Hunting knives come in a mind-boggling array of shapes and sizes. New hunters often think a 10-inch Bowie-style survival knife is all they need to gut, skin, and section game. In fact, next to having no knife at all, this is the worst possible choice when you’ve got a deer, elk or bear on the ground.
To start off, a knife is a tool. Just like a screwdriver or any other tool, you need the proper one for each job that you’re about to perform. After all, you can dig a hole with a spoon but a shovel works a lot better. The same applies to knives. Here’s how to know which knife is right for the job.
A big game hunter could easily justify carrying four knives. Let’s go over each style of blade from top to bottom, what they’re designed to do, and why you should have them.
The tip on this knife curves upward and allows you to pierce the hide and cut a pattern. The pattern is the initial cut you make down each leg and up the belly before removing the skin. You can skin your animal with this knife but the shape of the blade tends to cut holes in the hide while skinning. This particular knife is a folding model, easy to carry in a pocket.
This is your skinning knife. You’ll notice the tip doesn’t sweep upwards like a clip point knife. A drop point knife is less likely to accidentally poke through the hide. You can skin faster, without being as careful. Also notice the blade length. You don’t want too much blade on a skinning knife, it will just get in the way. This little knife has skinned an entire elk on more than one occasion.
If you’re going to keep the hide or mount the head you’ll want a caping knife. A caping knife has a shorter, narrower blade with a distinct point which allows you to make difficult cuts around the eyes, lips of your big game animals, or while skinning the feet on bears.
When I was a kid we would section deer using a big old basic hunting knife. Years later after working in meat-packing plants I discovered a real boning knife. What a difference! To cleanly remove meat from the bone you’ll want a semi-flexible blade but not too flimsy or you can’t control the blade while working. I like a six-inch blade for this purpose.
For comparison, here’s a rafting knife for camping and general outdoor use. You’ll definitely want one of these for cutting cordage, chopping and making shavings for a campfire, but this design is unwieldy and difficult to use on game.
You can see that hunting knives are smaller than you’d imagine, but they’re perfectly designed for cleaning, skinning, and processing big game efficiently. You’ll have fun learning to use these and come to appreciate having the right tools for the job!