A man’s bloody hands hold up the rack of a buck he’s skinning as he demonstrates what makes a good hunting knife.

What Makes a Good Hunting Knife? (And How to Choose One)

Master Bladesmith and hunter Josh Smith shares what makes a good hunting knife and why it’s important to choose the right blade for the job.
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Organizing a hunting trip takes a lot of planning, and at the top of your packing list is always a good hunting knife. But what makes a good hunting knife, and how do you choose the best one for your next adventure?

In this post, we’ll discuss the ideal features to look for and how to choose the hunting knife that’s best for you.

A Good Hunting Knife...

Doubles as a Survival Knife

First and foremost, to choose a good hunting knife for a trip, ask yourself what kind of hunting you’re doing and what the chances are of needing your blade for survival purposes.

Experienced hunters know after thousands of trips how easily a hunting trip can suddenly turn into a test of overnight survival. So, while we’re not discussing survival knives in this post and while you may not be planning a survival trip, you could very suddenly end up relying on your hunting knife for survival.

Appropriate for the Type of Hunt

The second thing to consider when asking what makes a good hunting knife is the animal you’re hunting and what kinds of situations may arise when going after that animal.

Will you be up in a tree stand? How far will you be from your truck? How big is the animal? Will you be able to drag it to your truck or will you need to cape it out on the spot?

Is it a multi-day trip? If so, will you also need the knife to do some work, like shaving kindling off a tree to start a fire?

MKC’s Speedgoat and Blackfoot fixed blades aren’t necessarily bushcraft knives, but they come to mind as good hunting knives because they can handle big jobs. Just the other day, I received a picture from a young lady who shot a giant Alaskan Yukon moose and broke it down with the Blackfoot.

If I were preparing for a trip in the Alaskan Yukon, I’d definitely bring a Blackfoot or Speedgoat with me. I’d also bring a Super Cub or a Stonewall, because survival is a factor in the Alaskan wilderness, especially if I’m waiting on a bush plane to pick me up in 10 days and I don’t know what the weather is going to be like.

I want a knife that will help me on the hunt, but also one that can do heavy work like chopping wood. It’s always a good idea to have a second knife on a big trip like Alaska, in case you lose one. The old saying “two is one and one is none” definitely applies in this situation.

Too many people end up trapped in the field for as long as a week, waiting on a plane that can’t get to them because of bad weather. The Stonewall and Super Cub are not only great for large animals, they’re also dependable in survival situations.

What Makes (and Doesn’t Make) a Good Hunting Knife

A good hunting knife should not only be able to gut and skin an animal, but should also be able to cape out an animal. Even the MKC Stonewall has enough of a tip to cape successfully.

Next, no hunting knife should have a serrated edge — those are worthless in the field. On this point, I’m not a fan of gut hooks, either, although I know many people who are. In my opinion, gut hooks are just another thing to snag yourself on.

Every hunting knife should have correct edge geometry and should be able to be sharpened in the field. Unfortunately, that eliminates about 90% of the knives you’ll find on store shelves.

That’s one of the many things that make MKC knives so special — thin edge geometry, which allows the hunter the ability to touch it up in the field.

A good hunting knife should also be able to be carried securely in its sheath in a variety of places. You don’t want to fall down a ravine, land on your pack, and have your blade rip right through it. A good sheath lets you store your blade safely, maybe on the straps of your pack, for example.

What Makes a Good Hunting Knife?

So, what makes a good hunting knife?

Well, a good hunting knife needs to have a good tip. It shouldn’t be a Wharncliffe or sheepsfoot. A good drop point or even certain straight blades, like the Speedgoat, will do.

Every good hunting knife should also be a fixed blade. It should be ergonomically designed to be comfortable in your hand to do heavy work. A hunting knife also shouldn’t be too big. You’ll need to carry it constantly, and you don’t want to add unnecessary weight to your pack or lose control over the blade while working inside the cavity of your kill.

The trick is to find a knife that’s not too heavy, bulky, or long, but something that’s a good size for doing work and getting inside the cavity all while maintaining control of the blade.

That’s why I don’t recommend anything longer than a Super Cub. It’s more important to be able to maintain control and precision with the knife than it is to have a large blade.

Hunting knives should be super sharp, enough to get through any animal you take down without having to resharpen. That said, it’s a good idea to carry a small stone in your pack to maintain the edge of the blade in the field.

Frankly, too many of the blades you find on shelves in stores are flat-out dull. That’s why it’s critical that you check the edge geometry of any blade you pick up to determine if it can be sharpened. Odds are that if you buy a knife that’s already dull in the store, you’re not going to be able to sharpen it at home, and you’ve wasted money.

MKC knives are sharp out of the box and can easily be resharpened again and again.

Finally, a feature that’s often overlooked when shopping for a hunting knife is the sheath and the way the knife will be carried. If you’re buying a knife in a store, you’re likely buying it before you’ve even seen the sheath. That’s a serious flaw in the process.

MKC designs its knives with sheaths that fit and that are incredibly handy and secure. This is one of many areas where our knives far exceed both the competition and the expectations of hunters in the field.

Infographic: What Makes a Good Hunting Knife? (And How to Choose One)

A Good Hunting Knife Can Handle Any Situation

At the end of the day, a knife is a tool, and it’s only as useful as the hunter using it. Far too often, though, a knife is asked to do a lot of things it was never designed to do. That’s why it’s important for those who set out on adventures to know what makes a good hunting knife — so they have the right tools for the unknown.


by Josh Smith, Master Bladesmith and Founder of Montana Knife Company