About the only thing hunting knives are almost never used for is hunting — today very few hunters drop from trees with a knife in hand, onto a hapless bear. Hunting knives are for everything else you do in the woods on a hunting trip. Making kindling and tinder, working on gear, performing crude first aid and personal grooming, and of course field dressing game. Strand a hunter in the wilderness with a choice of knife or rifle and many would choose the knife.
Hunting knives should be top quality — fortunately it isn’t hard to find good affordable ones. The decision is more about style. These knives can become prized possessions valued for scores of years, not just one vacation. Get the right one and you’ll love it. If it isn’t right, you’ll hate it. There’s always emotion involved.
There’s no social stigma associated with wearing a belt knife in the woods, and few things go wrong with a stout belt knife. Hunting folders double as everyday utility or emergency knives if they’ll fit in a pocket discreetly. The practicality of a hunting knife depends on what you hunt. Big game blades aren’t good with turkey and trout; with blades designed for small game you’ll be challenged by carving up a deer. If you’re saving hides as well as meat you’ll want a good skinner. Hunt big game and you’ll need something heavy for chopping or sawing through bone. Butchering is always a messy business — a simple knife that cleans up well in a stream or a snowbank is a big plus.
Our pick for the “Best Hunting Knife” is the Buck Zipper. It appeals to us because it makes sense on so many levels — with good looks, a guthook blade that works well as a skinner and butchering blade, and easy cleanup.
For a general purpose knife large enough for small game and small enough to carry in town, try the Buck 112 Ranger. Small knives often work better than large ones for camp chores and everyday problems. The 112 is an older design without all the frills that get in the way.
Unless you hunt in the north country, you probably won’t need a knife much bigger than the Puma Bowie Stag. Since Puma made it, you could probably get by with it up there, too.