Anza Knives

Made one at a time in the USA

These days it’s hard to find something that isn’t stamped “Made in China” and harder still to find something handmade that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Anza Knives are an exception and Charlie Davis stands behind his product.

About four years ago, I bought an Anza bird and rabbit knife at a speciality knife retailer in Sierra Vista, Arizona.  It caught my eye because the cool thing about Charlie’s knives is that they are made from old files.  Charlie fashions them into knives in a manner that leaves the serrations of the file intact on several areas of the blade.  He believes  that old high-carbon files are an ideal material for knives because file steel is made, well, for cutting.

I’ll admit, I hadn’t used the knife much. Fixed blade knives don’t usually wind up on my belt when I leave the house, so the knife mostly stayed in my kitchen. One day I noticed one of the exotic wood scales fell off. It took me about another year to get around to reaching out to Charlie to see about getting it fixed. After I found his email address on the web I sent him a description of the problem. Charlie emailed me back himself and told me to mail it to him to his shop in Lakeside, California, no questions asked.

From there I corresponded with his helpful, friendly assistant Linda. She told me Charlie would fix and ship it back to me free of charge. I’m not much a fan of exotic woods and at some point I asked her if Charlie could replace the handle, or scales, with Micarta. Linda told me that request might cost a bit, as working with Micarta is difficult and it is hard on the knife making equipment. Nevertheless a few days later she wrote back to me, “Charlie said we’ll give you the handle the way you want it. No charge. We’re like Burger King… have it your way. He just wants happy customers.”

The only thing she asked of me was that if I shot a deer in the fall would I send her the tail,  for use in her craft projects.  About a month later, Charlie sent me back a polished, sharpened knife with a good-looking, practical micarta handle. Free of charge.

Anza Bird and Trout

Unfortunately, I didn’t shoot a deer last year, so I couldn’t send a token of my thanks.    But I did shoot a mess of squirrels and a few ducks. Happy to report the knife did the job; it fit my hand well and held an edge. I didn’t go out and try and chop down a tree with it, but the little blade sliced through tough squirrel hide and delicately breasted out a few ducks with ease.

If you are in the market for a knife that you will be proud to own, made one at a time by an American who stands behind his work, look into Anza Knives.

Button Buck Down

After eight years of trying, a Virginia hunter harvests his first buck

The second week of Virginia’s 2013 muzzleloader season was windy and clear.  The mid-Atlantic was finally in winter’s cold grasp and the crisp November morning was struggling to reach 30 degrees.  Not exactly perfect deer hunting weather and I wasn’t very hopeful about ending my eight-year streak of not shooting a deer.  Too bad I hadn’t been hunting skunks, that’s what I was always getting.

Was it worth eight years of trying ? Yes!

Was it worth eight years of trying ? Yes!

I’ve killed and cooked pheasant, squirrel, grouse – even a Rocky Mountain bull elk, but I had never shot a whitetail.  My hunting partner, Jason, and I have tramped all over every piece of public land in Virginia.  Up and down icy mountain trails in pre-morning darkness until after many half-hours past sunset.  We’re on great terms with vast tracks of the Washington-Jefferson National Forest.  We even joined a hunt club on prime timber land five years ago but neither one of us had killed a deer.  My wife unfailingly supportive of my quests, lately had begun to demand, Kay Robertson-style, that I bring home a deer, or else.

Like most years,  Army Reserve duty prevented me from making opening day of muzzleloader season, but I took that first Friday after off from work and sat all day in my favorite stand.  All windy, low 20’s-freezing day.  I didn’t see one single specimen of America’s favorite big game animal.

Disappointed by the previous day’s failure, I climbed the ladder stand again on Saturday.  It was just as cold, and even windier. Things were looking glum.  I couldn’t appreciate the morning woods coming to life or even muster the false motivation of believing that a bad day hunting was better than good day at work.   A “bad day hunting” might be falling out of my tree stand.  I prayed for a successful hunt.

Midday approached and I began to fear I would not be able to teach my toddler son how to hunt deer when the time came.  What would I say when he sits next to me in the deer stand and whispers that he sees a deer and asks what to do, “Heck if I know son, I’ve never done this before?  You’re guess is as good as mine.”  The shame.  I fell deeper into despair.  The wind whipped constantly in a blue bird day frenzy.  A coyote had recently been killed on our hunting lease;  unable to hear or smell predators, there was no way a deer was just going to saunter past my deer stand at high noon.

I mulled over all the deer hunting strategies I read about in Field and Stream and Outdoor Life over the years, and thought of the pines directly behind  my stand.  The deer had to be bedded down there, hidden from predators and the cold wind in the thickets between the straight rows of farmed trees.  I would have to go kill one the hard way, if I was going to feed my family venison this year.  Of course, I could go warm up in the Subaru and take a nap… I drew down deeply into the substance that sustains all hunters and fishermen: the wellspring of optimism that a trophy lies at the end of just one last cast or over just one more ridge.

Quietly, I climbed down the ladder and after replacing the primer in my CVA Optima started down the trail that borders the pines.  After about 50 yards, I locked eyes with a big-bodied doe staring at me from just inside the trees.  Before I could shoulder my rifle, she and a few of her friends bolted.   But I took the herd as a good omen and entered the pines from the nearest firebreak.  Within 100 yards of that herd, I jumped a second group, then a third,  and behind that, another herd.  Jackpot!  These hedgerows were thick with deer!  When the next herd rose from behind a blowdown about thirty yards away, I hastily took a knee to buy time for a shot, quickly settled the crosshairs of the Leopold UltimateSlam and squeezed the trigger.  I sent the 295-grain Powerbelt on its way and saw my target flinch before smoke obscured the sight picture.

As the smoke cleared, I switched gears and mentally prepared to track the animal.  I visualized the last place I saw it and tried to capture every detail of the surrounding area.  I slowly approached the spot, not wanting to push a wounded animal.  Happily, ten feet from where I shot him, a deer lay stone dead.

From the field to freezer. Steaks, straps, brats, and breakfast sausage.

From  field to freezer.  Steaks, sausage, brats, and straps.

A beautiful button buck sporting the tan coat of a yearling lay on its side in a soft bed of pine needles.  My shot had double-lunged him right behind the shoulder and he died within seconds of my pulling the trigger.  I ran my hands over the stiff fur and was startled when his last breath hissed out of the bullet holes in the deer’s chest.  A wave of sadness rose up to match the pride I felt in taking the deer.   Nothing prepares you for the overwhelming sense of personal responsibility that comes along with taking an animal’s life.

In the end – every grazing animal, from the Commonwealth to the Caprivi Strip,  is doomed to be killed and eaten.  Within a few years, my buck would surely have been taken down by a pack of coyotes, or turned into hamburger by a speeding car.  But now,  in giving his life to feed my family,  he would live forever in my mind’s eye backlit by the afternoon sun.

Local Trees, Local Knowledge

Agricultural extension service helps identify plants in Alexandria

Kousa Dogwood fruit?

When I was young, my mother had a vegetable garden and we subscribed to our local extension service’s printed newsletter  that educated folks on soil conditions, pests and appropriate local varieties. The printed newsletter is long gone, but the agencies are just as helpful.

Case in point: My wife and I live adjacent to the George Washington Parkway, just south of Dyke Marsh,  which gives us the opportunity to observe the changing seasons through its diverse flora. Whether we are running, biking, or putting in our kayaks, there are hundreds of plant species greeting the eye. We are especially interested in the occasional shrub or tree that yields edible fruit.

During an evening walk about three weeks ago,  we noticed two fruit trees — one that appeared to bear crab apples and one that bore an interesting pinkish/yellowish fruit that  looked like something one might find in a Hispanic grocery store.

I picked a few fruits, along with their respective leaves and continued our evening walk along the river in perfect weather. When we got home, I uploaded photos of our finds and sent an inquiry to the local agricultural extension office in Fairfax, Virginia through their webpage http://offices.ext.vt.edu/fairfax/.  The good folks there got back to me in a day or two and helped me narrow down the possibilities. The photos I emailed to their specialist were low resolution, so we could not get a definite ID.  Turns out, we most likely did find crab apples and possibly the fruit of the Kousa Dogwood tree.

The crab apples

Crab apple?

are edible (especially to deer, turkeys and grouse!) and while bitter, they can be boiled down and sweetened to make jams, jellies or ciders.  The Kousa Dogwood fruit— no guarantee this is a Kousa — are edible and have a melony/sweet taste.

One word of caution though, I was advised by the extension agent to get a confirmed identification of both plants before tucking in to a confection of their fruits. The agent suggested I submit the fruits to the Extention’s diagnostic laboratory or visit a local plant clinic hosted by  the Fairfax County Master Gardeners.

We probably won’t be going to out to harvest crab apples by the bushel anytime soon, but it was great fun getting to know area plants by tapping into the expert knowledge of our local extension office.

North Carolina Public Hunting Areas – An Interactive Resource

More virtual scouting for nearby hunting

NC State Game Lands — an interactive map

My neighbor and shooting buddy Isaiah sent me another handy Google app for us hunters. This time he details public hunting areas in North Carolina.  This is a another great resource if don’t have access to private land, or if you just want to check out a new place to hunt.

North Carolina Game Lands – Interactive Map

Dennis Does Arizona

Tackling the Arizona Trail, firefighter to hike 800 miles in 30 days


All 800 glorious miles in 30 days!

In honor and remembrance of the firefighters that fell on September 11th  2001, my friend Dennis set out to hike the entire length of the Arizona Trail on the tenth anniversary  of the attack.  Dennis is a firefighter from Sierra Vista, Arizona who relocated from NJ with his girlfriend Jessica, who is a police officer.  Guess that makes him the Badge Bunny!  Jessica and I were teammates on my first deployment to Iraq and Dennis is an all-around good guy.

According to the Arizona Trail Association, the route is a “continuous, 800+ mile diverse and scenic trail across Arizona from Mexico to Utah. It links deserts, mountains, canyons, communities and people.” Just sounds plain awesome to me. I’ve driven from Utah to Mexico through Arizona,  and the description is too modest — to say that it’s diverse and scenic is like saying Paris is a pretty city.  I am jealous, because I know the changes in terrain and elevation that he is about to experience.

In support of him, and all his brother firefighters that run towards danger, Northern Virginia Outside is making a donation to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.  Please join me in support of  fallen American firefighters , in recognition of Dennis’s undertaking.  Also, you can live vicariously through Dennis, from  your cubicle  like me,  at Spot Adventures.  When you visit the site, play “spot the Glock” in the photo of his gear!  Good luck Dennis!

The Hatfields and McCoys

Fascinating and entertaining — learn the truth behind the legend of the feud

I found this five-minute documentary while poking around the June 201o online issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors.

The Hatfields and McCoys — a Documentary

"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Avoid Twists and Snarls on a Spinning Reel

Ways to spend more time fishing and less time untangling your line

Flipping the bail manually prevents line twists

A few weeks ago, I was out in my kayak fishing in the Potomac off Belle Haven and my monofilament  kept  twisting  around the rod tip and coiling on the spool in frequent, maddening snarls.  The bass and yellow perch were biting that day, but I swear I had to untangle my line three times for every fish I hooked.

Tony, who fishes pretty successfully out of his bass boat down there, saw my predicaments and suggested I do this the next time I spool up some fresh line:

After filling your spool with good quality monofilament, take the rod and reel outside. Tie off on a stationary object such as a small tree or truck bumper and walk out about two-hundred feet of line. That’s about three to four times as a long as good cast. Depending on the test strength of the line, grab it with your hand, and stretch the line with a steady pressure below its breaking point.

This makes the line supple and limp and helps avoid unwanted coiling altogether. It also pre-stretches the line for better hook sets when fish take the bait.

The second trick is to flip the bail manually after every cast. Instead of  turning the handle, just push the bail over with your free hand. This keeps the bail from contacting loose line before it gathers it on the spool. This method prevents twisted line that eventually forms snarls.

So there you have it — now I haven’t caught much fish lately, but at least I haven’t had to undo any tangled line !

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