The most common error in choosing a hunting knife is either picking one that is too big or too small for the tasks it will be required to perform. Many novice hunters are under the impression that a huge hunting knife is necessary for skinning game animals. Even a brown bear can be skinned with a quality pocket knife. Sure there are knives more suited to specific tasks, but the main thing to consider when choosing a hunting knife is quality and edge retention capabilities.
Hunters of old used knives that were made of steel with a higher carbon content. Those knives were easier to sharpen and retained their sharpness far better than knives made from steel that is higher in chromium. Chromium is what makes stainless steel. Stainless steel is less prone to rust but there is a trade off of edge retention and ease of sharpening. Any knife made from high quality steel will be sturdy enough. What type of steel the knife is made of will determine whether or not it requires more care for rust or more skills and time spent sharpening it.
Most hunters are part-time hunters who maybe only go out for a couple of days during whitetail deer season. That type of hunter would do well to own a knife that is higher in chromium since long term storage of the knife and short term hard use will be expected. No sense in having to worry if the hunting knife is rusting in the sheath in between hunting seasons when a good blade made of stainless steel can be had. Stainless still can corrode but it takes quite a bit of abuse to get it to cause enough damage to be noticeable.
A hunter who uses his tools like they are an extension of his arm and who treats them with care will do better with a knife of higher carbon steel that can be honed to a razor’s edge with ease and retain that edge under extreme use. Truthfully the only extra work this type of knife requires is a regular wipedown with a rust preventative cloth. Even an occasional spray and wiping with WD-40 should suffice. However, many hunters really neglect the tools of their trade so rust resistant metals came into vogue with their trade offs being acceptable to some.
Fixed blade or folder is the next question to consider. A fixed blade with a tacky handle such as Kraton is preferable to a hunting knife over slick grips. A hunting knife may need to be instantly deployed as a weapon while the bearer is soaking wet. A handle with a grip that can be used by wet hands is needed. Plus, there is plenty of wet sticky blood when field dressing an animal. A hand slipping off a knife handle while field dressing a large game animal can cause a serious injury to the hunter. A handle made of Kraton or similar material with a guard to prevent a finger or the hand from slipping forward onto the blade is a must.
Serrated or non-serrated also is a question many hunters consider when getting a hunting knife. Truthfully a serrated blade on a hunting knife is only for those types of hunters who do not know how to or will not take the time to keep a non-serrated blade sharpened. Serrations allow for a sawing type of cut that continues to work adequately even when the serrations have become dull. A properly sharpened non-serrated blade is preferable to all tasks that a hunting knife will be used for and even cutting rope and cord. Serrations can only be sharpened with tools that will properly fit into the serrations so if they exist on a knife, they probably will never be sharpened again as long as that knife is in use.
A proper sheath is a must for a hunting knife. Modern plastics have made sheath design for hunting knives a science unto itself. Getting a sheath that will hold the knife in place whether it is carried on the belt or upside down on a pack is a good idea. Also the sheath should hold the knife in place without the absolute need of something being wrapped and buttoned around the handle. Those buttons invariably pop loose while crawling around out in the wild causing many a good hunting knife to be lost. There are some excellent sheath designs that put tension against the blade to hold the knife in place with a supplemental strap and button at the handle for double the security.
Finally get the knife that feels good in the hand that will be using it. A blade can be a foot long or just three or four inches. That preference is up to the user. Remember that a tiny well-made blade can save a life and field dress a bear. No need to go Rambo style. Consider the extra weight and how much a hunting partner will poke fun at a big blade. Just get what is needed to get the job done with a little bit extra, just in case.