mil­lion years. That’s how far back records of man—and knives —go.

That’s also how long man has at­tempted to per­fect the cut­ting edge in or­der to se­cure an ad­van­tage in the age-old pro­fes­sion of hunt­ing. It has only been in the last 100 years that man has per­fected the ma­te­ri­als which al­low the finest knives in our long his­tory to be put into the hands of hun­ters.

In this story, we will delve deeper into how the hunt­ing knife has changed and how it has af­fected the way we hunt through­out the mil­len­nia.

A Deep His­tory

His­to­ri­ans pre­fer writ­ten ac­counts over oral his­tory and Nim­rod was the first recorded hunter in the Bi­ble. He was the great grand­son of Noah and the book of Ge­n­e­sis states he was “a mighty hunter in the eyes of the Lord.” Know­ing that we were not pro­cess­ing steel at that point in our his­tory, it is fair to guess that he would have used an ob­sid­ian knife to process his game.

A cou­ple of mil­len­nia later, Egyp­tian Pharaohs and other no­bles took great ex­cur­sions to hunt desert game along the Nile val­ley with Bronze Age weapons and knives. How­ever, over time, they were phased out and the Ro­mans had con­quered most of Europe and the Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, ush­er­ing in crude forms of steel used for blades—vastly im­prov­ing the cut­ting abil­ity of knives.

Af­ter the fall of the Ro­man Em­pire, Euro­pean no­bil­ity seized all lands and

all game an­i­mals therein, leg­is­lat­ing the death sen­tence to pre­vent the com­mon folk from hunt­ing. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the long-bladed hunt­ing dag­ger, or short sword, was the knife of the no­ble hunter, used mainly to dis­patch wounded game—while the butcher­ing was del­e­gated to the peas­ant game keeper. It was not un­til the

Euro­peans dis­cov­ered and col­o­nized the Amer­i­cas, with its rich abun­dance of game, that the com­mon man could again hunt with im­punity.

Hunt­ing in Early Amer­ica

The his­tor­i­cal records of men like Boone and Crock­ett are rec­og­nized by his­to­ri­ans as an in­di­ca­tion of hunt­ing prac­tices dur­ing these times. The long hun­ters and moun­tain men car­ried blades lo­cally forged from worn files, scythes and plow­shares. The Sh­effield-made knives, im­ported by the thou­sands, were col­lec­tively re­ferred to as Butch­ers—whether of the true butcher pat­tern or the more pop­u­lar scalper pat­tern. By the lat­ter half of the 19th cen­tury, com­mon men had more leisure time and sport hunt­ing was be­com­ing pop­u­lar. The Bowie knife be­came known as Amer­i­can Pat­tern Hunt­ing Knife, with mar­ket hun­ters and sport hun­ters both pur­chas­ing them to process game.

Hunt­ing jour­nal­ists came to light around this time, with the first be­ing John Pal­liser of Ir­ish no­bil­ity who came to the Amer­i­cas ex­plic­itly to hunt. In his 1848 book “Soli­tary Ram­bles,” he rec­om­mended a long-han­dled butcher knife as all the cut­lery re­quired of the sport hunter in the Amer­i­can West. Around this time, Ge­orge Sears, who wrote “Camp­ing and Wood­craft,” pro­moted what has be­come known as the Ness­muk trio—a 5- to 6-inch blade butcher pat­tern, a two-bladed pocket knife and a two-bladed hatchet. He con­demned the Amer­i­can Pat­tern Hunt­ing Knife as bet­ter suited to the belt of Billy the Kid. How­ever, in 1880, G.O. Shields, whose nom de plume was Co­quina, wrote his book “Camp­ing and Camp Out­fits” for hun­ters headed to the Rocky Moun­tains and sug­gested they uti­lize a knife with a blade of no less than 8-inches, a full ¼-inch at the spine with a stout buck horn han­dle, sup­ported by a thin-bladed knife, wider to­ward the tip and a stout jack knife.

By 1897, Colorado fruit grower Dall De­weese be­came one of the first Amer­i­can sport hun­ters to jour­ney to the new state of Alaska. The founder and first ed­i­tor of “Out­door Life Mag­a­zine,” J.A. Mcguire, called De­weese “the great­est big game hunter in the coun­try.” In an 1897 let­ter home, which Mcguire printed in the very first edition of his mag­a­zine in Jan­uary 1898, De­weese in­tro­duced the Amer­i­can reader to the gi­gan­tic Alaska Yukon Moose and the diminu­tive 6.5 Mannlicher ri­fle. De­weese rec­om­mended a guard­less, slab-han­dled knife with a 4-inch blade as the min­i­mum re­quire­ment of the big game hunter. Be­cause of his suc­cess as a hunter, many sports­men wanted a knife like his. Web­ster Mar­ble who rev­o­lu­tion­ized the sport­ing knife in­dus­try, start­ing in the late 1800s, of­fered the De­weese pat­tern knife from 1906 un­til the 1930s, as well as a hunter’s knife set named Co­quina af­ter G.O. Shields, il­lus­trat­ing the in­flu­ence of the sport writer.


A Con­tin­ued Tra­di­tion

Af­ter WWII, the writ­ings of Colonel Town­shend Whe­len, Jack O’con­nor, Elmer Keith and Ted True­blood kept the Amer­i­can sports­man up to date on the lat­est lo­ca­tions to hunt and the best gear to buy. The long de­bate be­tween O’con­nor and Keith over small and large cal­iber spread into

their choice of knives. Jack stated the only knife re­quired by a hunter was a two-bladed jack knife, while Elmer had the Keith Pat­tern Knife pro­duced with a long, wide, fixed blade and ex­ten­sions of the guard and hilt,

which locked the hunter’s hand to the han­dle. Whe­len and True­blood also sup­ported the fold­ing knife ar­gu­ment but each had a butcher type knife— Whe­len’s, a Rus­sell Green River called Seed­skadee and True­blood’s was forged of ra­zor steel by Idaho’s Boise King Mine black­smith.

In the years be­tween WWI and WWII, Amer­i­can cut­lers be­gan to of­fer one-man shop-made knives to the Amer­i­can Sports­man. Wil­liam Wales Scagel forged knives in his Fruit­vale, Michi­gan smithy, sell­ing them through the famed outfitter Aber­crom­bie and Fitch of New York, as well as in­spir­ing Bo Ran­dall to make the very first Ran­dall Made Knife. Rudy Ruana (a Finn), Harry Morseth (from Nor­way) and Californian, Hoyt Buck pro­duced high-qual­ity knives by hand and were the found­ing fa­thers of the hand­made knife phe­nom­e­non we en­joy to­day.

Car­ried on To­day

As we look back at such a rich his­tory of the hunt­ing knife, it is al­most hum­bling to think that we get to wit­ness and take part in a true leap for­ward in qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and pro­cesses, mak­ing knives that not only have stun­ning aes­thet­ics, but also per­form like noth­ing seen in even a fairly re­cent past. When you look at some of the cus­tom mak­ers of to­day, as demon­strated in these knives by John Bartlow, D’alton Holder, Stephan

Fowler, Ri­cardo Ro­mano Bernardes and TK Stein­gass, you get a true sense of the pride and tra­di­tion car­ried on in the his­tor­i­cal world of hunt­ing cut­lery. It is truly a great time to be alive, and even bet­ter if you are a hunter. KI

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