What’s the Best All-Around Hunting Knife?

Sometimes, the best knife for the job needs to be the best knife for multiple jobs. For example, some may want a hunting knife that works well as a multi-purpose everyday knife. This article will address the things you should most want in an quality all-around hunting knife.  We’ll also give you our top five picks for knives we believe fit the bill in for this category.

Key Factors for Hunting Knives

There are five factors to consider when thinking about knives that would work well for both hunting and everyday use:

  1. Whether the knife can be carried every day without creating a problem;
  2. Whether the knife has a blade shape that would allow for field dressing game without ruining the hide;
  3. Whether the blade is made of durable steel that will hold its edge well;
  4. Whether the knife’s handle would be safe to use when wet; and,
  5. Whether the knife is a cost-effective option for the user.

Top Hunting Knives?

Knives, like anything, are of course very subjective.  But, here are five blades that we think fit the bill for being great all-around hunting tools.  First up is the CRKT Homefront Hunter.

CRKT Homefront Hunter

  • Blade Length: 3.5 inches
  • Blade Material: AUS–8
  • Handle Material: aircraft-grade aluminum
  • Pros: field-stripping allows for easy cleaning; solid blade
  • Cons: does not open rapidly
  • Retail Price: $77

Designing for CRKT, Ken Onion followed a theme based on World War II with the Homefront. Patterned, olive drab aluminum scales, a star on the unique field-stripping mechanism, and a flipper mechanism designed to look like a bayonet lug evoke the equipment of Allied Forces. The Homefront’s drop point blade is AUS–8 steel (on the aluminum body model; the glass-reinforced nylon model sports lower quality – and less expensive – 1.4116 stainless steel), and has a curving edge that makes the Homefront good for skinning game.

With the flipper mechanism used as a finger guard, the design of the Homefront allows for greater protection when skinning or butchering game.

As indicated above, the Homefront is designed to be “field stripped,” as though it were a military weapon, without the use of tools. This allows for a thorough cleaning immediately after dressing game, rather than dealing with sticky, dried-on blood and viscera.

One complaint may be that the field-stripping design works against the design of the flipper, making the knife harder to open. However, when this is being used as a hunting or utility knife, the concern is less about whether it is a “fast draw” than whether it can be used safely.

Buck Open Season Folding Skinner

  • Blade Length: 3.75 inches
  • Blade Material: S30V
  • Handle Material: Rosewood Dymondwood
  • Pros: high-quality S30V blade for a low price
  • Cons: small handle can be uncomfortable for some
  • Retail Price: $44

When I think of Buck, I tend to think of traditionalist designs, such as the classic Buck 110 Hunting knife, more than I think of an innovative use of metals. However, the Open Season Folder uses high-quality S30V steel for an incredibly hard, nimble drop point blade. While the blade is nearly four inches in length, it feels more nimble due to its inward curve and jimping above the tip and base of the blade, allowing the user to apply pressure at both points.

The Open Season Folder has a Dymondwood scale handle. Dymondwood is a bit of a misnomer, as it is more like particle board than the wood from a particular tree. Dymondwood is made by using a compressed mixture of resin and wood that is almost as hard as G–10 synthetics (much like how micarta scales are made of compressed resin and fabric, typically canvas). I tend to find the handle on the Open Season a bit small for my hand, but it does work well once inside a deer’s body cavity.

At a retail price of $44, the Buck Open Season Folder is an economical option for those who want a reliable, multi-purpose hunting knife. It also comes with a leather sheath, for those that like to carry their folding knives on their belts.

Benchmade 585 Mini-Barrage

  • Blade Length: 2.91 inches
  • Blade Material: 154CM or S30V steel alloys
  • Handle Material: Valox Thermoplastic Resin or G–10 Glass-reinforced nylon
  • Pros: premium materials used for both the blade and handle
  • Cons: expensive
  • Retail Price: $123 to $175

I have to admit a certain bias against Benchmade folding knives, as there are times when I think their brand appeal justifies their price tag more than their manufacturing, much like Mercedes-Benz or BMW. However, I would be dishonest if I were to claim that, despite its brand appeal, Benchmade does not make a high-quality knife. Benchmade makes some of the best knives on the market, hence its popularity with the US Special Forces.

The Benchmade Mini-Barrage is available with a variety of options, but the most important ones are what steel is used in the blade. In this instance, Benchmade offers either 154CM (with a Rockwell hardness rating of 58–61 HRC) or S30V (58–60 HRC on the Rockwell hardness scale). Both are excellent options, with the 154CM being slightly harder – and therefore given to holding an edge longer – but also slightly more difficult to sharpen. I do not think either option would be a bad choice for hunters.

The blade is a drop point design that ends in a spear tip. Its size makes it excellent for both field dressing game and everyday carry, particularly in those jurisdictions that regulate against blades over three inches in length. One concern I would have is that the spear tip of the blade could make skinning with the blade difficult and could lead to punctures that mar a trophy skin.

The handle on the Mini-Barrage comes in either Valox Thermoplastic Resin or the more traditional synthetic, G–10 glass-reinforced nylon. Both are durable options, although the stippling on the glass-reinforced nylon scales may be slightly grippier if the knife was wet or covered in blood.

The biggest objection to the Mini-Barrage is the price tag. There is no escaping the fact that, as good as it is, it costs two to three times as much as some of the other knives on this list. For some, that might be a worthwhile expense. For others, it might be a deal-breaker.

SOG Vulcan

  • Blade Length: 3.5 inches
  • Blade Material: VG–10
  • Handle Material: G–10 glass-reinforced nylon
  • Pros: Open handle is easy to clean; well-designed blade
  • Cons: more costly than other options
  • Retail Price: $90

The SOG Vulcan is a beast of a folding knife, with tolerances that help eliminate the objections some hunters have to using folding pocket knives. One reason some hunters prefer fixed blade knives to folding knives is that there is a chance the locking mechanism on the knife could fail, allowing the knife to dangerously slam down onto the fingers of its user. SOG designed the locking mechanism to have a 1,000-pound test, far beyond what leverage and human strength could surpass.

The blade, made of VG–10, is a durable option that is less brittle than VG–1 and holds its edge well. SOG designed the Vulcan with what it calls a clip point shape but appears to be more akin to a modified drop point. The blade has a slight curve-recurve design that equals additional surface area on the edge, meaning that it will be able to apply more surface area when field dressing or skinning game.

SOG utilizes a crescent-shaped locking mechanism, which allows for greater openness behind the blade. This makes the knife easier to clean, although some may not be a fan of the crescent mechanism, as it makes one-handed closing of the knife more difficult.

The glass-reinforced nylon of the handle and the choil combine to form ample protection for fingers at the base. There is also a small space for fingers behind the ambidextrous thumb studs, allowing a chef’s grip on the knife useful for butchering game and for chopping in a camp kitchen. Along with being able to use the thumb studs for opening the knife, the choil stretches out to a flipper mechanism for fast opening of the knife. The handle has a diamond grid pattern on the scales that allows for greater grip in wet conditions.

Retailing at $90, the Vulcan is somewhat expensive but still cheaper than the Mini-Barrage and reasonable given the materials used. Some may find the tip of the knife to be a liability when used close to the skin of trophy game, but otherwise, this is a well-made knife.

Spyderco Lil Lum

  • Blade Length: 2.31 inches
  • Blade Material: VG–10
  • Handle Material: G–10
  • Pros: blade quality and design well suited for skinning; small size blade is dextrous
  • Cons: Expensive; small handle
  • Retail Price: $130

Spyderco’s Lil Lum is based on a Taiwanese style of blade known as a shilin cutter (and also reminds me of some Native American obsidian knives). Part of what Spyderco calls its “ethnic series,” the Lil Lum has a 2.31-inch “bamboo leaf” blade that is rounded and well-suited for skinning game. Also, because of the small size of this blade, the Lil Lum is a dextrous option for those who need to clean small game.

Made of VG–10, like the SOG Vulcan, the Lil Lum will hold an edge well without risk of chipping or pitting. The Lil Lum has a cutaway thumb hole for opening standard in Spyderco knives. Because of its quick-opening capabilities, light weight (just over one ounce), and sub-three-inch blade length, it is as much an excellent everyday carry knife as it is a hunting knife.

The handle of the Lil Lum incorporates G–10 glass-reinforced nylon composite. It is a grippy handle, with a diamond grid pattern slightly smaller than that used on the Vulcan. However, it is a small handle, and some might not find it well suited for their hands.

As a somewhat-limited edition knife, the Lil Lum retails for approximately $130, which, like the Mini-Barrage, is more expensive than most of the knives reviewed here (three times the price of the Buck Open Season). However, it is made of quality materials and utilizes a unique design based on knives that were once used for cleaning fish and game.

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