Knives were a key part of our survival and success through time, especially when survival hinged on hunting and preparing food. How we use knives today comes down to more modern, albeit no less important, tasks. Still, one of the most primal and common uses remains hunting. Today’s topic will focus on the definition and uses of a hunting knife. We’ll even include some of our favorite hunting blades from the Vault. 

Defining a Hunting Knife

Despite the name, most hunting knives are not generally used for physically “hunting” game – except for rare instances – and focus more on what happens after the hunt. On a successful hunt that ends with game on the ground, the animal must be cleaned, skinned, and processed, often in the field. That’s where a basic blade, usually with a single sharpened edge, comes into play. Some include a gut hook design while others exhibit a more curved blade designed for skinning. 

Various survival knives on a coat
Hunting knives can cross over into field and survival blades, like these, but many are much more specialized. (Photo: Paul Peterson/

General-purpose camp knives, field knives, or even small machetes tend to be more multi-purpose tools used for clearing small brush, preparing a campsite, making fire, and serving other survival needs. Hunting knives can be put to many of these same tasks, but the brunt of their job centers around food preparation. 

What Does a Hunting Knife Look Like?

Just as there are many types of hunting – from big game to small and backcountry to back door – so it is with hunting knives. There are do-all hunting knives and game-specific ones. These blades can be fixed or folding. Some modern designs have a replaceable blade, though most are meant to be sharpened. 

Hunting knife blades may be as compact as 2.5 to 3.5 inches for small game. Big game blades will likely be in the 4- to 5.5-inch range. Experienced hunters may value a wide, short, curved-tip skinner knife for its named purpose and a separate longer knife with something like a clip or drop point for rougher field-butchery tasks. Hunters who do field butchery often opt for a prepacked knife set.

The bottom line is this. A hunting knife must have the metrics and design to accomplish its job of helping a hunter succeed in the field, from the initial harvest through the final processing of the game animal. Hunting knives are sturdy, wearable or packable, and capable. They often show off special features like a gut hook for opening the body cavity without puncturing the insides or a sawback for splitting bones. 

Common Types of Hunting Knives and Blade Types

Fixed: These are generally the most robust of the lot, being built of one piece of steel with a handle attached. They can have a variety of blade styles, including clip point, drop point, skinner, gut hook, and more. 

Folding: These blades do just what the name suggests – They fold up to be more compact. Though they’re generally not as hearty as a fixed blade, folders take up much less space and often lock open securely. They also feature all the same types of blades, and some modern offerings even have replaceable blades. 

Hunting Sets: Hunting with the right gear makes everything much easier. To that end, having the correct knife for the task at hand lends itself to the best results. Hunting knife sets can mean anything from a two-piece set with a skinner and a hunter to a full kit of three to 10 tools. 

Skinning Blade: While almost any type of hunting knife can be used to skin an animal, a skinning blade has a more rounded edge that guards against puncturing the hide. Many hunters want to keep the animal’s hide for tanning and later use, so removing it neatly is important. Most processing kits included a dedicated skinner, allowing the hunter to quickly separate the carcass and hide. 

Gut Hook: Though not one of the glamorous hunting tasks, opening the body cavity to remove the entrails must be done. A blade with a gut hook makes that job quicker and neater. The curved top hook and small, sharpened blade of a gut hook is made to zip the belly open without puncturing the insides. 

Saw Back: Many survival knives and camp knives incorporate a sawback design, and some fixed blades do as well. The sawback is exactly what the name suggests. It’s a series of serrations or saw kerfs along the top edge of a knife that are designed for light sawing tasks and ready to take on wood and bone alike. 

Glock field knife on a uniform
Some knives, like this Glock Field Knife, feature a sawback. Though, this blade is not really designed for skinning or cleaning game. (Photo: Chris Eger/
assorted knives on a log
The variety of hunting and survival blades is as broad as the range of uses you might have in the field. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Bone Saw: While a bone saw is not an actual knife, it is often included in hunting kits. Designed for quickly splitting bone like the pelvis or breastbone, a bone saw makes the cleaning and breakdown of the animal quick and easy. 

Here are some of our top picks for hunting knives at

CRKT Hunt’N Fisch

Not all hunting knives are specific to big game. In fact, small game knives are treasured in the outdoor world. With an overall length of only 7.25 inches, CRKT’s Hunt’N Fisch essentially bridges the gap between a traditional bird-and-trout style and a standard all-around hunter. Features like ornate rivet pins, spine jimping, and a heartfelt backstory involving late designer Larry Fischer add to the knife’s appeal. In addition, the leather sheath is unique. Instead of sitting vertically, it runs horizontally through the belt loops, keeping the compact blade out of the way but at the ready. 

Ka-Bar Hunter

Ka-Bar is a knife company with a rich history of wartime and survival use, but they also produce some classic and capable hunting blades. The Ka-Bar Hunter is one of them. With a 4-inch fixed blade and stacked leather handle, this traditional hunting knife gets the job done on big game. It’s also hearty enough to handle survival and camp tasks should the need arise. An included leather sheath rounds out the Ka-Bar Hunter rig. For smaller-game hunters, the similarly built albeit smaller-statured Ka-Bar Little Finn is a great choice. 


HME Game Processing Kit

Many hunters opt for a single knife. Others, especially those setting up a camp and planning on more extensive processing, choose an all-in-one kit for their team of wild game processors. Though there are many options on the market, HME’s eight-piece kit is intended to be an affordable yet complete butchery kit for the casual hunter. It stocks four fixed-blade knives, including a butcher, boning, gut hook, and skinner knife, as well as a bone saw. Packed in a hard-sided carry case, this one keeps all the essentials in one place and even contains a sharpener and rib spreader. 

Browning Buckmark Hunter

From the brand known for firearms, Browning’s Buckmark Hunter pair of blades represents both major styles of hunting knives. One is a compact fixed-blade hunting knife, which serves as an example of a general fixed-blade hunting knife. It features a 3 1/8-inch stainless blade of the drop-point style with a full tang, two-tone hardwood handle and leather belt sheath. The other is a folder with a 3-inch blade, drop-point design, and pocket/belt clip in lieu of a sheath. Browning-branded hunting knives are some of the most affordable, attractive options for seasonal hunters. 



Havalon Replaceable Blades

Modern hunting knives have taken on a different look with companies like Havalon that offer replaceable blades. The Quick-Change II Talon system even includes the handle and three blade styles: 5-inch filet, 3-inch semi serrated, and 3-inch gut hook. If a blade dulls or breaks, Havalon sells plenty of replacements, and some are included with most kits. 

Outdoor Edge SwingBlade

While most Outdoor Edge knives are known for their replaceable blade design, the SwingBlade offers an entirely different style. The Outdoor Edge SwingBlade doesn’t quite fit into either the fixed or folding variety. Instead, it’s a unique tool that morphs from a 3.2-inch drop-point skinner to a 3.6-inch gutter with the push of a button. The blade essentially reverses and locks into place. It features a rubberized Kraton handle – in black, orange, or blaze pink colors – and ships with a nylon belt sheath. Hunters who appreciate the SwingBlade’s engineering but prefer the option of swapping dull blades rather than sharpening will want to opt for the Razor Pro with its replaceable skinner blades. 

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