Weekend Long-read: A lifetime in knives.


From “The Red Knife” by Jack Kulpa

The actual title of this piece from Sporting Classics  is “The Red Knife”, and may or may not be a work of short-fiction. It is written in a memoir-style by Jack Kulpa. The POV is an older man looking back at the knives that were his companions throughout his life – from his father’s hand-me-down Camillus, through the knives of his adolescence, to the “Red Knife”, the one he carried throughout an adult life spent in the outdoors.

From “The Red Knife“:

After buying all the canned food our canoe could hold, I looked for some small, inexpensive item to remind me of my visit. I found it in a $2 trade knife. I think it was a kind of trout knife — if trout knives weighed as much as decoy anchors. Rugged and primitive as the land in which I’d found it, it was a straight, thick, 3¼-inch blade with so much carbon content that the steel was already as gray and discolored as an Indianhead nickel.

The keen edge easily shaved hair from the back of my wrist — and much of the rest of my arms. There was no hilt and the handle was a chunk of rough wood dipped in red paint. The rigid plastic sheath lacked a tab to hang on a belt, so I simply stuffed the sheathed knife into a back pocket. There it would stay for years to come.

I purchased the knife, we returned to our canoe, pointed the bow south, and headed home. Moochie took a job in an American Motors plant, but soon the red knife and I were back in the North, setting about the long process of making a life in the Lake Superior woods.

At first the red knife was used for the usual things a young male will do when living alone in the backcountry: whittling toothpicks and prying caps off beer bottles. Then — older, wiser, and out of necessity — I used it to dress and butcher deer, fillet hefty pike, cut tent stakes, set traps, skin fur, and perform first-aid on broken paddles and people.

As I said, it is a wonderful piece of writing, but I really can’t tell if it is truly auto-biographical, or a work of “truthiness”. I can relate to many parts of the story, beginning with the failed fabrication attempts of his youth. While I didn’t chose to make my life in the North Woods, I did the next closest thing in guiding the Snake River and the backwoods of the Great Smoky Mountains. A good knife is a trusted companion, my Mora Bushcraft is still the knife against which I judge all others. Unlike the Red Knife, it isn’t the piece of kit that has traveled with me on the majority of my adventures – I have only had it for a few years. However, I have rods that I have fished with for going on 20 years and my 8’3″ 3-Wt Sage SPL is the one in particular that is singled out in my will. My buddy Doug gets it if he takes me fishing one last time and dumps my ashes in the shadow of the Chimney Tops in the GSMNP.


  1. jlottmc says:

    That knife sounds suspiciously like a straight up no frills Mora knife. I have seen similar pieces some written by the likes of Robert Rourke, detailing facts of life from days long ago, that many of us do not have much first hand experience with, and wish we did. It is an eloquent style of writing with a bit of folk style thrown in that makes us all yearn to make similar adventures.

    Nice find.

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Weekend Long-read: A lifetime in knives.

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