The Best Skinning & Caping Knives for Hunting Season
by Nathan GareauLast updated: October 19, 2022
Hunting season is upon us again, so it’s time to get geared up! Depending on your current gear, you may have had a frustrating experience with dull knives, or you might be a new hunter looking to get the right gear. Either way, having a couple of sharp knives that can keep their edge is vital. Between super-tough hair that kills edges and the sheer volume of work, your knives will get a serious workout when you dress your kill and using dull knives is a recipe for disaster.
Today, we’ll discuss the best knives for one of the primary jobs after you pull the trigger: skinning. Removing an animal’s hide is key to preparing the meat for your freezer, and when done correctly, leaves you with a gorgeous souvenir from your hunt. A good skinning knife will be sharp and made of steel that can stay sharp for a very long time. There’s nothing worse (and more dangerous) than your knife dulling on you halfway through the job.
Sharp knives are safer!
How to Choose the Right Skinning Knife
Design-wise, skinning knives tend to be made with a curved blade capable of long, sweeping cuts. The tips usually curve up, away from the edge, to avoid piercing the precious hide. Many hunters like to be able to choke up on the blade and guide the tip with their index finger, using the knife like an extension of the hand. As a result, handles often seem small until you sneak your hand forward and pinch the blade. Finally, size can vary quite a bit. Knives are very personal, so hunting knives come in a vast range of shapes, sizes, and styles. Some prefer tiny scalpel-like skinning knives, and others like an enormous blade for making big cuts. The preference depends on the size of game you’re handling, tradition, and experience. As you gain experience, you’ll likely build a collection of knives and settle on a few favourites. These are the skinning knives that come most highly reviewed by our staff and customers, and among them, you’ll likely find your next blade. They break into two main camps: Smaller purpose-built skinning knives designed for one job and larger multipurpose blades with excellent curved tips for skinning.
Easily the crowd favourite, the Mandra is my first pick when it comes to skinning knives. The slightly larger blade allows you to handle bigger tasks, but it’s still small enough to maneuver easily when doing fine detail work. The handle is super ergonomic and doesn’t hurt your hand after hours of work; an absolute must-have when processing large carcasses. The Swedish-steel blade keeps an edge better than most competitors but isn’t hard enough to be super fragile. It also features a Scandinavian grind, making it super easy to resharpen on whetstones.
Origin makes a ton of excellent knives, all with very similar profiles, so I couldn’t pick just one. These blades are forged from salvaged sawmill steel in Canada by craftsman Mark Liss, with the stated goal of “defying a throwaway culture”. Indeed an ethos any hunter can get behind. These unconventional blades are smaller but balanced with thicker handles, making them perfect for any size of hunter. They’re a little pointier than some skinning knives making them a little more precise for fine work, but they are not the best choice for amateurs.
When I say hunting knife, chances are a Buck knife immediately popped into your head. They’re the classic for a reason. This is your quintessential skinning blade with a lovely curve and precise tip. The spine curves to fit your palm, so you’ll barely notice you’re holding it. The steel Buck uses doesn’t stay sharp as long as others on this list, but its softer nature also makes it a breeze to resharpen on the go.
For many Canadian old-timers, Grohmann is the only brand they trust. Their classic Russel #1 is a favourite for many larger skinning tasks, but this mini-skinner is the best for small caping work around the face and hooves. It shares several similarities with the Buck Ranger above but is likely to keep an edge longer and is made entirely in Canada!
If the Helle Mandra is Danny Devito in the movie twins, the Utvear is Arnold Schwarzenegger. This big, beefy Norwegian blade can handle just about any outdoor task. Similar to the Mandra, it has a lovely curved tip for skinning, while the belly of the blade is sturdy enough to split the brisket on a mule deer. This knife comfortably fills even the most giant hands and is as beautiful as it is sharp, so it’s sure to become an heirloom piece.
Another great do-everything knife for hunters. If you want a knife that feels confident in your hand, look no further. This guy is hefty, super sturdy, and razor-sharp. The tip offers more precision over the Utvear, and the substantial 5.5” blade can easily handle any size of game.
Once again, American maker Buck knows exactly what hunters want. Those focused on hide preservation usually have dedicated skinning knives with a super forgiving curve for broad, sweeping strokes. Combine that blade with a girthy, contoured handle, and you’ve got a tool you can count on. This big guy can handle anything from smaller deer to moose and elk without putting up a fuss.
Originally designed as a camp cooking knife, the James Hell Gap is for those who only want the best. The blade holds an edge beautifully, and the micarta handle provides extra grip, especially when wet. James Brand knives aren’t just about good looks. They rigorously test their blades, so you know you’re getting a knife you can count on in sticky situations and still prepare a nice meal with once the day is over.
Any of these knives are guaranteed to delight this hunting season, but I hope that helped make your decision a little easier! If you need more help, don’t hesitate to pay us a visit or get in touch, and if you’re after a multipurpose hunting knife, check out this blog.
A famed cocktologist and axe man, Nathan opened the first Kent of Inglewood store in Calgary, and now spends his days writing most of what you are reading here and teaching straight razor shaving classes. Ask him about his world-famous Three Cherry Manhattan. In his spare time Nathan can be found sharpening his axe, making fermented foods, or practicing his amateur butchering hobby. He doesn't slur his words, he speaks in cursive.