WICHITA, Kan. — My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Meisner, sometimes borrowed my pocket knife because it was the sharpest in her class.

Now, as then, I’ve considered a good knife as essential to my outdoors lifestyle as a nice gun or good fly rod.

That dedication to quality cutlery got a bit expensive lately, but more on that later.

I come from a family of knife-guys. Dad was seldom without his Barlow. Grandpa carried the same Old Timer for at least 35 years.

To them, knives were a basic and versatile tool, used for things like stripping the insulation from wire, cutting baling twine or peeling a pond-side apple.

Dad handing me my first knife was a rite of passage, one that came with the conditions I not use the knife unwisely, keep it clean and razor-sharp.

“A dull knife is just a stick,” is a family saying.

So for about three decades I lived up to those expectations, carrying any of the dozen or so knives I’d accumulated. But none were appreciated more than another.

That changed in 2000 when a friend at Remington sent me one of their famed Bullet knives. She said it was a highly-valued collectible to be stored away.

No chance.

To me, collectible knives make as much sense as a collectible hammers. Both are tools made to be used … especially that particular knife.

It was love at first slice the first time I took the Bullet knife afield. With a 4-inch blade it was big enough to do serious work but small enough to be easily carried in a front pocket.

When opened, the knife locked as tight as Fort Knox. The blade ends in a perfect taper and narrow enough for intricate cutting. It’s a breeze to get to hair-shaving sharp.

So for about 11 years the knife was with me about any time I was afield.

The knife’s versatility let it work well on everything from doves to bull elk and cut through everything from fine tippet to thumb-thick saplings.

I honestly appreciated the knife about every time I used it, too.

But in 2011 someone decided it should change owners.

So through the last hunting seasons and well into this summer, I made-do with those old knives I’d collected. All had their flaws when compared to the stolen knife.

Using them was like going striper fishing with a Zebco 202 or trying to duck hunt with coon dog. Using a knife wasn’t fun.

Off and on since the theft, I’d gone online to see if the same model of Bullet knife was for sale. They were, but at collectables prices.

But after trying to clean a batch of teal with an inferior blade in September, I pulled up a special knife site and paid just under $100 for a simple folding pocket knife.

I felt guilty when I hit “send,” and second-guessed the decision several times a day … until the knife arrived.

It is like the first in all ways, including how it makes me feel when I make a quick, clean cut through thick rope or trim unwanted fat from a piece of wild game.

I’m sure you don’t understand, but it’s like making a perfect cast with a good fly-rod, and that good feeling is an important part of whatever outing is at hand.

Like I said, I’ve always had an unusually deep appreciation for a very good knife.

I’m just glad I’m not as selective when it comes to really fine shotguns and trucks.

Since the original was lost, I’d repeatedly checked online, hoping to find a duplicate.

Several were usually listed, but the price of the collectables was probably twice any three knives combined.

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