Last Updated on December 27, 2022
Wise hunters looking for 2023’s best skinning knife know that having the right tools once you harvest an animal is vital to your overall success. Likewise, a basic tool like a top-notch skinning knife can be the difference in making your work safer and more efficient.
In the fall of 2021, while guiding deer and elk hunts, I field-tested several different skinning knives. The Buck Knife ranks high on my list, as it has for eons of hunters before me. But, several more modern knives also make the cut.
We’ve included a little something for everyone on this list. Looking for the best deer hunting knife? We’ve got recommendations for you. If it’s the sharpest skinning knife you’re after, we’ve got you covered. Perhaps you want the best skinning knife with a gut hook? Yep, we’ve included that too.
Read on for more insight and rock-solid information and, who knows, you might just walk away with one or two from this list!
We strive to bring you unrivaled gear reviews and tips from experienced hunters, and this passion is reflected in each of the recommendations we make. Whether it be knives, shooting sticks, headlamps, arrows, bone saws, or anything else that’ll elevate your hunting game, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents: Best Skinning Knives of 2023 [Show/Hide]
- Why Does Your Skinning Knife Matter?
- Parameters for a Good Skinning Knife
- Best Skinning Knives for the Money
- Sharpest Skinning Knife
- Best Deer & Elk Hunting/Skinning Knives
- Best Skinning Knife with Gut Hook
- Best Trapping Knife for Small Game
- Best Field Dressing Knife
- Best Caping Knife
- Final Thoughts
- More Hunting Gear & Resources
Personally, I measure hunting success in the amount of time I can actually take off work and spend time in nature the way God intended it.
As my good buddy always says:
“To spend time in elk country is lucky enough.”
But let’s get real here, you are after nature’s bounty: game meat. Hunting and harvesting success is the culmination of a lot of preparation and hard work. If you’re skilled or lucky enough to put all those pieces together at the right time to drop an animal, your work is not over. There are many more steps you must take to get that game animal back to the freezer.
One critical piece of gear in this process is your knife. Having a reliable skinning knife that doesn’t let you down in the field can make the difference between getting that elk or deer meat safely back to your home or struggling to get the job done as it spoils.
The old adage goes, a dull knife is a recipe for an injury. Why? Because a dull blade causes you to apply more pressure when cutting. This makes the knife either penetrate too far or not penetrate enough, and these actions can easily cause serious injury. Because of this, hunters should always have a razor-sharp skinning knife on hand, no matter what.
So, we know a good hunting knife needs to be super-sharp, but what other attributes should it have? We included these criteria when reviewing a skinning knife for deer, elk, and other wild game:
- Must be razor-sharp (and either be reasonable to re-sharpen or have replaceable blades)
- Must be durable and long-lasting
- Must be fairly agile (meaning that it isn’t bulky and cumbersome)
- Must have a non-serrated steel blade
You’re looking for the best skinning knife for the money, but what exactly does that mean to you? For us, it’s all about finding the happy medium of value and quality. We exhaustively scoured through skinning knives and came up with a couple of rock-solid recommendations.
No list of skinning knives is complete without representation by the time tested Buck Knife brand. In other words, it’s the same skinning knife your grandfather used on deer and elk. This test to time is a result of its unwavering quality. I recommend this product for a few reasons.
First, its long blade and the small overall profile are best for finding contours behind the hide. Second, its razor-sharp edge helps to make clean cuts once the contours are found. Because of these characteristics, this Buck Knife could be dangerous for beginners. The bigger blade leaves more room for error as it’s not as precise.
Best for: all-around skinning knife, intricate contours, big game
The RazorLite is, hands down, my top choice when it comes to skinning knives. They’ve clearly been listening to customers as this skinning knife has brought out the best of both worlds. Its lightweight, compact, uses surgical-grade steel, and features a removable blade. Additionally, they recently broadened the blade on this model, which makes it a better all-around skinning knife. It can get through the tough hides but provide laser-like precision in the tough areas.
Best for: all-around skinning knife, big game, trappers, small game
Be careful with this recommendation or you might be coming home with a little more meat than you hoped for. That’s because surgical steel is spelled S.H.A.R.P. Again, having a sharp tool in the field is the safe way to go, but must be used deliberately and safely. I have experience with this skinning knife and its ability to skin a hide fast and efficiently is unreal.
This style of knife is easily the most popular for skinning purposes among hunting guides I know. It has a foldable, thin, surgical steel replaceable blade. The blade, however, is not good for other game dressing applications, like cutting through an elk hide. If you plan on skinning several animals in 2023, this knife is a stellar choice. If you need an all-around dressing knife, this style of knife leaves a lot to be desired.
Best for: skinning hanging animals, fur-bearing animals, intricate skinning, trappers
Sometimes you need a little bit more from your hunting knife besides the ability to skin your deer or elk. This is especially true when you are dressing big game in the field. A more durable knife can be useful in multiple situations like cutting through cartilage and tough hide and skin. We went ahead and included a few recommendations for those looking for more utility from their skinning/hunting knife.
This has been my go-to hunting knife for a while now. It’s the knife I carry in my pocket at all times without exception. Although I can probably contribute it to my own stupidity rather than poor craftsmanship, this is the only knife that broke on me this year. I was using it to pry on some tractor equipment and broke the connecting link to the handle. Don’t be fooled because of that, because this has a very high quality, smooth, and thinner blade. I can effortlessly cut through an elk hide with this knife and use it to get into tough spots. Easy for beginners, this is a great all-around knife, but skinning is something it does particularly well.
Best for: all-around skinning knife, all-around utility, big game, using in the field
The Grizzly Creek by Benchmade is for the discerning hunter that isn’t here to play games. This knife has all the utility you need in a hunting knife, especially for big game like deer and elk. It features a tucked-in gut hook and an extremely sharp and reliable blade and is perfect for any field dressing application. The best thing about this knife is its warranty: Benchmade will inspect, repair, oil, clean, and adjust your blade at no cost to you – for the life of the knife! This could be the last deer and elk hunting knife you ever own.
Best for: all-around deer hunting knife, all-around utility, using in the field
Hunting is an expensive hobby. When you factor in all the gear you have to buy, the gas, the time off work; you are likely paying prime Wagyu beef priced for that elk or deer meat. We feel you. That’s why we included a recommendation for the budget-conscious hunter.
It’s nice to be close to Cabela’s or to have time to order online, but if you are like most hunters you may find yourself needing equipment while out hunting. Oftentimes you’re far away from a Cabela’s or a specialty store, but you’re usually pretty close to a Walmart. This year I found myself in a bind without a blade before my elk hunt, so I stopped at Walmart for a last-minute skinning knife. I found the above-listed knife and it made a good impression on me. It performed as well as the Piranta Z when it came to cutting and skinning, for a fraction of the cost. My only gripe is that it was hard to replace the blades and I broke two in the process.
Best for: hanging animals, fur-bearing animals, intricate skinning, trappers
If you want a dual-action hunting knife that has both the gut hook and skinning capabilities, we’ve included a durable and reliable recommendation here that will work for both applications.
This packable field dressing solution is perfect for those looking for a skinning knife with a gut hook. The Gerber name has been synonymous with quality for generations, and this knife is no different. Did I mention that you don’t get just one knife here, but rather TWO! In addition to the larger blade, they include a small skinning knife for those tight contours and hard-to-reach areas. The combination is all you’ll need for skinning and dressing big game.
Best for: big game, hanging animals, intricate skinning
You want a small and nimble blade for small game, or for situations where you need to be really accurate with your cuts. When skinning pelts for example, the ability to remove pelts without ripping holes in them can affect the final product greatly. Having a trappers knife is a must.
The Buck Squire 501 is our top pick for the best all-around small game and trappers knife of 2023. This tried and true option can do it all, from getting behind intricate areas like a bears paw to taking the pelt off a coyote (without making swiss cheese of it). Because it has a nice thick drop point blade, it makes for a great every day carry as well. You can’t go wrong with this little fella from Buck Knives.
Best for: fur-bearing animals, small game, intricate skinning, everyday carry
Wait a darn minute. Aren’t all these knives field-dressing knives? Well, yeah I guess they are. However, I included this recommendation for someone looking for a do-it-all field dressing knife. This hunting knife that I’ve included is good for all field dressing applications and not JUST hunting and gutting.
I broke the rules a little bit and included a knife with a serrated edge. I couldn’t help myself. The reason I included this knife is that it’s hands down the best all-around field dressing knife for deer and elk that I’ve ever used. It has a certain craftsman quality to it that is amazingly smooth at cutting through anything I have thrown at it. I can skin two elk back to back — hide, guts, cartilage, bone, you name it — and this knife can get the job done. CUTCO is regularly described by knife enthusiasts as being America’s premiere cutlery company, and I am inclined to agree with them. Buy this knife and you too will see how it stands apart from the competition.
Best for: all-around hunting knife, deer and elk hunting knife, hanging animals
If you’re a professional animal skinner and looking for a fast and efficient caping and skinning knife, then this section is for you. These are great for people that anticipate skinning and caping lots of animals. These are a staple of professional hunting outfitters and big game processors. So, what makes the best caping knife? The one that helps you get your hide and trophy to the processors in one neat piece.
If you’re a guide or professional meat processor, look no further than the JERO Butcher Series Deer Skinner for all of your caping needs. It’s easily our top budget choice for high-production settings. Said another way, the full tang long blade will trims significant time from removing large hides.
The high-grade composite handle is easy to grip and helps with slipping from, even where there’s blood on the handle. Overall, this is a sturdy blade for high production settings that’s also versatile enough to be a useful all-around camp knife.
Best for: guides, those who plan on skinning multiple animals, professionals who skin animals quickly
Factors We Consider When Reviewing Skinning Knives
There’s a lot to take into account when you are considering which skinning knife to purchase. The type of animal you’re skinning is going to be the biggest determining factor when it comes to which selection you make. In addition to that, take into account the following when purchasing a new skinner.
Blade length should be determined by the type of animal you plan on skinning. For small game, I prefer a small, nimble knife like the Havalon, or a trappers knife like the the Buck Squire 501 which measures in at 2-3/4 inches.
When skinning big game, I prefer a bit more size, as anything less than 3.5” is going to take you significantly more time and may not be large enough to get into certain areas of the hide. With that said, I’ve skinned several animals with the Kershaw listed above and it has performed just fine.
Almost every knife manufacturer uses a different type of steel for their knives, and for that reason, we’ve only included the best and most reliable steel for this list. The thing to remember here is the hardness, or, as its referred to in the knife world, its Rockwell scale.
Rockwell Hardness is an international scale for the hardness of a material between 1 and 99. On the one side, think of a silly putty, and on the ninety-nine side, think of diamonds. You will typically find this displayed as “RC.”
Cheap knockoffs from the corner store simply won’t hold an edge no matter how you sharpen them. Don’t even think about using one. You don’t want second rate crap in the field, trust me.
Disregard this section for replaceable blade skinners. You won’t be resharpening these, so the RC score isn’t really a factor.
Here are a few common blade materials that you’ll run into with skinning knives:
- CruWear Steel: Some of the best steel in the business. Used often by high-quality knife companies like Benchmade, this tool steel is up to the task. RC = 60 – 65
CPM-S30V: This stainless steel doesn’t bend or break but gives you a sharp edge time and time again. Wow, highly recommended. RC = 59 – 60
XHP: This is a tough and competent material for top-end knives. SOG Knives often use XHP steel. This is one of the best-in-class blade materials, in my opinion. RC = 65
420 HC: This is Buck Knives’ signature steel. It’s easy to sharpen and is still very hard and durable for the cost. It’s as tried-and-true as they come. RC = 56 – 58
The three skinning knife styles we like most are foldable, replaceable blade, and fixed handle blades. They all have their advantages and their disadvantages, depending on which type of game you will be chasing after.
We tend to prefer replaceable blade skinning knives since you won’t ever have to worry about sharpening your blade in the field. Just make sure to bring a couple extras along to ensure you’ll be able get through even the toughest of skinning jobs.
Fixed blade skinners are great for those looking for an all around hunting knife that can serve multiple roles. They’ll allow you to cut through tendons and muscles as well as provide a way to cape your animal.
The same goes for the foldable skinners on this list that don’t have replaceable blades. They can serve multiple purposes, from skinning to caping to use as an everyday carry. Consider what you expect from your skinning knife when deciding on which blade style to go with.
A skinner’s razor sharp edge results from a specific type of grind that the manufacturer puts on the belly of the blade when sharpening it. I personally prefer a hollow grind as it’s the sharpest and most practical for cutting meats. It also allows for a nice slicing motion when skinning an animal.
Here’s a quick visual to common blade grinds that you’ll see:
Handle style is another personal preference that I touched on with the blade style above. Regardless if you choose a fixed blade, or foldable, make sure that you have a knife with a solid, non-slip grip. Hold the handle firmly at home and note how it feels before you commit to using it in the field.
Your knife should always be extremely sharp, meaning poorly designed handles can be dangerous. I heavily considered this attribute when choosing knives for this list, since one slip of your grip in the backcountry can cause a trip to the ER (or worse).
The best skinning knife for your 2023 hunt is sharp, durable, and long-lasting, but what’s most important is that this knife is inside your hunting pack when you need it most. As long as that knife you bring along is one from this list, you’ll be primed to get the job done. Ditch that old dull blade — it’s time to upgrade.
If you’re new to skinning deer, elk, and other wild game, we recommend grabbing a couple of different types of knives and testing them in the field to see what feels best. Because, until you thrust your knife into real-life action, you’ll never know what best suits your style of hunting.
Conversely, if you’re an expert at caping and skinning animals, many of the recommendations on this list will work for you too. There is a rock-solid blade on this list for every type of hunter.
We only write about what we know, and that’s our passion for hunting and the tools needed for a successful harvest. We strive to give our readers rock-solid advice to help them become better hunters, and today our focus is on getting you the best skinning knife 2023 has to offer.
Now get out there and put your knife to work.
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