I love rifles. I love how they look, how they come to hand, how they shoulder, and when they go bang with a purpose. Rifles can have their own personality and their own quirks. Their talents may be wide-ranging or so specific that they are rarely called forth. A rifle may be blue collar or white, but if it is mine, two things are certain: it will be used in the field or on the range, and it shoots where you aim it.
Shotguns hold the same allure for me, only less so, and pistols . . . well, for me, pistols are useful in certain settings and fun in others, but you don’t really get attached to them. Put another way, most of my rifles have names. Some of my shotguns have names. None of my pistols have names.
For years, knives were behind pistols—just tools to be used until broken or lost, and never mourned. Then I finally realized that everything one can say or feel about a firearm could be applied to a knife as well. Without intention or plan, I had become a guy to whom knives held importance.
I think an increased appreciation of what goes into making a fine knife, and shared experiences with my knives, were the reasons. Only when one has carried and used a knife that has performed consistently and well can a knife come to hold special meaning, but when that happens, the knife, without regard to cost or value, becomes more like an old friend than an implement.
Here are the knives that qualify, the knives I have known.
The first group is made up of three knives handmade by friends and family that came to be mine, fortunately, after I had become an experienced hunter—I would not have appreciated the time, effort, and craftsmanship required to make such knives had I received them earlier.
Before I was born, my dad’s best friend, Uncle Pete, made a skinning knife from a saw blade, back when saw blades were made of high-quality steel. Pete’s antler-handled blade has the sweep of a skinner and a razor edge but dulls quickly with heavy use. Dad, already skilled with wood and leather, decided to see if he could add steel to the list, using old files for his blades.
I have two of Dad’s knives: his initial effort, which produced a crude but very effective hunting knife, and his final edition, which he presented to Pete as a gift. The latter is a miniature Bowie, highly polished with faint scrollwork circles on the blade, and is beautiful. Both knives have leather-washer handles in the style of quality knives from that era, and both knives will hold an edge through muscle and bone. All have made memories with deer, though Pete’s skinner and Dad’s last knife spend little time in the field today. All are priceless to me. When I hold them I think of Dad, of Pete, and of the hours they spent with steel, leather, and antler combining art with function.
The next group of three knives are not priceless but are certainly precious to me, based on shared experiences and decades of faithful service. The first is a Marbles-style knife I found between the walls of a ruined cabin while on a Boy Scout camping trip. I took it home and showed the folks (my step-dad helped me clean it up), then it was taken from me and kept in a drawer so I wouldn’t “cut my hand off with it.”
It stayed there for years until I reclaimed it as an adult—I needed a knife that even I could not break. It has a heavy blade of high-carbon steel and the leather-washer handle of the style. Once sharpened, it can handle literally anything, and it has. It has split many a Texas deer’s pelvis and ribcage, deboned multiple species, been a capable skinner, and even split the ribs of a 325-pound feral boar . . . although I did have to re-sharpen it after that.
The second is a Schrade Uncle Henry folder I was given by my construction-crew boss, a job in which it served me well. Years later it helped me field dress my first deer, and decades later it accompanied me to Africa. It had earned the right to go.
Unfortunately, the blade does not have its original profile. I broke off the tip doing something stupid and spent a weekend filing the blade by hand until it looked natural.
The third is Pete’s Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter, which, like his skinner and Dad’s last knife, was given to me when he decided his hunting days were over. It is well used, the blade worn from countless sharpenings for the decades of deer he cleaned with it. Pete kept it razor sharp, as do I, and it is just as effective as ever—I used it to debone an Alaskan-Yukon moose and cut my finger to the bone on the same day. When I carry it I think of Pete, rough as a cob but a good man who was kind to a snot-nosed kid way back when.
These knives are my workhorses, the knives that have been called upon to help me countless times and never failed me. When I hold them I think of past adventures and accomplishments, and both wonder and yearn for those yet to come.
The last three knives form the surprise group. These are the “beater” knives, the equivalent of the truck rifle that one tosses into the truck, just in case. The utilitarian rifle, scratched, nicked, and worn, never babied and cleaned only when you get around to it. These lock-blade knives are always at hand—two permanently reside in my truck and are often called on to double as other tools, as opposed to pure knife work.
Even how they came to be mine was random. The first two were purchased years ago as part of a package of multiple knives and a DU flag at a Ducks Unlimited banquet. A buddy wanted the flag and I wanted the knives (I was still in my break them/lose them stage). We finally figured out we were bidding against each other, pooled our resources, and won the lot.
The other knives were soon gifted away or otherwise relegated to the dustbin of history, but two, a Buck and a Schrade, stuck, and I am glad they did. Both have cleaned deer, turkeys, pigs, and other game when none of my “real” knives were at hand, have been loaned to others, and have performed a thousand mundane chores where a sharp blade is needed but no memories are being made.
The last knife in this trio was given to me by my buddy Jackie, who believes that no one can have too many sharp knives. When I started to protest, he laughed and said it was on sale for almost nothing at a hardware store, “so, shut up and take it.” This knife in particular has been called on to do things no knife should be asked to do, in addition to cleaning multiple species of game, but I can’t seem to lose it and can’t seem to break it, and after a decade it has grown on me.
This group does not have custom knife sheaths made by Dick Murray like my six priceless and precious knives do; they just do what is asked of them day in and day out, and have for decades. What more can you ask for?