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Bernie Kuntz: Lost and found knives

Top knife, a drop point hunter, was made by T. M. Dowell of Bend, OR with 154-CM blade, nickel silver hilt and cocobolo handle slabs. Lower knife, a semi-skinner, was made by W. D Pease of Ewing, KY with CPM-154 steel, titanium bolsters and handle slabs fashioned from a fossilized mammoth tooth. Photo courtesy Bernie Kuntz

On my first Stone sheep hunt in northern British Columbia in 1980 I had a pokey horse that periodically had to trot to keep up with the other riders in the string. During one of these trotting episodes the snap opened on my knife sheath containing a handmade Ruana sticker, the knife popped out of the sheath, never to be seen again. It was an original Ruana made by the pioneer Finnish maker from Bonner, Montana—Rudolph H. Ruana. I paid only $16 for the knife but today it would be worth hundreds to collectors. Sometime in the 1990s I bought a newly made sticker for $80 (nowadays they sell for more than $400!) and later gave it to a friend.

During the second week of September, 2001 three partners and I hunted moose in southwest Alaska. That, of course, was during the infamous September 11th attacks. Our float plane was several days late in picking us up, and when we landed at the airport in Dillingham everything was chaos. A clerk told us we had to put our knives in checked baggage, so that is what we did. When we got to Anchorage I saw that the zipper on my Eddie Bauer bag was open several inches and the knife, a handmade T. M. Dowell from Bend, OR, was gone! This was my "Alaska knife"—the one I used to skin three Alaskan brown bears, three barren caribou bulls, an Alaska moose and several Sitka black-tailed deer.

It took me a week to get out of Anchorage and back to Montana, and at that time I called Ted Dowell and tried to order a replacement. He was largely retired by then and didn't want to make a replacement. Next, I contacted Alaska Airlines and put in a claim for $350, which is what the knife was worth.

On the same day that I received the check, I had a phone call from Greg Bos, my hunting partner from Anchorage. "Bernie," he said, "I've got your knife!" I was incredulous. He said he located it at the lost and found at the airport. This was three weeks after it went missing! I don't know to this day if someone was caught stealing the knife or if they got cold feet and turned it any case, I got my knife back and returned the uncashed check to Alaska Airlines with a complimentary letter.

A few weeks ago Laurie, Labrador Oscar and I spent a couple days at Chico Hot Springs north of Yellowstone National Park. We go there for a couple days each Fourth of July weekend to keep Oscar away from Bozeman's fireworks, which he hates.

I carried a small belt knife that I bought a couple years ago from maker Bill Pease of Ewing, KY. I use it as a steak knife and for other minor cutting chores.

Well, imagine my surprise when we arrived home and I noticed that my sheath was empty! Laurie made a call to the housekeeping section at Chico, and would you believe the young people who cleaned our room turned in the knife?! (I am glad Laurie had earlier left them a $20 tip.) I wrote a letter to Colin Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs, and told him to give kudos to the appropriate people, and received a kind note back from him.

This Pease knife is a $600 item with CPM-154 blade, fossilized mammoth tooth slabs and titanium bolsters. I have no idea how it got out of my sheath and onto the bed where it was found. When I got the knife back, I put it into the sheath, turned it upside down and shook it. The knife remained in the sheath.

The incident just reminded me that I need to be more careful.