Selecting the Best Skinning Knife For Hunting

Best Skinning Knife

When it comes to hunting, some tools are virtually indispensable. Naturally, that is true of a firearm and ammunition or a bow and arrows. Most hunters know this already. However, it is also quite true of having a good, sharp, dependable skinning knife. The knife is going to be used for removing the hide of the game that is brought down and quite likely is going to play a huge role in cleaning and field dressing the carcass as well. It only makes sense that it is worthwhile to put some effort into choosing the best skinning knife that is available.

Firstly, the table below features Good Game Hunting's top 5 choices when it comes to skinning knives.

BUCK  KNIVES NANO BANTAM

Buck Knives Nano Bantam

Best for Small Sized Game

$

BUCK KNIVES 120 GENERAL

Buck Knives 120 General

#1 Choice & Best for Large Game

$$$

ELK RIDGE ER-300CA

Elk Ridge ER-300CA

​Best for Medium sized Game 

$

OUTDOOR EDGE 2M WILD PACK

Outdoor Edge OE-WP-2M Wild Pack

Best Skinning Kit.

$$

GERBER MOMENT FIELD DRESS KIT

Moment

Best All-Round Kit.

$$

 

The Best Skinning Knife for the Game

One of the first considerations should be in selecting the knife that will be used on a particular kind of game. Each type of animal will have different traits as far as how the skin is attached to the meat and how easy or difficult it tends to be to remove the pelt. Each kind of game also varies in size compared to the next kind, presenting the hunter with different challenges.

For example, a knife with abroad eight to ten inch blade may be suitable for skinning a thousand pound elk, but could be totally wrong for skinning a five pound rabbit. For one thing, there is a huge difference in size between the elk and the rabbit. A large blade could cause a lot of damage to a small carcass, without tremendous care.

The opposite is just as true. A knife with a slender three to four inch blade might be great for skinning a rabbit, but it is likely to greatly increase the difficulty of skinning an elk. That isn’t to say that a hunter can’t use the large blade to skin the small game or a little blade to remove the hide from a large animal. If the knife is of good quality, it will probably work, regardless of the size of the animal. However, using the wrong knife can greatly increase the difficulty and amount of effort that is needed to get the job done. A knife that is the wrong one to use can also decrease the safety involved in the skinning.

Note: A rabbit was only used as an example of small game. Rabbits are easy to skin, since the pelt peels off easily, once just a few incisions are made.

Types of Game

Before determining which is the the best skinning knife, it is worthwhile to think about the type of animal that will need to be taken care of and processed. It is a little more complex than simply dividing the animals into small game and big game. There are animals that fall between the two extremes.

This means that when looking for the best skinning knife for small game, the hunter should have a good idea of what is meant by small game. This sounds like common sense, but it really isn’t. Small game would likely include squirrels, rabbits and hares. It could also include porcupines, beavers, muskrats, nutria and the like, though many people don’t consider these to be game animals. Still, the animals in the latter group might not necessarily be included as small game.

The reason is that some specimens can become so large that they aren’t really small game except for in the classification system that the game commission uses. The game commission classification system serves its purpose, but not as a basis for selecting the best skinning knife.

A large muskrat or beaver can approach the size of a javalina or wild peccary. It would be best to think of these animals as medium game because they aren’t small, but they aren’t large like adult deer, elk, moose, bears, sheep or goats. If the size of the animal is to be considered, it is best to make a triple designation of small, medium and large game.

By doing this, it’s easy to see that the best skinning knife for hogs will probably also work well for other medium sized game as well. The hide of a wild pig may be considerably thicker than that of a big beaver, but if the knife works well on the hog, it should also work well on the beaver.

Hunters should remember that this doesn’t mean that the best skinning knife for deer can’t also be used for slightly smaller game, like a javalina. Still, if the goal is to get the ‘best’ skinning knives, the best deer skinning knife isn’t necessarily the best for the medium sized game.

The good news is that a good buck skinning knife can be used for moose, elk, bears, mountain goats and sheep, though.

This might be arbitrary, but it is useful to think of small game as anything less than 15 pounds. Large game can be thought of as any game animal over 75 pounds. Medium game would be anything between 15 and 75 pounds. This isn’t exact, but it can give the hunter a better idea of what is being talked about here.

Types of Skinning Knives

By illustration, it has already been mentioned that knife blades can be slender, broad, short or long. It has also been pointed out that which is best tends to depend on the size of the game that is being skinned. This is only part of the picture, however. There are also different knife designs to consider.

As an example, there are fixed blade knives, folding knives and revolving blade knives. Each of these have useful traits. It is a good idea to look at the strong points individually.

Fixed Blade Skinning Knives

fixed blade knife

In a fixed blade knife, the knife is a solid piece with the handle attached to part of it. This gives the blade strength and rigidity. This allows a hunter to apply considerable cutting force with the blade. The blade isn’t likely to move forward, back or side to side as long as the person has a firm grip on the knife. A fixed blade knife tends to be safer when force is needed, as it doesn’t collapse easily. The weak point of this kind of knife is that it can be bulky at times. For safety, it should be sheathed when it isn’t in use and in thick brush, this increases the chance of catching or snagging on branches or other obstructions.

Folding Knives

best skinning knife - folding knifeFolding knives are exactly what the phrase implies. The blade of the knife folds neatly into the handle. This makes the knife safer to carry, since it can be slipped in a pocket when it is in a closed position. Folding knives do have a weakness, however. They usually have three parts; the blade, the base and the handle or grip. Since they are hinged so they can be closed, the knife is only as strong as the joint. If too much pressure is put on the tip of the knife, the hinge can give way. Also, sudden pressure on the back of the blade can cause it to snap shut. If hunter’s fingers happen to be in the way of the blade when it closes, the result can be nasty cuts.

Revolving or Swingblade Knives

A revolving knife is really two knives in one. One part of the blade is made like a regular knife blade and the other part has a different blade for a different purpose. For instance, it can be a saw, which is handy for cutting through bones and joints. The blade is attached to the handle by means of a locking bolt or similar. This allows the blade to pivot so one blade or the other will be exposed for use, while the other blade is contained within the handle. While this knife can be tremendously useful, it is normally not as strong, stable or safe as fixed blades and folding knives. Additionally, it presents the same issues with storage as is posed by the fixed blade.

The kind of knife that is best also depends on where a person is hunting and what kind of game they are going after. Each has strong points that can outweigh the weak points.

Blade Styles

There can be considerable differences in the shape of the knife, too. For instance, some skinning knives have a relatively straight back and a gently curving blade. With others, such as the Green River Sheep Skinner,  the back of the knife has a bow instead of being straight. The cutting edge also doesn’t have as much of a curve as many other skinning knives. The blade is normally about five inches long, which is small enough to fit into the space in game that is at the light end of large game.

Another knife that tends to be somewhat different in appearance is the Shakaulu Skinner. This is a fixed blade, but the edge is rounded and made more like the edge of an axe, only smaller. This knife is used with sort of a rolling motion of the wrist while skinning. The knife also features a gut hook, which is a backward facing narrow curve. The inside edge is sharp. This allows a hunter to make a small incision near the vent, then insert the hook and pull it up the middle of the carcass. Since the hook isn’t large, it slices through the hide without puncturing the membrane that separates the skin from the belly cavity.

Caping Knives

There are also caping knives, which are designed to skin around the shoulders of animals, usually like deer. The blade usually isn’t very long, but it is heavy duty enough that it can even be used to remove the head of a deer or elk.

Drop Point, Spear Point, & Clip Point Knives

The knives can be drop point, spear point or clip point, too.

In a drop point knife, the back of the blade drops all the way from the base of the blade to the tip. This adds strength to the blade and allows more leverage to be used. These knives also typically have a broad blade.

Spear point knives are symmetrical in shape, top and bottom. Normally, they are also double edged.  Most throwing knives are spear point knives and these knives can be used to cut either upwards or downwards.

The back of clip point knives is straight from the hilt to a point that is about a third of the length of the knife, then it curves down toward the tip. Sometimes this is a straight taper, but most often it is a concave curve. The pitch of the curve can be variable, from gentle to sharp, but the idea is that the blade should allow for deeper penetration on the initial cut.

Clip point knives are among the most popular in deer and other big game hunting. Many hunters prefer this style for their all-purpose deer knives, which are used for gutting, skinning and meat cutting operations.

What to Look for in a Skinning Knife

Armed with all of this information, what do you look for when you are trying to select the best skinning knife? Without getting into specifics other than those that have already been given, look for a knife that is the right length, the most durable, with a blade that holds an edge for a long time, but that is also comfortable to use. Try to avoid thinking that this is asking too much, because it isn’t.

Right Blade Length

How long the blade is on the skinning knife will be determined by the game that is being hunted, as previously mentioned. A blade that is five to seven inches long should suffice for big game. One that is three or four inches long should work well with medium game. One that is two or three inches in length may be all that is necessary for small game.

Durable

As far as durability, this is hard to judge how long the knife will last just by looking. However, some brands tend to make good, durable knives. Customer reviews are also excellent sources of information on how well the knife holds up. Checking what others have said and if they have had to purchase a new one or have it returned is usually a good indicator that that particular knife isn’t durable.

One of the best ways to ensure you get a durable knife is by sticking to the well known brands with a reputation for crafting quality knives. The brands mentioned in the next section are all fantastic picks and are known for being durable and long lasting.

Sharpness

The best skinning knife will be one that doesn’t need to be continually sharpened. It needs to hold its edge long enough to skin the animal that is brought down. For instance, if you just brought down a nice buck, you don’t want to pause in the middle of skinning it just to sharpen the knife, even if it is practical to do so. If you need to, there is a very good chance that the knife wouldn’t qualify as the best deer skinning knife available.

The Best Skinning Knives and Brand Names

Now that you have an idea of what to look for in order to select the best small game skinning knife, deer skinning knife, big game skinning knife and so forth, it is time to start looking at the brands that are available.

There are many brands that are on the market and quite a few of them make good to excellent hunting and skinning knives. It is worthwhile to purchase knives from a quality brand that is well known for making a quality product. Doing this will eliminate a lot of the guesswork in regard to how durable the knife is going to be, how long it will hold an edge and the level of quality that can be expected when you buy the knife.

Here are some of the best manufacturers, though it should be noted that this is by no means all of the good brand names out there. These are simply the ones that are considered to be among the cream of the crop in knives.

Buck Knives

This well known and highly thought of knife brand got its beginning over a hundred years ago. It was back in 1907 when a young man named Hoyt Buck was working as the apprentice to a blacksmith. He wanted to come up with a better method for tempering steal so the blade would hold its edge longer. He not only succeeded, his knives became well known for their craftsmanship and durability. Hoyt’s son, Al, followed in Hoyt’s footsteps by designing a folding knife that had a blade that locked into place. In doing so, this set a standard that is now industry wide.

People who buy a Buck knife know that they are getting a quality made blade. The company also stands firmly behind everything they sell. This is so true that they offer a lifetime warranty on every knife they sell. They guarantee that every knife is free of defects in both the material and the craftsmanship and will repair or replace any knife that has any such defects. Thus, they are practically guaranteeing that theirs are among the best skinning knives available anywhere.

Buck Knives 120 General – #1 Pick  

Best Big Game Skinning Knife

Buck Knives 120

As far as I’m concerned, as a point of personal opinion, Buck produces the best buck skinning knife on the market today. It is also the best fixed blade skinning knife and the best elk skinning knife. Called the 120 General, this is a clip point knife with a blade that is just over seven inches long. Since it is a clip point knife, the blade is slender from the back to the blade and it tapers to a fine point. This makes the blade narrow enough to reach into tight places. The 120 General also holds an edge exceptionally well, so it rarely needs to be sharpened, under average use. It is also extremely durable.

It is a little more expensive than many other good knives, at a bit over $130, but this is one that has the potential to last for decades, maybe even longer.

On a scale of one to five, I’d rate this knife a 5 as the best knife for skinning big game.

Buck Knives Nano Bantam 

Best Small Game Skinning Knife

Buck Knives Nano Bantam best small game skinning knife

Buck also makes a knife called the Nano Bantam Knife that I’d consider to be my favorite for skinning small game. This is also a drop point knife, but it is a folding knife and the blade is a little less than two inches long. The blade locks into place and the Nano Bantam holds an edge for a long time. This knife is nearly ideal for small game as small as a squirrel. The knife doesn’t even weigh much. It is only a tiny bit more than a third of a pound, which makes it lightweight, yet heavy enough to get the job done with ease.

I would rate this as a 4.5. The only reason I wouldn’t rate it with perfect marks is my personal preference for fixed blade knives. Taking that into consideration, my opinion is that this is the best folding blade knife for small game.

Elk Ridge Knives

The Elk Ridge knives are definitely good knives and they produce some of the best skinning knives a person can find. They may not have the history that Buck knives have, but they have a very large selection of different knives and styles, from folding pocket knives to fixed blade deer and elk knives to tactical knives. Elk Ridge produces some excellent survival knives, including knives that have both a gut hook and a fire starter.

Elk Ridge ER-300CA 

Best Medium Game Skinning Knife Kit

Elk Ridge ER-300CA

Elk Ridge produces my favorite skinning knife kit for medium sized game. The kit is the ER-300CA and it is a two piece set. One knife is straight edge and has a seven inch blade. The other knife has a gut hook blade and the knife is about a half inch shorter than the straight edge knife. I believe this to be the best skinning knife for under 100 dollars, though it is actually two knives. In fact, the set sells for less than $20. If you are looking for the best skinning knife and also the least expensive, high quality skinning knife, this is a kit worth considering. I would give this one a rating of 4. The only reason I don’t rate it a 5 is because the durability doesn’t match that of many other knives. However, the low price may make up for that.

Outdoor Edge

A hunter could easily get carried away at the selection of hunting knives offered by Outdoor Edge. They have swing blade knives that have one blade for gutting and another for skinning. For the person who prefers a combination set, they have it. If folding knives are your preference, they have those as well. Outdoor Edge even offers butcher kits and other kits that are ideal for the hunter.

Outdoor Edge OE-WP-2M Wild Pack 

Best Full-Skinning Kit

Outdoor Edge OE-WP-2M Wild Pack

Outdoor Edge makes a really nice full skinning kit. It is the OE-WP-2M Wild-Pack. This is more than a skinning kit, it is a full kit for processing deer and the like.

The set is in a carrying case and has a gut hook skinning knife, caping knife, boning knife, rib spreader, bone saw, sharpener and it even comes with a pair of gloves. This is a great set for the price. For a full kit, this one also rates a 5.

Gerber Knives

Gerber is one of the most trusted names in the knife making business. They started out as a small company named Gerber Legendary Knives that manufactured handmade cutlery sets in 1939, just prior to WWII. In just a couple decades, they were known for the quality of their work and of their knives. The company has greatly expanded since then and now produces many other tools that a outdoorsman might want or need. However, they are still a major name in hunting and skinning knives.

Gerber Moment Field Dress Kit 

Best All Game Skinning Kit

Gerber Moment Field Dress Kit

One of my favorites by Gerber is the Moment Field Dress Kit. This kit contains both a large and a small knife. This kit is great for the person who wants to hunt both large and small game.

Priced at well under $100, it is a good bargain for people who hunt many different kinds of game. This would have to be considered as one of the best skinning kits around. For portability and what it is designed for, this one gets a rating of 5.

Conclusion

Quite a bit goes into selecting the best skinning knife, if you want to be a serious hunter. Understanding the key points isn’t difficult. Understanding a bit about the knife is the first part and knowing what to look for is the second. Having a good idea of some of the top brands and what they have to offer can help you not only select the right skinning knife to fit your needs, it also gives you a point for comparison. Armed with this information, you should have no problem selecting the best skinning knife for you, and one you can be comfortable with for a very long time to come.

Images by James Case and Carter Cuttlery

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6 Comments

  1. Will
    October 31, 2015 at 4:46 am

    Some great choices here. I personally like the Kershaw 1080 OR. It’s a fixed blade which in my opinion is always better and it tends to get the job done for me.

    • Rex Trulove
      Rex Trulove
      October 31, 2015 at 5:49 am

      Hi, Will. Thank you for the comment. The Kershaw 1080 OR is a great little light-weight knife, particularly for small game. The short blade makes it great for getting into small places. Do you use this skinning knife for medium or large game, or just for small game? I’m mostly just curious.

  2. Marin
    Marin
    October 31, 2015 at 5:10 am

    This is a great buyers guide Rex! Thanks for all the handy tips on what to look for in a skinning knife

    • Rex Trulove
      Rex Trulove
      October 31, 2015 at 5:54 am

      You are quite welcome, Marin. I shudder to think what I’d do after bringing down a good sized buck, if I didn’t have a good knife with me. I should say that it has happened when I was much younger and it turned a half hour task into one that took many times longer. Unfortunately, while my parents taught me how to select the rifle that was right for me, they didn’t teach me how to select the best skinning knife. There were also no guides available back then, unless a person wanted to spend quite a bit of money on a book.

      I’m thankful if this guide helps hunters avoid some of the mistakes I made in my youth, in regard to knife selection.

  3. Jess
    Jess
    November 5, 2015 at 1:03 am

    Great article! The Nano Bantam you have mentioned is one of my favorites as it’s great for small game, easy and safe to carry around.

    • Rex Trulove
      Rex Trulove
      November 5, 2015 at 1:15 am

      Thank you for the comment, Jess! Yes, this is a great knife for small game. I love the fact that it weighs so little, yet is heavy enough to get the job done with ease. I appreciate your testimony. Thank you!