The story of a handmade knife
Knifemaker Scott Barry of Laramie, Wyo., showed up at my office at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department one day in the late 1970s. He was there to introduce himself and invite me to his shop in Laramie.
I did indeed visit Barry’s shop and ordered two small belt knives, commonly known as “trout and bird knives.” One has sambar stag handles and D-2 steel; the other maroon micarta handles and 440-C steel. I have used those knives on every bird hunting trip I have taken since the time I bought them.
In any case, I ended up interviewing Scott Barry and sold an article on his operation to Gun World magazine. Barry was so pleased that he offered to make a knife for me at no charge to go with the two I had purchased.
With the help of “Wyoming Wildlife’s” editorial assistant who was a graphic artist, I came up with a clip-point design with four-inch blade. I ordered the knife to be made with 154-CM steel and an exotic wooden handle slabs. Barry surprised me with handles of lignum vitae, a very dense and colorful South American hardwood. He also put a hand-rubbed satin finish on the blade, took it to Colorado to a knife show and had the brass bolsters engraved.
Barry’s knife is but one of my collection, but a knife I never would part with due to its being a gift; also, because I used it on one of my most memorable elk hunts.
That was in September 1982 in northwestern Wyoming. There are six of us in camp, including my father, Jake. One day I hike up the South Boone trail for about two miles, drop into the creek bottom, then labor almost half a mile up the side of the mountains before resting for lunch and a cigar. This is heavy timber country on the back side of the Grand Tetons in the Targhee Forest.
I begin to still hunt back down toward the trailhead, moving slowly through the heavy timber. I haven’t walked 100 yards when I hear a crash and see an elk charge side hill right above me. I hear another elk galloping like a horse through the timber. Slowly, I creep forward and see a young cow that keeps looking back over her shoulder. That tells me there is another elk in the area. I stand rock still and finally the cow drifts away.
I search the timber with my binocular but see nothing. A few more steps, I bring up the glass and see a yellow neck, an eye and the base of an antler. It all happens very quickly, the .338 comes up into my shoulder, the crosshairs on the neck … have to shoot offhand … the rifle booms and for an instant I think I see a hoof in the air. My heart is pounding, I walk to where the elk should be but there is nothing. How could I have missed? But 10 steps farther I find a bull elk piled up dead. Five points to a side, my biggest bull at the time.
It takes me more than an hour to wrestle the bull onto its back, field dress it with the Barry knife, then cut it in half. By the time I have finished the carcass has slid 50 feet down the mountain — it’s that steep. I prop the elk halves against trees to allow the air to circulate. I have sweated a gallon. I drink from my canteen, take orange flagging from my pack and begin a route back down to the creek.
It is dark by the time I reach the trailhead, carrying my rifle and the elk antlers. The next day we bring in two horses, and three of us climb on foot up to the elk and wrestle the halves down to the creek, which is a lot bigger job than it sounds. We quarter the carcass, and one of the horses almost kicks one of my partners in the face. We eventually get the elk packed out and the quarters hung up in the shade back in camp.
The bull’s antlers have long occupied a place of honor above the bed in our guest room. The Barry knife is part of my collection stowed in a gun safe. I never handle the knife or look at the antlers that I don’t remember that afternoon high above South Boone Creek, an adventure that took place half a life time ago.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974