When considering the critical duties required for a deer hunting knife, the first and most obvious would be butchering deer. Being able to break down a deer into segments demands a sharp blade that is going to be able to come into contact with skin, sinew, and bone without dulling so quickly as to require sharpening in the field.
Butchering also entails a blade that is able to pierce bone for several cuts, whether the shank bones and neck bones for an expedient field dressing prior to delivering to a professional for quartering and butchering or to properly clean and process the deer yourself (although even this can be put off until in a clean kitchen where cleavers, food safe hacksaws, and other kitchen tools are present).
Key Features in a Deer Hunting Knife
To select the best deer hunting knife based on the critical tasks discussed above, we need to consider the following factors:
- type of blade material
- the shape of the blade
- the material used for the “scales” that constitute the handle
- whether it is specifically geared for hunting applications
- the cost of the knife
The Best Deer Hunting Knives
Let’s begin with a blade by Morakniv.
Morakniv Mora 2000
Blade Description: 4.3-inch 12C27 Sandvik Stainless Steel fixed blade with a drop point
Handle Description: TPE rubber and injection mold plastic
Pros: The Morakniv Mora 2000 is a basic, low-cost fixed-blade knife from Sweden that satisfies all of the requirements of a proper deer hunting knife. Sporting a scalloped drop point blade made of stainless steel and a rubberized handle, the Mora 2000 is designed to be effective under austere conditions, including the cold weather common during deer hunting season.
The Mora 2000 also includes a plastic and leather sheath that can be attached to a belt. First off, the stainless steel used is a highly durable, corrosion-resistant steel well suited for winter hunts. The scalloped blade makes for easy gripping of the knife for detailed work when using a “choked-up” grip. The blade is full tang, making it sufficiently durable to be used for bushcraft tasks in an emergency, such as batoning wood.
Additionally, the materials employed in the handle of the knife are not cold-reactive, meaning that they will not contribute to the soul-crushing numbness one feels when butchering a deer in the snow.
Cons: While a 4.3-inch blade is a good all-around blade length, it might be a little large for delicate work when field dressing a deer. For those that find this to be a deal-breaker, the smaller Mora Basic is a viable option. Some may also dislike the low-cost injection-molded plastic handles, although it should be noted that this is part of Morakniv’s purely utilitarian approach to the Mora 2000.
One negative I found concerning the Mora 2000 is the sheath. While the plastic sheath itself does the job well, the sheath lacks a leg strap, which means that, other than the point the waist where the sheath mounts to a belt, the sheath just flops around.
Additionally, as the sheath itself is all plastic, it might be just as easy (and perhaps less of a point of failure than the rivet and strap used) to have a belt clip to attach the sheath to one’s clothes as a leather strap. When all elements are considered, the Mora 2000 is an excellent budget knife option.
Blade Description: There are two different types of Huntspoint knives, the boning model, and the skinning model. Both are 3.6-inch long drop point blades, although the skinning model has a recessed finger grip in the choil of the knife. The SOG Huntspoint is a testament to buyer’s choice, as it comes in either lower cost AUS–8 steel or higher quality S30V steel. Both the boning and skinning variants of the Huntspoint have jimping at the base of the blade’s spine for enhanced grip during field dressing.
Handle Description: Just as there are multiple options with the blade shape and materials used on the Huntspoint, there are various options available for the handles. The Huntspoint comes with a handle made of either high-visibility orange and black glass-reinforced nylon or more traditional rosewood. While the rosewood may be more aesthetically pleasing, the glass-reinforced nylon is more practical.
Pros: The Huntspoint might be the Honda Accord of the knives reviewed here, in that it is a durable, well-built knife that is not flashy but reliable for years. The drop point blade is well designed, and the jimping and deep finger choil assist in precision work. For those that are not willing to invest more in the S30v alloy model, the AUS–8 steel is easy to sharpen. For those that do, they will find the blade to hold an edge well past reasonable expectations. I find the practical glass-reinforced nylon to be the right choice in the field, as it can be exposed to moisture, washing, and dirt and grime, and yet not be subject to breakdown.
Cons: The Huntspoint can be relatively expensive for a factory-produced knife when the S30V alloy option is chosen, but this reflects the quality of the steel used. One consistent flaw with the Huntspoint, regardless of the options chosen, is that the leather sheath seems to have been poorly designed, in that the snap closure used to hold the knife handle in place often falls apart. Sheaths are replaceable, though, and should not be the primary factor when deciding on a knife. For those that find the sheath to be a deal breaker, the next knife may fit their needs.
Spyderco Bill Moran Drop Point
Blade Description: 3.875-inch drop point blade (although there is also a modified clip point blade) made of VG–10 alloy
Handle Description: Fiberglass-reinforced nylon with rubberized Kraton inserts
Pros: The Spyderco Bill Moran hunting knives are homages to one of the founders of the American Bladesmith Society. As such, they are impeccably well-designed knives, with an ergonomic handle (a distinct change from the flat handles commonly seen on Spyderco knives) and a gracefully curved blade that gives a greater surface area for cleaning game.
The VG–10 steel used for the blade holds its edge well and is exceptionally sharp. The sheath for the Bill Moran is made of molded plastic and appears very similar to Kydex. The sheath has an adjustable mounting bracket so hunters can mount the sheath vertically or horizontally.
Cons: The two major cons for this knife is that (1) it is not a full-tang blade and (2) it is a long blade. Because the Bill Moran is not a full-tang blade, it is not safe to use for harsher tasks, such as batoning or breaking through the sternum bones. Because the Bill Moran sports a 3.875-inch blade, it is not as nimble as a smaller blade and risks damaging a hide during caping. Those points aside, though, this an outstanding knife made with high-quality materials.
Havalon Piranta Edge
Blade Description: Replaceable 2.75-inch surgical steel drop point blade (for the Havalon #60A and #60XT blades; blunt tip #22XT blades are also available).
Handle Description: ABS plastic with rubberized inserts
Pros: Before Havalon came into existence, its parent company, Havel, made surgical scalpels that were purchased by hunters for skinning and caping game. After a while, Havel realized the birth of this new market and created the Havalon division to sell its disposable scalpel blades to hunters with a handle more suited to the work of field dressing game.
Havalon does offer a wide variety of blades besides the #60A, including gut hooks, saws, and multiple types of blunt tip blades, making the Piranta versatile. Along with being easier to grip than the surgical scalpels initially repurposed for hunting, the Piranta has an open body design that could allow for dishwasher cleaning after a hunt.
Cons: The replaceable blades are designed to be lightweight and sharp, not indestructible. They can snap when too much pressure is used, so a hunter needs to understand that the Piranta is intended for skinning and caping, not breaking through bone or general tasks for which a full-tang, fixed blade is more suitable.
Benchmade Steep Country
Blade Description: 3.5-inch S30V alloy drop point blade that is also available in a modified drop point/gut hook design
Handle Description: Santoprene thermoplastic elastomer
Pros: Benchmade knives are considered amongst the best tactical knives in the world, and with good reason. Benchmade uses high-quality steel and robust design for its knives. Even though it is a hunting knife, not a tactical knife, the Benchmade Steep Country is no different and is made of durable, edge-retaining S30V alloy steel. The Steep Country has jimping on the front and back of the spine of the blade. This allows for using different hand positions while field dressing deer. The blade is full tang, and therefore can be used for bushcraft if necessary. The handle on the Steep Country is also unique, in that it has a sort of wetsuit wrap – Santoprene being a cousin to neoprene – that maximizes grip even under conditions where knives normally become slippery (such as, say, when covered in blood and fat midway through butchering a deer).
Cons: The only major flaw in the Steep Country is the loose and poorly-built sheath. The sheath is made of Kydex with a leather strap holding the knife handle in place. The rivets and screws on the sheath and retaining strap are weak, and likely to suffer failure after hard use. Regardless, this is one of the best knives out there.
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