The hunting knife is one of the most iconic blades of all time, and also one of the most misunderstood. In starting this article I found myself wondering how old I was before I truly realized, like really got it, that a hunting knife is NOT a knife you use to kill prey you are hunting.
I mean, we all know that hunters aren’t running around in the woods, knife in hand, trying to run up on an unaware white tail and jab it in the neck. True, there are unfortunate times when a shot goes bad, leaving an animal suffering, and the quickest and most humane way to dispatch it may be with your knife, but for the most part a hunting knife isn’t meant for killing. And yet there persists this image of the “hunting knife” as a mighty tiger-slaying weapon.
In this article, we’re going to discover 13 notable hunting knives that we think are great buys–and for less than $100.
We probably have Jim Bowie to thank for that. A renowned frontiersman and fighter of early 19th century America who died at The Alamo, Bowie became famous for the massive knife he carried and used for fighting. We’re talking a large clip point blade with a guard at the hilt. Though Bowie was a hunter to be sure, and did use such a knife, this really was the ultimate tactical blade of his day.
What should a hunting knife do?
So what characteristics do we really want out of a knife for hunting? Assuming that being able to lash it to a branch and spear a bear with it isn’t high on our list of priorities, what will we use our hunting knife for?
Well, hunting entails spending time in the woods with minimal equipment, so for sure we want a blade that will serve our “survival” needs in terms of helping us to set up shelters, make camps and fires. But of particular use to the hunter is the blade that will also do a good job at field dressing, gutting, skinning and butchering.
All about the meat
Hunting is about gathering meat, and so a hunting knife is one that will help us collect meat — but there are diverse needs for a blade in meat gathering. The best blade for ducks won’t be the best blade for moose. A really top-notch skinning knife will usually not be the best knife for quartering a large elk.
So today, we will try to present some good all-around options, as well as a few more specialized ones, as we will focus on blades below the $100 range so that if you decide to get both a dedicated skinner and a hefty knife for more robust tasks, it won’t cost more than your rifle.
We’re mostly looking for blades not too small or too large (3 1/2” to 5 1/2” seems to be the sweet spot) that are sturdy enough for heavy cutting, with decent steel and a decent profile that can be adequately sharpened and adequately hold an edge, with enough belly to be usable in skinning and/or a solid tip with good geometry for getting into and separating joints and a handle comfortable working on flesh or wood.
That’s not too much to ask for under $100 is it? Turns out, it isn’t!
And here are the top blades we will be discussing in-depth today:
- Cold Steel Pendleton Lite Hunter
- Schrade Old Timer 158OT Guthook Skinner
- Buck Knives 390 Omni Hunter Fixed Blade
- Outdoor Edge Swingblaze SZ-20N
- Cold Steel Master Hunter Plus Kraton with Guthook
- Kershaw Ken Onion Blur Folding Knife
- Kellam Knives PR5 Puukko Fixed Blade Knife
- Benchmade HUNT 15008-ORG Knife
- Benchmade Mini Griptilian
- SOG Revolver 2.0 Hunt Fixed Blade FX22L-CP
- Columbia River Knife and Tool K700KXP Ken Onion Skinner
- Gerber Gator Premium
- Puma IP Elk Oak Hunter
The Cold Steel Pendleton Lite Hunter is a great entry-level knife. If you are going out with a friend who hunts and want a blade that can get the job done, or don’t want to get blood all over your nice knife, pick up one of these basic knives with a 3 5/8” 3mm drop point blade of 4116 stainless with a polypropylene handle and plastic sheath.
It’s tough, easy to sharpen, has enough of a guard (sort of a bulge in the handle, but it works) and flared butt to make it workable for field dressing. And at under $20 online, you really can’t lose.
We get a little more specialized with the Schrade Old Timer 158OT. The blade is forward raked (curving down from parallel with the handle) which gives you a nice slicing surface for the overall size, plus it has a gut hook tip that is nicely designed into what would otherwise be a drop point.
There’s a leather sheath, 7Cr17 carbon stainless blade, wood handle scales on a full tang with a lanyard hole. The only complaint I’ve really seen anyone have with this knife is “it isn’t the old Schrade knife!” No, the old Schrade doesn’t exist. They folded and were bought out, and yes, this knife is made in China.
But again, coming in under $20 you’re not going to get the work of a master blade smith. You are going to get a solid, well designed hunting knife that gets the job done.
Though I usually think that camouflaged knives are just asking to be lost, it does make sense on a true hunting knife, and so we have Buck Knives Omni Hunter Fixed Blade. The sheath and handle are Realtree Camo. The handle is the standout on this knife, with a down curving butt end and rubberized grips it is really functional for field dressing game — easy to hold when slick, sturdy grip structure with a thumb groove that serves the purpose of a guard (to stop your hand from slipping up onto the blade when pushing through something).
The blade is a 3 1/4” drop point of 420HC stainless – a good rugged and corrosion resistant steel.
The Outdoor Edge Swingblaze SZ-20N is cool idea! It’s the first non-fixed knife in the set. A hunting knife doesn’t have to be fixed blade — some prefer one or the other, as the fixed blade is sturdier and easier to clean, but the folder is more compact and can possibly double as an EDC.
This one has a single piece of steel that is both knife blade and dedicated gutting blade. The gutting blade is not exactly a gut hook. It is a thin, deeply inward-curved blade with a rounded tip that could serve the same use as a gut hook (zipping down a hide or carefully going under organs to separate connective tissue).
So this knife isn’t really a folder, either. The double blade is twice the length of the handle, and rotates at one end, so either one blade or the other is always exposed, and therefore it is carried in an included sheath. This means it is essentially “full tang,” but is like two fixed blades in one.
The Cold Steel Master Hunter Plus Kraton with Guthook is a serious hunting knife with gut hook, but still coming in under $100! The blade is a VG-1 San Mai (meaning it is a laminate with a hardened carbon steel core sandwiched in stainless steel) flat ground with a drop point with a huge belly and a well placed gut hook. The blade is a formidable 3/16” thick. The handle is a heavily textured slip-resistant Kray-Ex with a guard. This is a well-engineered hunting blade!
But you don’t always need a knife that is such a dedicated tool for hunting. For smaller game, or specifically for skinning, there’s the Kershaw Ken Onion Blur Folding Knife (which also makes a great Every Day Carry knife!). The slightly recurved blade of Sandvik 14C28N stainless with black coating jumps out with a slight push of the thumb stud with Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assisted opening. This is a true huntsman pocket knife. Plenty of razor sharp belly here, combined with a solid point. The Blur may fit snug in your pocket, but it will get your dinner skinned and sliced for you too!
The Kellam Knives PR5 Puukko is a classic, and though not really a dedicated hunting knife, is more of a great generalist for the woodsman who hunts. The puukko is a traditional Finnish design with a straight spine all the way to the tip. Kellam’s is a beautiful example of this tradition with a gorgeous handle of curly birch and just enough of a front quillon to provide a little guard to sliding.
Though arguably more of a wood crafting knife, the 5” razor sharp blade of hard carbon steel will support most hunting tasks well. Maybe not a skinner, but it will quarter like a champ, and make the camp a happy place.
Pushing the upper bound of our price restriction (currently available for just under $100 online) is the Benchmade HUNT 15008-ORG Knife. If you are familiar with Benchmade, then all I need say is that you can get their hunting knife for under $100!
Certainly among the top quality standards of production knives, this model from Benchmade doesn’t disappoint. It has a 3 1/2” drop point blade of S30V stainless steel mounted on heavily textured no-slip stantoprene. I am featuring the orange model here because the high visibility can be really handy as you’re working your way through a larger kill, wrapping up quarters or cuts as you go. No fancy doodads here (except maybe the rather unusual jimping up toward the tip to assist in deep work), just a really well made hunting knife.
We’ve also included the Benchmade 556 Mini Griptilian as a companion folder option to the Hunt. The blade is a stout 2.91” drop point made from 154CM stainless steel (which is a very hard stainless). This locks in place with their proprietary AXIS lock mechanism which is reliable, one-handed and ambidextrous. With handle scales of strong glass filled nylon (I am choosing the bright yellow option, again for visibility), the knife fits sung in the hand for surprisingly heavy work capacity given the small blade size. Though realistically too small for large game, this knife can be a fantastic camp knife and EDC, and still handle a majority of hunting tasks.
The SOG Revolver 2.0 Hunt Fixed Blade FX22L-CP is similar to the earlier Swingblaze knife, in that there are two different blade options on one continuous piece of steel that rotates around a pivot to fix one end into the handle leaving the other end exposed for work. In this case, one end is a knife blade, the other is a saw blade with a gut hook. The gut hook is small — really not for large game. But the saw is a good size, and the handle is ergonomic and grippy. This model comes with a leather sheath, an improvement over the much bemoaned earlier revolver knives from SOG. How great is it to have a skinner and a bone saw on one tool?
Columbia River Knife and Tool joins the group with another great skinner by Ken Onion, the K700KXP Ken Onion Skinner. This is a fixed blade knife with a blade pattern similar to the Onion knife by Kershaw — namely a large bellied leaf shape that is perfect for skinning. With a high hollow grind and a strong spine coming to the drop point, this is perhaps the most specific skinning knife of the list. The Bohler K110 stainless steel blade is three-quarter tang. This is not a knife for batoning sticks. It does what it says it does. It skins! The handle is nicely textured ergonomic glass filled nylon.
The Gerber Gator Premium Knife has a slightly downward curved spine that continues (after some jimping) down the handle for a very positive slicing angle. The polished metal rear pommel and guarded front bolster add a nice finish to the rubberized glass-filled nylon grip. The blade is 4” of polished CPM-S30V steel, which is exceptional quality steel for a knife at this price point (coming in under $90 online). It is well balanced, and though the blade is of exceptional quality, probably the standout feature of this knife is the handle, which was designed to be as slip-proof as possible. Perfect for a hunter!
To finish the list is another classic, coming in just under $100, the Puma IP Elk Oak Hunter. This is a German designed, manufactured in Spain, classic drop point hunting knife, with wood scales and a brass guard. This is a beautiful all-purpose knife that is as beautiful as it is functional. Each individual blade is tested for proper hardness. This is a piece of craftsmanship you will feel good using to honor the life you are harvesting, or simply using around the camp.
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