A deer knife should be between three and four inches, comfortable in the hand, and capable of holding its edge for the duration of the task. Not all knives will hold an edge, so it’s important to consider the kind of steel being used (just because you can get a knife razor sharp doesn’t mean it will hold an edge). In general, thinner blades will sharpen better than thicker ones, but keep in mind a deer knife is not a shaving razor. You want to be able to cut through muscle, tendon, cartilage, skin, and even bone if need be. Does your knife need a gut hook? No. Why? Because on a good knife, a gut hook is redundant, ugly, and tends to get in the way. Cutting open your deer without puncturing the stomach or intestines is easy assuming you don’t have a Rambo knife. Here are what I consider five perfect deer knives.
EnZo TrapperThe EnZo trapper combines Scandinavian looks and blade geometry with the strength of a full tang bushcrafting knife. It is widely thought to be one of the best hunting/outdoor knives on the market today. The 3-3/4 inch blade is ideal for dressing deer and serves as a general purpose field knife. If you find a new one for $100 (as you sometimes can), don’t hesitate to pick it up. EnZo Trappers are also available in kit form for those of you looking to build your own.
Buck 110The popular Buck 110 folder has dressed more deer than all the knives on this page combined. But what led to its rise as an icon for American outdoorsmen? The answer is versatility. Because of its robust handle and safe locking mechanism, it is stout enough to use with a baton or even as a hammer (I’ve done it, and I’m not proud). Yet the blade is thin and nimble enough for precision tasks like skinning, deboning, and slicing. The Buck 110’s combination of finesse and power had never been available in a folding knife before, and it changed the knife-making landscape forever.
Bark River Gunny HunterWhat I love about Bark River’s Gunny Hunter is the design’s fine synthesis of robustness and ergonomic comfort. It feels like an extension of your fingers when you hold it. One of the important differences between the Gunny and the Gunny Hunter is that the latter’s tip has been slightly lowered to give it more belly. At 3.7″ it is perfectly capable of dressing anything from rabbit to elk. The version in A2 steel offers both ease of sharpening and excellent edge retention. This is your knife if you’re looking for something to take into the big woods that will also perform basic bushcrafting tasks.
Morakniv ClipperThe Clipper is that knife you buy thinking it will be your beater but you end up liking it more than your “preferred” knife. Mora knives offer pure utilitarian value at the lowest possible price—it almost doesn’t make sense to buy any knife other than a Mora. At only $15, the Mora Clipper or Companion will perform as well as a knife that costs ten times as much. I personally don’t like the rubber handles or plastic sheaths, though.
Helle SymfoniMaybe you can tell by now I’m a bit partial to Scandi knives. I like the Scandi grind for two reasons: They’re incredibly easy to sharpen because the bevel acts an angle guide, and two, Helle knives are proof that you don’t need a big, heavy knife to dress large game. The Sami people of Scandinavia have been dressing reindeer and moose with traditional three and four inch puukko knives (what Helle knives are based on) for millennia. Helle knives are incredibly lightweight and easy to carry. The Symfoni is a sleek, triple laminated, stainless knife with a razor sharp 3-1/2 inch blade. The blade’s medium length and thinness make it ideal for dressing deer and other medium to large game.
There is simply no reason for your deer knife to be longer than four and a half inches. Don’t be the guy who shows up to deer camp with a Rambo knife—show up with something sensible and efficient.