Deer hunting is a physically and mentally demanding sport, and one in which the lawful season seems to get smaller each year. When a hunter is successful at bagging a deer, they do not want to be brought low at the last minute by a skinning knife that ruins their trophy hide (or, if they are sustenance hunters, makes the hide impossible to use). This article addresses what features are needed in a top-of-the-line skinning knife and provides five recommendations for the best deer skinning knife on the market.
A good deer skinning knife is one that can handle the detailed work of separating a hide from a deer as part of caping or, if you do not intend to stuff and mount the deer, just as part of field dressing. Skinning is precise work, and a blade has to meet certain standards to accomplish the task. Those standards are:
- is the blade the right style for skinning
- is the blade the right length for skinning
- is the blade made of the right materials to remain sharp during skinning
- is the knife durable and able to withstand being used in the field
- the ergonomics are such that the knife is comfortable to use over an extended period
Blades that are designed for survival or tactical use are not always the best deer skinning knives. Survival blades tend to be too large (and if designed right, are intended to be easy to sharpen in the field, and therefore too dull for skinning) for deer skinning. Tactical blades are also often not well suited for deer skinning because they are designed to easily puncture the skin.
Hunters try to avoid piercing the skin, particularly when they have a trophy kill. Ergonomics are critical for a good deer skinning knife, as are features intended to protect the hands from inadvertent lacerations. Hunters spend a fair bit of time with their knife while skinning a deer, and the pain of cramped, sore hands from using a poorly designed knife is not quickly forgotten.
Finally, a durable knife means a durable handle and (in the case of fixed blades) sheath. If anything falls apart in the field, the knife becomes a liability, not a tool.
The 5 Best Knives for Skinning Deer
Let’s begin with the Cold Steel Mini Tac Skinner.
Cold Steel Mini Tac Skinner
The Cold Steel Mini Tac Skinner is a fixed-blade knife with an unusual post in the handle that acts as a secondary finger guard to prevent a hunter’s hands from slipping while covered in blood during skinning. This safety measure is combined with an AUS–8A 3.3-inch clip point blade and an arched “Griv-Ex” handle. The Griv-Ex handle is intended to simulate G–10 scales and has a pocket that seats the eminence of the hand (the bulge of muscle and sinew next to the thumb) to avoid repetitive stress caused by poor hand positioning. The handle’s arch away from the blade assists in protecting the hand while in the body cavity of the deer. Still, this is a very thin handle, and some may be concerned that the Mini Tac Skinner is too small to work with.
The blade of the Mini Tac Skinner is well designed for skinning deer, although the tip could have been designed to be less likely to puncture a hide. The blade is made of mid-range AUS–8A Japanese steel alloy, which means that some work will be required to maintain the edge of the Mini Tac Skinner. A fixed-blade knife, the Mini Tac Skinner comes with a “Secure-Ex” plastic neck sheath that is held in place with dog tag-style metal beads (it also has lashing points for attaching elsewhere, such as on a belt).
The Mini Tac Skinner has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $46.99, which is reasonable given the smart design of the blade’s finger guard. In fact, the price of the Mini Tac Skinner makes it an excellent option for a budget knife, although the AUS 8A steel is not the best choice out there.
Knives of Alaska Elk Hunter SureGrip
The Knives of Alaska Elk Hunter Sure Grip is an excellent midrange knife that follows traditional design. Made of exceptionally durable D2 steel alloy, the Elk Hunter has a Rockwell hardness rating of HRC 59–61. The Elk Hunter is part of the pragmatic Trekker line of hunting knives from Knives of Alaska. As a result, the knife is not flashy, with a traditional drop point blade followed by an exaggerated choil (the choil is the non-sharp part of the knife blade) with an integrated finger guard on the base and jimping along the top so that a hunter can bear down on the blade safely while skinning a deer. The blade is 3.25 inches long and has a full tang for extra durability.
The Elk Hunter comes with a “SureGrip” plastic handle that has a rubber feel to it, and that comes in both black and orange variants. The handle is easy to grasp, even in cold and wet conditions, such as late autumn hunting. The knife also comes with a beautiful leather sheath that has excellent stitching. With an MSRP of $80.99, the Elk Hunter is more expensive than others on this list, but the high-quality materials used (mainly the D2 steel) justifies this price.
Klecker Abiqua Hunter
Perhaps the smallest manufacturer on this list, Klecker is a family brand run by a veteran of the US Marine Corps. The Abiqua Hunter is an ingenious design by Klecker that incorporates a gut hook into the spine of the handle. The blade of the Abiqua Hunter itself is 3.97 inches in length, and made of 7Cr17MoV stainless steel alloy, with a Rockwell hardness rating of 56–58, which, while not as durable as the other blades on this list, will sharpen very well.
The handle of the Abiqua Hunter is made of extremely ergonomic G–10 composite. This well-designed handle has finger grooves for enhanced grip leading up to thick jimping at the base of the blade itself, which will help for leverage during field dressing deer. The Abiqua Hunter comes with a Kydex sheath that is very lightweight and formed to the knife. The sheath attaches with lanyard grommets that allow lashing of the sheath with 550 cord or with a MOLLE attachment available online. The Abiqua Hunter has an MSRP of $139.00, but that reflects the fact that this is a unique blade from a small manufacturer respected by collectors.
Buck Commander Lone Rock Folding Knife
Another affordable option on this list is the Buck Commander Lone Rock Folding Knife, made by Kershaw. This option, for those that prefer a durable folder to a fixed-blade deer skinning knife, is made of 8Cr13MoV steel alloy and has a 3.5-inch blade that includes a gut hook on the reverse side. For some, the idea of using a folding knife for deer skinning is blasphemy, due to the difficulty of ensuring the knife is clean and sterile the next time you use it on game. However, others do not seem to find this to be a problem, and folding knives have been growing in popularity amongst hunters.
The Lone Rock has a glass-reinforced nylon handle with “K-texture” grip panels embedded within it. These panels give extra friction to the handle, making it easier to use when slippery. The Lone Rock has an MSRP of $54.99, which places it safely in the middle of the price ranges of the knives on this list.
Gerber Gator Premium
Gerber has been making the Gator line of knives for decades; I remember seeing it on one of my peers at Boy Scout camp back in the early 1990s. Over these decades, Gerber has improved the knife in some different ways. First off, the blade on the Gator is now made of S30V steel alloy, one of the higher quality alloys available. This durable blade will hold its edge well, even when coming into contact with bone during the skinning process.
The blade on the Gator is a 3.6-inch drop point blade (note, there are multiple versions of the Gator available, in case you prefer a folding knife over the more traditional fixed blade; however the alloy used is lower quality). The Premium model of the Gator includes a hefty finger guard and jimping to aid in leverage during the skinning process.
Gerber uses glass-reinforced nylon scales on the handle of its knife, over which Gerber applies a layer of rubber for additional grip. This has always been the selling point of the Gator, and rightly so: this is a very sure-gripped knife, one that I would feel comfortable using even in the rainiest, wet conditions. This is a full tang knife, with a lanyard hole built into the pommel for those that want to use the Gator for bushcraft or survival purposes.
Oddly for a knife that uses synthetics so cleverly to aid in the use of the Gator, the knife comes with a traditional leather sheath. The premium edition of the Gator has an MSRP of $121.00.
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