multiple animals in the field without constantly stopping to sharpen the edge.
The knife itself consists primarily of the handle, which is made of military-grade zytel black plastic that is extraordinarily grippy compared to wooden knife handles. The knife is extremely light, which makes it easy to carry although can reduce the usability of the knife for tougher game, especially since the knife itself has little in the way of a backbone. For hunters willing to carry a small bone saw, however, this skinning knife can do nearly everything else, making it perfect for extended trips into the backcountry.
Victorinox is a well-known brand when it comes to knives and the six-inch blade on this skinning knife lives up to their reputation for quality. The grind of the knife is extremely sharp and easy to maintain, although it also lasts significantly longer when skinning small game than comparable hollow-ground knives. The blade has a very pronounced tailing point design, which combined with the extended length of the blade can get in the way when trying to use the tip to access particularly difficult parts of your game. However, for making long, smooth cuts on the flanks of a deer or when skinning an elk, these design characteristics can make the work go extremely quickly.
One of the major downsides of this knife is that it does not come with a sheath of any kind (reflected in the price I would venture), which means that you will need to fashion a custom sheath in order to attach it to your belt or bring it safely into the backcountry. Also note that the finger guard is minimal, which makes it relatively easy to slip when cutting through particularly difficult portions of hide.
This uniquely designed hunting knife combines a skinning and gutting knife into a single unit via an ingenious folding design. When opened to its normal position, the 3.6-inch skinning blade is exposed. However, the skinning blade can be folded down to reveal a 3.2-inch gutting blade on the opposite end of the spine.
This two-in-one design does come at a small cost for skinning, however. The skinning blade is designed with the tip level with the spine, which makes it difficult to control the point without adding cutting surface as in the case of a trailing point design. Thus, the available skinning area is extremely small for deer and other moderately-sized game. The gutting blade is also relatively short, although it can be useful for small game like rabbits and fish.
That said, this blade is extremely lightweight and also comes with a small saw on the spine of the skinning blade to eliminate the need for carrying an additional bone saw into the backcountry. The rubberized handle is easy to grip without slipping a finger onto the blade, and the AUS8 stainless steel used in construction of both the skinning and gutting blades ensures that this knife will stand up to long-term use.
This skinning knife from Benchmade comes at a premium cost thanks to the quality of the steel and construction found throughout the knife. The blade is crafted from CPM-S30V stainless steel, which is resistant to corrosion and coated-blood as well as holds its sharp edge extremely well compared to similar skinning knives. The wood handle is also improved upon, treated to make it more resistant to extreme temperatures and wet conditions so that it can be safely used in any situation and is grippy even when wet.
The clip point design of this blade is muted, leaving the tip at nearly the same level as the spine of the blade, which ultimately decreases the surface area available for skinning. However, at 4.2 inches, the blade is plenty long for moderately-sized game such as deer and the clip point improves the overall balance of the knife in your hands.
The blade also comes with a kydex sheath, although the sheath is somewhat loose around the knife and requires slight modifications to attain the perfect fit.
This game hook from Ka-Bar differs from traditional skinning knives in that it is designed primarily for gutting game rather than cleanly removing hide. The blade has a short 2 ¾-inch cutting edge for skinning with a slight tailing point to make the most of the cutting surface, while the reverse side of the blade is curved into a sharp hook that is easily able to fit into the cavities of most moderately sized game. The blade is made from 420HC stainless steel, which offers excellent durability although the edge does need to be sharpened relatively frequently while dressing a kill.
The leather handle on this knife gives it an elegant appearance and is extremely comfortable to hold. Plus, the finger guard is substantial enough that there is little chance of slipping when working around hard-to-reach areas. The only downside to the handle is that the leather can fray and wear after several years of use in the backcountry. While the knife also comes with a leather sheath, this too is prone to wear and tear and has a relatively limited lifespan if working in adverse weather conditions.
Skinning Knives are Great for Preppers, Hunters, Outdoorsman!
Bottom Line - Carrying the best skinning knife for the hunt can make a significant difference in how long it takes to dress your kill. While there are a huge variety of skinning knives on the market today, understanding what differentiates these knives and what type of knife you need can make it easier to find the right knife for your next hunt.