3 Things to Consider When Choosing Your Next Skinning Knife

Simplify field care for game this season by choosing the right knife

Hunting knife collection
The author's collection of hunting knives.Brad Fitzpatrick

A skinning knife is always one of the very first things I add to a hunting pack before the season begins. Quality skinning knives make field chores simpler and more efficient. But it's essential that you are carrying the right knife for the stak, and that you understand how to properly care for the blade so it provides years of service.

1. Fixed or Folder?

The primary decision you’ll need to make when choosing a skinning knife is whether you want a fixed or folding blade. Each has its own advantage.

Fixed-blade knives are rugged and durable, but they aren’t as compact and portable as folders. If you choose a folding knife, you’ll also need to decide what type of locking system suits your needs. Lock-back knives have a lock bar (or rocker) located at the rear of the knife. They are a very common choice for hunters, although liner locks, frame locks, and button locks are all options, too. The key is to determine which style works best for you. In any case, it is essential to keep the locking system clean of meat and grit so that it functions properly.

2. Design and Material

Regardless of whether you choose a fixed or folding knife, you’ll want a blade that is the right size and shape, and constructed of the right material to make skinning chores as simple as possible.

Traditionally, skinning knives have a blade with a narrow tip for precise cutting and a deep belly that offers the longest cut per stroke for increased efficiency. These knives may also feature a guthook, which simplifies the skinning process. If you are removing the cape for taxidermy purposes or dressing small game like birds or rabbits, you may prefer a smaller, more precise blade. The traditional clip-point blade works well, as does a caping blade, since both of these designs allow you to make fine cuts without damaging the hide or wasting meat.

Most hunters rarely consider the type of steel from which their skinning blade is constructed, but it can make a major difference in performance. Different types of steel vary in hardness, corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening, and their ability to hold a sharp edge. H1 steel, for instance, is very durable and withstands corrosion even in salty environments, but the edge retention may not be as good as with some other materials. 420HC steel provides good corrosion resistance and is relatively easy to sharpen. S30V is another option—it is one of the best steels for skinning blades since it is resistant to corrosion and holds an edge very well—making it a great choice for skinning really large game, like elk and moose.

Hunter skinning wild game
S30V steel is easy to sharpen and holds its edge well. It's great for skinning.Brad Fitzpatrick

3. Maintaining Your Knife

Knives should be cleaned regularly. Folding knives require extra attention because corrosion can impede function and make them harder to operate. Moving parts should be oiled, and all knives should be kept dry. Discoloration on knife blades is an indication that it is time to clean them immediately.

Sharpening a knife is not only important for making it work better, but it is also a safety concern. A person’s natural response when working with a dull knife is to place more pressure on the blade, which can result in broken blades or slipping that could cut you while you are working on a downed animal.

Sharpening is a two-step process. The first step is to grind the knife with a coarse grinding tool while using the bevel of the blade as a guide to proper angling. Both sides of the blade should be ground evenly.

The second step is to hone the blade using a finer sharpening tool that allows you to produce a razor-sharp edge. Remember to always sharpen the full length of the blade so there are no dull spots. It’s always best to use a water-based honing fluid when sharpening or touching up a knife.

It’s important not to apply too much pressure when sharpening your knife. A light touch should do it. Alternate sides of the knife throughout the process—some recommend after 10 passes—and check your progress often.