<
>

Hunting365: Hunting for Knife Perfection

Knives of Alaska owner Charles Allen isn't a sit-behind-the-desk kind of CEO. His Alaska Expedition Company's Driftwood Lodge fishing camp serves as the northern testing grounds for his company's top-flight hunting knives. Lynn Burkhead

Adventure Journal.

I smiled recently going through material collected at last month's SHOT Show in Las Vegas and came across Volume 1, Issue 1 of Knives of Alaska Adventure Journal.

Why? Because if there's any word I could use to describe the company's owner, Charles Allen, it would be that word: adventure.

Allen, in many ways, embodies the Hunting365 outdoor lifestyle and the adrenaline rush it can bring.

To start with, he and his wife, Jody, hacked out of the stormy Alaskan coastline a rugged retreat on the Tsiu River that is a rare blend of isolated wilderness adventure, comfortable accommodations, and five-star cuisine.

And when I say hacked out, I'm not being dramatic: the only way into and out of Allen's Alaska Expedition Company camp is via air  some 250 miles to the east/southeast of Anchorage.

While the lumber was actually milled from beach debris driftwood, everything else for the lodge's construction was literally flown in aboard Allen's bush plane, which he has been piloting for more than a dozen years.

Today, Driftwood Lodge is one of the 49th state's best-kept fly fishing secrets, offering anglers a chance at catching dozens of silver salmon, ranging from 6 to 16 pounds, as they migrate their way up the Tsiu River on their spawning run finale.

As adept as Allen can be with an eight-weight fly rod in his hand, he is even more adept with a firearm in his hand, be it a shotgun for hunting the numerous species of waterfowl that visit the Tsiu River marshes each fall, or a rifle for the bigger critters roaming its banks and the nearby shores of the Gulf of Alaska.

Just how handy is Allen with gun in hand?

Well, consider that in 2005 and 2006, he earned "Top Gun" honors while competing in and winning the Masters Division of The Grand National Quail Club's annual meeting and fundraising hunt. Both years, Allen used a Beretta 20 gauge over/under for a straight run to a limit of bobwhite quail.

Contrast that with his open-sighted rifle skills, chambered in a caliber big enough to make most grown men wince and cry for momma.

A few years ago, in a chilling encounter caught on tape during the filming of a moose and brown bear hunt out of his lodge, Allen was able to fire precisely on and drop a charging brown bear coming at his party with murderous speed.

After seeing the tape of the charge  which the Alaska Department of Fish and Game ruled as a justifiable "defense of life and property" bear shooting  I was left wondering whether I could have made a close quarter, life-saving shot on an enraged brown bear sow charging.

I hope so, but then again ... I hope to never find out.

When you get around Allen, the thing you're most likely to notice aside from his thrilling hunting tales and friendly demeanor is his keen business sense that wants to keep pushing the edge of hunting knife technology as far as it can go.

For years, it seemed as if the various high quality offerings from Allen's "Knives of Alaska" company filled the bill, getting as close to hunting knife flawlessness as was possible given current technology and metallurgy constraints.

While KOA products remain at the top of the industry and are deeply respected by hunters across the world, Allen's quest for the best hunting knives on the market continued.

That can be observed when you put Allen and a group of fly fishing metallurgists from Brigham Young University into a room warmed by a wood burning stove as an Alaskan gale cooks outside.

As the hot coffee brews, hunting knife tales are likely to outnumber fishing tales by a considerable margin.

A couple of years ago, I was introduced by Allen to a couple of his metallurgy business partners, Dr. Tracy Nelson and Dr. Carl Sorensen, both of Utah.

What I found  with strict orders to keep everything under wraps until the knives were released to the public last year  was that the trio and others had been perfecting a knife edge making process known as friction forging.

Based upon the Friction Stir Processing (FSP) of hard metals, the technology has been applied to knife making.

The result has been one of the biggest  if not the biggest  revolution in the knife-making industry in the past four decades, according to Allen.

"Tests for evaluating blade performance characteristics were conducted using a CATRA (Cutlery Allied Trade Research Association) Razor Edge Sharpness Tester," Allen said in a news release.

When I first became aware of this developing technology, Allen and Nelson showed me a variety of tests being conducted with the CATRA machinery, along with various other testing procedures that included the use of 100% nitric acid, days-long saltwater immersion, and standards from the American Bladesmith Society.

Why all of the knife abuse and careful testing? Simple  Allen was hunting for knife perfection.

"Our goal was to construct a blade with a super-sharp, long-lasting, corrosion-proof edge that also had an extremely tough spine, which makes breakage difficult," Allen stated.
"Simply put, we wanted to produce high performance blades that are superior to anything on the market."

"The key to the blade's extremely sharp and long-lasting edge characteristics result from the very fine, hard grain structures created within the steel by controlled frictional heat and extreme forging pressures," he added.

Did Allen and his scientific pals meet their goal?

Well, a variety of standardized, hands-free testing seems to indicate so.

In fact, Allen says that the new DiamondBlade edges lasted about "10 times longer than a standard D2 steel blade," one of the best-processed knife metals in the industry.

In my book, the ultimate proof of any technology's usefulness in a piece of outdoor gear is actually in the field  under the harsh conditions that all of the corners of God's rugged creation can dish up.

How do the DiamondBlade knives perform in such uncontrolled venues?

For starters, on a wild pig hunt last year in California, Chuck Karwan  a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer and West Point grad who now writes for Tactical Knives and other publications  performed a number of tests on the blades, including cutting through a 1/2-inch manila rope more than 300 times, chopping through a two-by-four board twice, etc.

After those exercises, Karwan was still able to easily shave hair.

Karwan was also on hand when Master Blade Smith Wayne Goddard (who has now joined forces with Allen's new company) placed a DiamondBlade in a vise and bent it 115 degrees, without any cracking or evidenced edge failure.

"This, as well as all the other tests, were undeniable proofs of blade strength and performance never before available at any price," Karwan said of the DiamondBlade knives in a news release.

On two subsequent Alaskan coastal brown bear hunts last fall, the DiamondBlade's performance abilities in the field shined once again. During those hunts, West Coast outdoor writer Durwood Hollis took a brown bear squaring at 8 feet and weighing in at 850 pounds while Allen's wife Jody took her first ever brown bear, a bruin with similar dimensions to Hollis' bear.

Afterwards, according to Hollis' report in the first-ever Adventure Journal, a trio of DiamondBlade knives performed flawlessly while they skinned and fleshed the sand-caked hides of both bears.

After the skinning of both bears was complete, Hollis indicated both knives would still shave hair and that no in-field sharpening had occurred.

In my own more modest hunting adventures last fall, I used a pair of DiamondBlades to perform camp chores and trim shooting lanes while on an unsuccessful nine-day-long western elk hunt. Later, I used the blades to skin and butcher a whitetail buck, drawing blood more than once from my own hands as the scary sharp blades made fast and precise cuts my other knives had never made.

At the end of those activities  with no sharpening on my part  the blades were still able to shave hair.

Impressed? I am.

FYI

Alaska Expedition Company
(800) 572-0980
www.alaskaexpedition.com

Knives of Alaska
(903) 786-7366
www.knivesofalaska.com

DiamondBlade Knives
(800) 221-6873
www.diamondbladeknives.com

Now mind you, I'm no hunting knife expert. But I do know high quality and durable products when I see them, and more important, get to use them in the field.

And here's what I know: A hunting knife, like a compass or your rifle, bow, or muzzleloader, is one of the sport's most important tools.

And while Allen's DiamondBlade knives are a bit pricey for an average Joe (prices range from $325 to $400 for the various models offered by the company), these are rugged hunting products that will always be in my hunting backpack when I head into the woods for adventure.

My only problem now? I've got to save some loose change to afford a third DiamondBlade  my three kids are going to receive these hunting tools as heirlooms from their dad one day, hopefully a long time in the future.

And when that day comes, I am confident that, with a few re-sharpenings along the way, these heirloom hunting tools will still be going strong.