8 Near-Perfect Hunting Knives

There is no one perfect hunting knife, but these 8 new models come pretty close.

Browning's new fixed blade and Benchmade's latest folder
Browning’s new fixed blade and Benchmade’s latest folder. Travis Rathbone

To test grip, I used each hunting knife after putting it in a plastic tote with three strips of bacon for a (careful) 30-​­second shake—to simulate skinning of a fat wild pig. For cutting ability, toughness, and edge retention, I sliced through old carpet scraps so nasty I wouldn’t walk on them with bare feet, then worked the blades through 1/2 inch of stacked leather. Finally, I tested which knives were still sharp enough to cleanly slice and lift words (as in type) from the page of an F&S magazine. Learn how to test a knife’s sharpness at the bottom of the article.

Fixed Blade Hunting Knives

1. Browning Featherweight Fixed Semi-Skinner

$73 browning.com

Browning Featherweight Fixed Semi-Skinner
Browning Featherweight Fixed Semi-Skinner Field & Stream Online Editors

• Hollow-ground drop-point skinner
• 8 1⁄8″ overall
• 3 3⁄8″ blade
• 7.6 oz.
• AUS-8A steel
• Ballistic nylon sheath

The Lowdown: The AUS-8A steel is fairly corrosion resistant and has a very uniform grain structure, which combined with the blade’s high, hollow grind allows for a supersharp edge. This type of grind can be prone to chipping, but it makes for an excellent slicer. The handle is black Zytel with tropical hardwood inserts.

Hits: This combination of grind and belly is great for separating the hide from an animal.

Misses: The handle is a bit slick, but spine gimping, a deep finger groove, and a sharply downswept butt give added purchase.

Who Should Buy: If your main priority is dressing and skinning game, this is a solid choice, and a handsome one, to boot.

2. Helle Sylvsteinen

$140; helle.no

Helle Sylvsteinen
Helle Sylvsteinen Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground drop-point
• 9 3⁄4″ overall
• 5 3⁄8″ blade
• 5.17 oz.
• Proprietary laminate steel
• Full leather sheath

The Lowdown: Helle blades are handmade in Norway using a unique process in which proprietary high-carbon steel is sandwiched between two outer layers of 18/8 stainless steel. The former gives hardness and edge retention, the latter strength and corrosion resistance. The Sylvsteinen’s handle, curly birch with a reindeer-antler insert, is a bit shorter than that on most American knives.

Hits: The crazy-sharp blade carries its thickness nearly to the edge, making for a seriously tough knife.

Misses: While gorgeous, the handle feels a bit slippery and requires some maintenance.

Who Should Buy: The guy who wants a striking, man-size knife for tough jobs, from quartering elk to slashing saplings for a bivvy.

3. Puma SGB Deadwood Canyon

$50 in white bone; pumaknifecompanyusa.com

ma SGB Deadwood Canyon
ma SGB Deadwood Canyon Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground clip-point
• 8″ overall
• 3.8″ blade
• 4.6 oz.
• 440A stainless steel
• Full leather sheath

The Lowdown: To keep costs down in its SGB line, Puma ships its German-made blades to Asia for assembly. The results have been uneven in the past, but the fit and finish on my test model were right on the mark. The clip point creates a sharp tip that’s great for initial cuts, and the blade has a bit of belly for skinning. A finger groove on the handle terminates in a brass bolster with a finger guard that helps mitigate the smooth grip.

Hits: It nestled in my hand perfectly, with very grippy blade-spine gimping. A solid field knife for the money.

Misses: The 440A steel is relatively soft at the edge.

Who Should Buy: Folks who know how to use a sharpening stone and don’t mind touching up an edge.

4. Southern Grind Jackal

starting at $220; southerngrind.com

Southern Grind Jackal
Southern Grind Jackal Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground clip-point
• 9 1⁄4″ overall
• 4 3⁄4″ blade
• 9.4 oz.
• 8670M steel
• Black Kydex sheath

The Lowdown: Southern Grind is the Georgia metal shop of Zac Brown (yes, that Zac Brown), and this knife is a beast—heavy but finely balanced and built tough as Job No. 1. The high-carbon 8670M steel, recycled from sawmill blades, is hard and strong and takes enormous abuse. The G10 handle scales are heavily textured for a sure grip. If your to-do list includes disjointing an elk or prying a bear’s jaws from your arm, sign up.

Hits: Great edge retention and superior strength.

Misses: This non-stainless steel rusts easily without consistent oiling.

Who Should Buy: Backcountry hunters who need a beefy blade that can handle survival chores and want something tactical on their hip.

Folding Hunting Knives

1. Benchmade Grizzly Creek

$195; benchmade.com

Benchmade Grizzly Creek
Benchmade Grizzly Creek Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground drop-point
• 4.34″ closed
• 3 1⁄2″ blade
• 4.76 oz.
• S30V steel

The Lowdown: Millions of granules of evenly distributed carbides in the S30V premium powder steel mean no weak spots in the blade and high edge retention. There’s a separate gut hook, and the ambidextrous Axis lock is among the strongest ever developed. The composite Dymondwood handle carries the warmth and feel of wood in an armorlike layup.

Hits: Great balance, grip, and feel. During testing, the Grizzly Creek found its way into my pocket every single day, all day.

Misses: The blade’s shape gives its edge extra bite when you’re pull-cutting but makes the knife difficult to sharpen on a flat stone.

Who Should Buy: Any hunter who knows how to use sharpening rods and doesn’t mind shelling out for a great folding field knife.

2. Havalon Piranta Edge

$47; havalon.com

Havalon Piranta Edge
Havalon Piranta Edge Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground clip-point
• 4 1⁄2″ closed
• 2 3⁄4″ blade
• 2 oz.
• Surgical stainless steel

The Lowdown: Let’s throw in a category-bender. Made by a company known for surgical instruments, this superlight knife comes with 12 replaceable stainless-steel blades, each with true razor sharpness. Designed specifically for skinning, this knife will also unzip your animal in a hurry, but it does not take to twisting or torquing. The hunter-orange ABS plastic handle is very grippy. A brand-new version is available in camo for a few bucks more.

Hits: Unmatched sharpness.

Misses: The manufacturer is clear about this, but it bears repeating: The knife is made for skinning and caping. No whittling, no prying.

Who Should Buy: The nontraditionalist who wants to gut and skin animals quickly but will never have to butcher or quarter in the field.

3. Kershaw CQC-6K

$55; kershaw.kaiusaltd.com

Kershaw CQC-6K
Kershaw CQC-6K Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground clip-point
• 4 1⁄2″ closed
• 3 1⁄4″ blade
• 5 oz.
• 8Cr14MoV steel

The Lowdown: This folder sports a thumb-disk opening stud and Ernest Emerson’s famed wave-shaped notch on the blade spine, which catches your pocket’s edge as you remove the knife, deploying the blade instantly. The 8Cr14MoV steel is highly corrosion resistant, easy to resharpen, and moderately priced. G10 scales on one handle side are super grippy; the other side is stainless steel to support the frame lock.

Hits: The pocket clip is reversible, and predrilled holes in the handle let you change from tip-up to tip-down carry on either side.

Misses: The frame lock is not the strongest. No stabbing and pounding; this is not a survival knife.

Who Should Buy: The cost-conscious hunter who still wants a few premium components.

4. Zero Tolerance 0562CF

$300; zt.kaiusaltd.com

Zero Tolerance 0562CF
Zero Tolerance 0562CF Field & Stream Online Editors

• Flat-ground drop-point
• 4.8″ closed
• 3 1⁄2″ blade
• 5.5 oz.
• M390 steel

The Lowdown: A flipper snaps open when you push a detent on the spine—and this is a flipper for the books. Rick Hinderer’s complex slicer grind carries robust blade thickness and strength all the way to the tip. The powdered M390 supersteel helps; its wear- and corrosion-resistance and edge-retention scores are off the charts. The front handle scale is carbon fiber; the back is stonewashed titanium that serves as the frame lock, with a hardened steel lockbar insert to beef up the system.

Hits: Ball-bearing opening mechanism is superslick. The blade has enough belly for skinning duties but is thick enough for serious chore work. Reversible pocket clip.

Misses: Not cheap. Not even close.

Who Should Buy: Anyone who can afford it.

Need tips on choosing the right blade? Here’s how to pick the right knife.

Check to see if your blade can make the cut.
Check to see if your blade can make the cut. Ralph Smith

Test Blade Sharpness with a Newspaper

Your daily newspaper delivers timely information, and with the three tests below, it also tells you exactly how sharp you’ve made your knife’s edge. Check to see if your blade can hack it—but be sure to let your spouse read the front page first.

The Bite

Check if your knife blade has the bite to cut through paper.
Check if your knife blade has the bite to cut through paper. Illustrations by Robert L. Prince

Hold a single page of newsprint at shoulder height, and rest the knife blade on the top edge of the paper at a shallow angle. Always slice away from yourself. A sharp blade will immediately bite into the paper and begin a clean cut. A dull blade will skip along the edge, or tear the page.

The Glide

The higher the pitch, the sharper the blade.
The higher the pitch, the sharper the blade Illustrations by Robert L. Prince

Your blade should also glide easily without sticking. Hold a new page vertically and pull the entire length of the blade through the paper; any hangups indicate a nick or burr on the knife’s edge at that point. Listen to the sound it makes while cutting, too: The higher the pitch, the sharper the blade.

The Fillet

Slice a thin layer of paper from the surface of the page.
Slice a thin layer of paper from the surface of the page. Illustrations by Robert L. Prince

Hold the knife horizontally, press the paper firmly against the tabletop with your nondominant hand, and guide the spine of the blade with that thumb. Try to slice a tiny layer from the surface of the page without cutting through, like filleting the skin from a fish. Success? That’s one sharp knife.