Best Skinning Knives for Deer and Elk
The only thing better than having a beautiful well-made knife is having a knife that is perfect for the intended job. In this article we outline how to choose the best skinning knife.
Specifically, we will share information about the best knife for skinning deer and other large game. Of course, each of our recommendations would make great skinning knives for other sized game, but for smaller game we might add or remove some knives from this list.
We recommend you read through the entire article before deciding on a knife. But for those that want to cut straight to the point, below is a summary of our recommendations.
|Name||Blade Length||Weight||Blade Material||Notes||Image||Check Price|
|Buck Knives Omni Hunter||4″||7.8 oz||420HC||High quality, trusted brand, overall great knife!||
|Benchmade – Saddle Mountain Skinner||4.17″||4.7oz||CPM-S30V||Our favorite, great all around skinning knife||
|Cold Steel Mini Tac Skinner||3.375″||2.1oz||AUS8||Unique design which many will love||
|CRKT Homefront||3.5″||4.8oz||AUS8||Ability to strip down for cleaning is a plus for this folder||
|SOG Huntspoint||3.6″||3.7oz||AUS8||Runner up, we love this knife||
|Havalon Piranta Z Skinning Knife||2.75||SS||Replaceable blade folder||
|Outdoor Element Phoenix Talon||3.22″||7.7oz||9cr18||Innovative features and design. Availability TBD||
What you should look for in a skinning knife
For skinning, you want to avoid blades that have distinct points. The points can snag and spear the flesh of the deer.
Dagger style blades are great for defense, to impress your friends, or if you are a serious knife fighter, but for skinning deer and other game you want a blade with smooth lines and plenty of “belly”.
Recommended blade types for skinning
- Drop Point
- Trailing point
Blade types to avoid for skinning:
- Spear Point
- Sheep’s Foot
- For blade length we recommend a skinning knife between 3″-5″
- A shorter knife is easier to maneuver while a larger knife will make longer cleaner cuts.
- If you are trekking through the backwoods you may want a relatively small/light skinning knife. Having a knife that you can easily carry in your backpack or on belt is a great option.
- A replaceable blade knife can be a great portable option as they tend to be lighter. Be sure to pack extra blades!
- You want a skinning knife that fits well in your hand.
- Choose a knife that will not create “hot spots” on your hand. Although skinning a deer should not take too long, you want to avoid knife handles with ridges prominent edges/rivets. These knife features may look good, but they can cause blisters and discomfort.
- Skinning, gutting, and processing a deer requires cutting through hide, hair, and tendons. You are going to want a skinning knife that can take and keep a sharp edge.
- Blades with very hard steels (S30V, S90V, Elmax, M4, etc.) will hold an edge longer but can be very difficult to sharpen. These harder steels are also more expensive.
- Blade steels that are not as hard will not hold an edge for as long but can be sharpened more quickly. These steels can be found on many less expensive but high-quality knives.
- If your skinning knife stays sharp you won’t need to use excessive pressure or saw back and forth to make your cuts.
- Using a dull skinning knife is annoying and can be dangerous. When you have to apply excessive pressure or use it as a hacking tool you are more likely to hurt yourself. It’s like my 10th grade shop teacher used to shout at us “a sharp tool is a safe tool!”
- Using a sharp, high-quality knife will create clean cuts and is a lot more fun to use!
Another option is to use a knife with replaceable blades. We will get into these knives in more detail later. There are pros and cons with replaceable blades knives, but they can be a great choice!
- Stay within your budget! Don’t feel like you must spend a lot of money on your deer skinning knife. There are a lot of expensive skinning knives with “super steel” blades and other high-end features. Don’t feel like you need an expensive steel to get the job done. Having a less expensive steel is easier to sharpen and you won’t have to break the bank.
- If your budget allows for a more expensive deer skinning knife, go for it! There is nothing like having a well-made tool that you really enjoy using.
Types of Skinning Knives to choose from
When deciding the best form factor for your skinning knife, there are a few questions to ask yourself. Will this be a dedicated skinning knife? Will you be using the knife for other tasks as well? Do you plan to carry the knife with you on backpacking trips? How hard are you on your tools? Do you like sharpening your knives? Do you prefer the convenience of replaceable blades?
Folding Skinning Knife
- Folding knives are portable! Throw it in your pack or clip it to your pocket and off you go. Many of these knives are great multipurpose knives and work well for skinning.
- Going with a folding Skinning Knife is not a bad option, but If you are planning to have a dedicated skinning knife we recommend going with one of the other form factors. Many of the skinning knives we recommend are a little big for every day carry. We advise buying a good folder for your go to carry knife and get a knife specific for skinning, butchering, and other related work.
- We love fixed blade skinning knives! This is the classic form factor for a reason. Fixed blade knives have been working for thousands of years and will not be going out of style any time soon.
- No moving parts. Folders or swing blades are not as robust as a good fixed blade knife.
- Easy to clean. Without a hinge and with fewer crevices fixed blade skinning knives are easier to clean up. As a boy I used a multi tool for skinning chickens, and trust me, you don’t want to clean blood and flesh out of all of those cervices.
- You can find a gut hook on any of the form factors on this list. As described before, gut hooks can make skinning much easier and faster.
- Having a gut hook can make certain jobs a breeze! For example, slicing through hide and tendons is precise and accurate.
- The gut hook helps avoid overcutting or spearing the flesh you don’t want damaged.
- A gut hook can be a pain to sharpen.
- If you are using your skinning knife as a general-purpose knife for jobs other than skinning, the gut hook can come in handy (i.e. cutting rope)
- We briefly mentioned this before but will go into more detail here.
- Having a deer skinning knife with replicable blades can be very convenient. Replacing a disposable blade is a lot less time consuming than putting an edge back on a traditional knife.
- A drawback of replaceable blade skinning knives is that there are generally more crevices and moving parts where blood and flesh can collect. This means that they can be a little more difficult to clean than a fixed blade knife.
- The replaceable blade knives are generally not as robust as other knives. These knives are not as good for hacking/chopping if that is your style.
Serrated vs plane edge
- We recommend plane edge knives. Plane edge knives create cleaner cuts and are easier to sharpen.
- A sharp plane edge skinning knife will be able to cut through everything you need it too while skinning a deer.
- A Swing Blade knife has a blade on one end and a gut hook, saw, or other tool on the other that folds into the handle.
Knife Detailed Reviews
Buck Omni Hunter
The Buck Omni Hunter skinning knife is well balanced, made of high-quality materials, and it looks great.
The 4” drop point blade comes with or without the gut hook, and there is a smaller version with a 3-1/4” blade (although we prefer the 4” blade). The 420FHC steel along with Buck’s heat-treat process means this knife has a good balance between edge retention and sharpenability.
The handle is made of a rubberized material. The handle has an ergonomic design with a slight drop towards the butt of the handle. You can choose between a black or camo look for this knife.
The Omini hunter comes with a synthetic material sheath. The sheath will work for it’s intended use; however, this is not a stand out addition. This sheath will eventually break down over time. The materials and design used for the seath help keep the overall cost of the knife down meaning when you buy the knife the money you pay goes to the knife itself and not necessarily to the sheath.
In summary, this is an excellent option for a skinning knife. The blade is what we would look for in a skinning knife. Buck uses high quality materials and if you take care of it this knife will last for years to come. Overall, we love this knife. Our main complaint is the handle. We prefer a more traditional grip. Although the handle design looks great and feels good when you are holding it, the handle can cause hot spots in the hand after extended use.
Things we like:
- Overall design
- Blade dimensions/design
- Blade material – 420HC Steel
Things we don’t like:
- Handle Design and Material
Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner
If you appreciate well-made tools this is a great option for you. Everything comes together with this 8.73” fixed blade skinner. The Benchmade Saddle mountain feels great in the hand and has the dimensions we look for in a skinning knife.
The blade is 4.17” long and can be purchased with or without the gut hook. Benchmade used CPM-S30V steel for the drop point blade.
S30V is a very hard steel that will take and hold an edge very well. The draw back of S30V steel is that it can take some effort to sharpen. S30V steel also carries a higher price than some less expensive steels, but if you have the budget we feel this steel does strike a good balance between price and performance. S30V is one of our favorite knife steels.
The Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner comes with a wood or G10 handle. Both are great options, we prefer the look and feel of the wood handle, but that comes down to personal preference. The handle does not have any big ridges and the rivets sit flush. This is a knife that can be used for extended periods comfortably.
This skinning knife is full tang, meaning the blade extends all the way down the handle. At the butt of the knife is a lanyard hole which is a nice touch.
The Saddle Mountain Skinner comes with a high quality leather sheath. The leather sheath is well made and durable. This is a sheath that can take some wear. In our experience these benchmade leather sheaths develop a great looking patina and look better as they age.
This is an all around great knife, but it is on the higher end price wise. If you have the budget we highly recommend this knife.
Things we like:
- Blade design and material
- Handle look and feel
- Lanyard hole
- Leather sheath
- Benchmade Guanantee
Things we don’t like:
- Difficult to sharpen
- On the high end for price
Phoenix Hunting Survival Knife
The Phoenix Hunting Survival Knife and the Phoenix feather is a product that has recently caught our attention.
The Phoenix combines many of the tools you need into one package. The Phoenix survival knife is an 8”, full tang, drop point knife, which we love! But what makes this knife stand out is the following:
- Gut hook with replaceable surgical steel blades
- Prominent drop point blade with grip hole
- Integrated survival features
- Everspark fire starter
- Tinder Quick storage
- Emergency Whistle
- Sharpening plate built into the sheath
- Storage for replacement blades/tool
- Optional “Phoenix Feather” add on knife
The 3.22” blade is made from 9CR18 and features an exaggerated drop point design. For skinning the blade shape and design are great. The gradually sloped design of the knife enables the user to made long clean cuts even though the blade is on the shorter end of skinning knives we recommend. This blade design and size should create a good balance between maneuverability and keeping the cutting edge in contact with the what you are cutting.
Having a replicable blade takes away our biggest complaints of a gut hook, sharpening! Without a doubt having this gut hook on board is a great feature. Always being razor sharp makes this feature very attractive!
The survival features of the Phoenix Talon make it a good knife to keep in your pack!
This knife has had some prototypes, but mass production is still in the future. We contacted the owner of Outdoor Element to ask a few questions. Outdoor Element is working towards a full launch of this knife which we hope is available soon. We will continue to monitor and provide updates as we learn more.
Things we like:
- Blade shape and design
- Removable blade gut hook
- Integrated sharpening plate
Things we don’t like
- The safety features in the handle could create hot spots after extending skinning sessions
- We would like to get our hands on this knife to try it out!
The CRKT Homefront has a good blade shape and size for skinning. It is a folder with a unique ability to be stripped down for cleaning. One of our main complaints about folders is that after skinning they can be a pain to clean. The CRKT Homefront mitigates that problem with its unique design. The design is meant to replicate a WWII era knife and overall, we think it is a good-looking knife.
The Blade is made from AUS8 steel and has a 3.5” drop point design. For skinning the blade design is fine but not our favorite for skinning. As a well-built folder that can also be used for skinning the design will work.
The handle is made from 6061 Aluminum. The knife has good balance and feels good in the hand; although the handle design is not ideal for extensive work.
Overall a great knife. Not our favorite skinning knife specifically, but we wanted to include it on this list since it is a good well-rounded option. And if you are going to be skinning with a folding knife we really like this knife.
What we liked:
- Well-made construction, high quality materials
- Good multi-task knife
- Ability to strip the knife down for cleaning
- Attractive design
What we don’t like:
- Not our favorite knife specifically for skinning.
- Design not ideal for big/extended skinning jobs
Cold Steel Mini Tac Skinner
Mini Tac Skinner has a unique design and several features that we think make this knife stand out as a skinning knife. Having said that, this knife is not for everyone and you will either love or hate this design.
The 3.375” AUS8 Steel blade has a nice smooth blade that curves into a relatively sharp point. One of our recommendations is to avoid very pointy blades. In the case of the Mini Tac Skinner the pointy blade is not much of an issue since the belly of the blade is deep enough to still make those long smooth cuts. If the point is needed it is there and the knife strikes a good balance. The blade is versatile and maneuverable. Overall, we approve of this blade design!
The G10 handle has a distinct front finger grip that allows the user to get a very solid handle on the knife. This is a great feature for many applications. If you like this feature this is a great option! We don’t feel that this is a necessary feature and that it can get in the way. The handle has gipping and a raised rear portion of the blade. This is nice for when you need to apply pressure to the back of the knife while still maintaining control.
The Mini Tac Skinner comes with neck sheath and bead chain design. Again, this is not for everyone, but if you are looking for a neck knife, here you go!
Overall this is a good knife for skinning with some unique features that set it apart.
Things we like:
- Good blade shape and design
- Ability to get good leverage for certain tasks with the handle design
- Feels good in the hand
- Great grip-ability
Things we don’t like:
- Design is not for everyone
- Handle can be awkward
If you don’t like sharpening your knife this may be the one for you! Of the replaceable blade knives this is one of the best.
The blades come scary sharp and are made from surgical stainless steel. The 2.75” blades are on the short side of the spectrum, but they are very maneuverable. We normally prefer a longer deeper blade for skinning, but this little folder gets the job done for sure. Many prefer this shorter more maneuverable blade. Because the blades come so sharp it helps avoid having to perform multiple cuts.
The overall weight and design make this a great knife to keep in your pack. If you have limited space/weight this is a great option. You can also have the choice to have replaceable gut hook blades which is also a nice feature.
The Havlon is great for its intended purpose, but is not great for hacking, chopping, or similar “heavy duty” jobs. If hacking is your style or if you want to also have a knife to use around camp this may not be the one for you.
What we liked:
- Sharp! Very very sharp…
- Light small design is portable
- Easy to maneuver
- No need to spend time sharpening
What we don’t like:
- Not the most versatile knife
- Shorter less robust blade
SOG Huntspoint Skinning
This knife was designed for hunters and features a skinning blade. The Huntspoint Boning has a lot of features that make it worthy of this list. We consider this knife a well-rounded, moderately priced option. Not much to complain about with this knife!
The blade is made from Japanese AUS8 steel (Also available in S30V) and features a 3.6” drop point. The blade has a great design for skinning and can also double as a good general use knife.
The full tang handle is made form rose wood and looks great. The butt of the handle features a large lanyard hole.
The Leather sheath has a button clasp and belt loop attachment.
What we like:
- Well-rounded knife
- Blade design is good for skinning
- Handle feels good in the hand and is easy to grip
- The knife looks great
- We like the leather case better than many others.
What we don’t like:
- Handle design needs to be cleaned well
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