The Best Skinning Knife – KnifePlanet’s Complete Guide
There can be no doubt that both fixed blade knives and folding knives are a popular part of American culture. After all, a single glance at any knife manufacturer’s web site or catalog will present you with so many different choices that it becomes difficult to choose just one. But, if you expand that view to include all of the knife manufacturers in the market today, then the number of choices literally becomes mind boggling! However, even with all of those choices, to the knife aficionado with a practiced eye and actual experience in the field using skinning knives, the number of high quality, well designed, production skinning knives is amazingly small since most modern knife manufactures seem to focus on either tactical knives or “every day carry” knives (which is most often nothing more than a politically correct way of describing a folding tactical knife) and leave the production of high quality skinning knives to custom bladesmiths. However, a well designed skinning knife is a tool and, as such, it must possess certain properties; the most important of which being a proper blade design. But, it also needs to be the right size and, it needs to be able to hold an edge. Therefore, choosing a well designed skinning knife really depends on a combination of several different factors.
Check out my favorite Skinning Knives:
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CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BEST SKINNING KNIFE
As mentioned above, there are some key features to designing a good skinning knife consisting of the design of the blade, the length of the blade, the type of steel from which the blade is constructed and, the design of the handle.
1. Blade Design
When looking for a skinning knife, blade design is the single most critical factor you need to consider because, even subtle changes in a blade’s design can drastically affect its performance. Therefore, you should first be aware that different animals require different skinning techniques due to the way that their hides are attached to their muscle tissue. For instance, all game animals in the Deer Family such as Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Elk, and Moose as well as goats such as Antelope and sheep such as Doll Sheep have hides that are loosely attached to the carcass via a thin membrane that is easily sliced with a sharp knife and therefore, the work is done with the tip of the blade. Consequently, knives with either Clip Point or Drop Point blade designs usually work best for skinning game animals with loosely attached hides because only the tip of the blade is needed to slice the membrane. However, other animals such as Feral Pigs and Wild Boar have hides that are attached to the carcass via layer of subcutaneous fat that feels somewhat fibrous when you slice it. Therefore, knives with Trailing Point blade designs usually work best for removing the hides from this type of animal because the entire belly of the cutting edge is required to make sweeping cuts through this layer of fat.
2. Blade Length
Blade length is another factor that needs to be considered. In fact, it is a wise idea to match the blade length to the size of the game animal you are skinning. For instance, when removing the hide from small game such as squirrels and rabbits, knives with blades measuring 3 to 3 ½” tend to work well whereas, when removing the hide from medium sized game such as White Tail Deer and Mule Deer, most hunters tend to prefer knives with 4” to 5” blades. However for truly large game species such as Elk, Moose, and Brown Bear, knives with blades measuring 6” to 8 ½” are often the best choice.
3. Blade Steel for Skinning Knives
Another critical factor to consider is that it must hold an edge because it is very annoying to be forced to stop in the middle of removing a hide to sharpen your knife! Therefore, it is very important to choose a skinning knife with a blade that is made from a hard steel as opposed to a tough steel because it is critical for skinning knives to hold their edge but, it is not critical for them to be able to withstand impact forces or lateral forces (bending) the way that a Camp Knife or Survival Knife can. However, you don’t want a blade steel that is so hard that it is difficult to sharpen because, even though it may hold an edge well, it will undoubtedly be brittle and may break or even shatter if dropped. Thus, skinning knives with blades that have a Rockwell C Hardness of 56 HRC to 62 HRC provide the best compromise.
Furthermore, it should be noted that blade steels are clearly divided into two categories consisting of (non-stainless) high carbon tool steels and stainless steels and, the main difference between the two is that high carbon tools steels are specifically designed to be tough steels whereas, stainless steels are specifically designed to resist corrosion. Therefore, depending on which definition you choose, stainless steels require a minimum of 12.5 percent Chromium which bonds with the Carbon in the steel to create Chromium Carbides which greatly enhance the steels corrosion resistance. Plus, they also make it significantly harder which enables it to hold an edge noticeably better but, it also makes it more brittle and thus, more prone to breaking. However, because most hunters are far more concerned with edge holding ability than toughness, most hunters have a distinct preference for stainless steels over high carbon tool steels and, some excellent choices for stainless blade steels are, 440C, CPM 154, ATS34, VG-10, BG-42, and CPM S30V with a Rockwell Hardness of 56 to 62 HRC.
4. Handle design and material
When buying a skinning knife, you should look for one that has a handle design that is both ergonomic and that will enable you to hold it with either the edge down or the edge up with relative comfort. Also, when removing the hide, some hunters prefer to wrap their index finger around the knife’s handle along with their other fingers whereas, other hunters prefer to extend their index finger along the blade’s spine and thus, the handle should be comfortable to you the way that you like to hold the knife. Also, most hunters tend to view their skinning knife as somewhat akin to jewelry and thus, most hunters prefer aesthetically pleasing handle materials such as exotic hardwoods or other materials such as bone, horn, antler, or even fossils. Fortunately, with a skinning knife, you are free to choose most any material that pleases you because skinning knives are not normally subjected to the extreme uses that Camp Knives and Survival Knives are and thus, they can afford to be pretty rather than tough.
5. Fixed blades vs. folding blades Skinning Knives
Most hunters have a distinct preference for fixed blade knives over folding knives. However, this is merely a personal preference since there is no inherent advantage in one design over the other. On the other hand, some hunters prefer to carry both types so that they can use the folding knife to make the initial incisions along the abdomen, around and down the legs, and around the anus so that they can reserve the edge on their fixed blade knife for removing the hide from the game animal.
OUR REVIEWS OF THE TOP 3 SKINNING KNIVES
1. Bark River Fox
Quite possibly the best production skinning knife on the market today, the Bark River Knives “Fox River” features an overall length of 8 ¼” inches with a Drop Point blade measuring 4 ¼” in length and is constructed using 0.170”, A2 or CPM 3V high carbon tool steels or, Elmax stainless steel (a premium blade steel similar to CPM S30V) hardened to 58-60 HRC with a Flat Grind. Consequently, the Flat Grind enables all three of these blade steels to be honed to a fine edge and each will do an excellent job of holding that edge. However, blades made from either A2 or CPM 3V will be somewhat tougher and easier to sharpen then blades made from Elmax but, they will not hold an edge or resist corrosion quite as well. On the other hand, blades made from Elmax will do an excellent job of holding an edge and resisting corrosion. Furthermore, the BRK Fox River features Full Tang construction with a very ergonomic grip design and handle scales made from your choice of several different colors of linen Micarta or any of several different natural handle materials such as Sambar Stag antler or exotic hardwoods. Last, it includes a heavy-duty leather sheath w/loop for a sharpening steel or flint rod (not included).
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2. Buck Model 113 Ranger Skinner
For those of you who prefer a smaller skinning knife for use on small to medium sized game, the Buck model 113 Ranger Skinner is one of the prettiest and well designed skinning knives on the market. In fact, of all of the skinning knives available today, this is one of the few that truly stands out from the crowd! Featuring an overall length of 7 ¼” with a Drop Point blade design that measures 3 1/8″ in length made from 420HC high carbon stainless steel hardened to 58 HRC by Paul Bos, the blade has a Hollow Grind with a very graceful, arched, Plunge Line and a moderate Ricasso. In addition, the beautifully designed blade is complimented by Full Tang construction with high quality brass bolsters and a very ergonomic handle design featuring American Walnut handle scales pinned to the tang with two non-mosaic, brass, pins and, a lanyard loop. Last, it includes a well designed and well made leather sheath.
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3. Buck Model 103 Skinner
As mentioned above, while both Clip Point and Drop Point blade designs work well when removing the hide from game animals with loosely attached hides, Trailing Point blade designs tend to work best when skinning game animals with tightly attached hides. Thus, while not technically a Trailing Point design because the tip of the blade does not extend above the blade’s spine, the Buck model 103 Skinner is an classic example of a design called a “Nessmuk” which was originally invented and promoted by outdoor writer Gorge Washington Sears in the late 1800’s and thus, it displays the same deep, belly, and extended cutting edge that the Trailing Point does. Thus, the Buck model 103 Skinner features an overall length of 8 ¼” with a Nessmuk blade design that measures 4″ in length constructed from 420HC (high carbon) stainless steel hardened to 58 HRC with a Hollow Grind. In addition, it also features Hidden Tang construction with a high quality stainless quillion combined with a very ergonomic handle design featuring your choice of black, Phenolic, plastic or Dynawood with an aluminum pommel cap. Last, it comes with a heavy-duty, leather, sheath.
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CONCLUSION: MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE
So, as you can see, there is actually quite a bit more to choosing an appropriate skinning knife than merely picking a pretty one from a manufacturer’s web site or catalog. For instance, you should keep in mind that although the Drop Point is by far the most popular blade design among hunters, the Clip Point also works well for removing loosely attached hides whereas, the Trailing Point tends to work best for removing tightly attached hides. Also, it is wise to match the length of the blade to the size of the game animal by choosing a small knife for use on small game, a medium sized knife for use on medium sized game, and a large knife for use on large game. Then, there is the issue of blade steel since most hunters require a knife that will hold an edge well over extended periods of use as well as one that is easy to care for by resisting corrosion. Thus, it is very important that you take the time to consider all of these aspects when choosing a skinning knife because the wrong choice will undoubtedly leave you frustrated with the poor performance of your knife whereas, the right choice is a joy to own and use!