A hunting knife in the Heart of Dixie
A search for the perfect hunting knife reveals the best and the not-so-great!
I have a nephew who, like me, enjoys hunting and who, also like me, tends to lose any piece of hunting equipment smaller than, say, a shotgun. So he's fairly easy to shop for when it comes time to plan what's going under the Christmas tree-sunglasses, gloves, flashlights, boxes of ammo or, as was the case recently, a hunting knife to replace the one he lost last fall.
Shopping for a hunting knife isn't rocket science, but it's always wise to seek the advise of a salescleck who seems to care about quality and utility as much as you do. If he hunts big game at all, he'll probably suggest a sturdy folder with a locking blade or a stout sheath knife. And though you don't need to pay a prince's ransom for a knife, don't be steered to a bargain-basement model. It's not worth the "savings."
Another thing the salesperson should be able to tell a shopper about is the quality of the handle material. Good, safe grips that don't get slippery from blood and gunk are a must. And, naturally, the knife should have the heft and feel of a tool that a hunter can count on to do the job without coming apart.
With all that in mind, I went looking for a knife for my nephew. Here's what I found.
Located on a corner in the downtown section of a Birmingham suburb, this store is crammed with shoppers on the weekends, but wasn't so busy when I visited on a Monday Morning. Still, the first two clerks I passed were apparently too busy to ask me if I needed help, though not so busy that they couldn't talk about their respective weekends. As I strolled through the aisles looking for knives, I eventually made eye contact with a salesperson who did ask me if he could be of service. I told him what I was looking for, and he came around the counter to show me where the knives were displayed. Each box or package was labeled with an easy-to-read price tag.
First the clerk offered me a rubber-gripped Gerber folding knife with a gut hook. "How do you sharpen the gut hook?" I asked. "Beats me," he replied. "I've never sharpened mine." He also showed me another Gerber, the blade of which was partially serrated. The clerk informed me that the serration was useful for cutting through a deer's breastbone, but not much else. "How do you sharpen it?" I asked.
The salesperson didn't have the answer for that, either. No sale.
"No Loaded Weapons Beyond This Point. No Brains, No Service," said the sign on the front door of this establishment. Occupying the last storefront in a small strip mall in the bedroom community of Hoover, the store is more a waypoint for shooting enthusiasts than a stop for hunters, though there are a few serviceable hunting knives available for the crossover crowd. Three walls are covered in gun racks, and on these are perched various models of ARs and tactical shotguns. The counters and aisles were clogged with all sorts of ammunition, gun components and assorted paraphernalia, but precious few knives.
This emporium could be the model by which other sportinggoods stores in the South are judged. The knife section was chock-full of every type of knife that might appeal to anybody who needs a blade. Within a few sentences after he opened his mouth, the department manager had me convinced that he was the man when it came to knives. In fact, given the crowds of customers I saw in other departments, I suspect that the owner of this store stocked it with specialists who are given the latitude to make sales in their own fashion, as long as some bottom-line goal is reached.
I told the clerk that my nephew aspired to hunt out West and kill an elk with his bow. The clerk suggested a Knives of Alaska sheath set that included a small caping knife, a larger skinner with a gut hook, a small sharpening steel and a leather sheath that contained them all. And the whole shebang was made in the U.S.A. I darn near bought the set for myself, and made a mental note to add it to my Santa list. When I asked him to suggest a folding knife, he let me examine a Buck Alpha.
He also knew how to sharpen a gut hook and a serrated blade, and he was stocked with Arkansas stones, ceramic sharpeners, sharpening steels and even electric sharpeners.
This store is an up-and-comer in the Chelsea community, but, though decently stocked with the hunting necessities that most hunters go for, it's rather disappointing when it comes to its selection of cutting instruments. Except for a few Smith & Wesson sheath knives and folders ("Yes, Smith & Wesson makes knives," the salesman assured me, though not convincingly), the other choices were mainly some of the new iterations of "Old Timer." Perhaps sensing my disappointment in his inventory, the salesperson attempted to switch my interest to a retractable saw used to trim branches. Though the saw was more interesting than the store's meager knife collection, I took a pass.
In fact, the real prize in the store is a small countertop display case with original Schrade, Old Timer and Uncle Henry sheath knives and pocketknives. If I had been afforded the opportunity, I would have purchased the whole display on the spot, though I wouldn't have given anyone of the vintage and venerated knives to my nephew.
He would only lose it.