The Kindness of Strangers

Gerber Magnum Hunter — one of the great folding knives from the 1980s.

by Terry Wieland

Back in 1985, I went into my favorite gun shop in downtown Toronto — there were such things then — laid down what was a substantial wad of cash for a writer newly freelance, and walked out with a Gerber Magnum Hunter folding hunting knife. I was a long-time Gerber fan, and by the mid-80s, folding knives were all the rage.

I already had one of the original fixed-blade Magnum Hunters, a pocket machete guaranteed strong enough to split the pelvis of a moose. It was very futuristic looking, with its stippled grey cast-aluminum grip, and while I never got to try it on a moose pelvis, I carried it for about ten years. Then I decided the folding-knife crowd had a point, and acquired the folding version which was as traditional looking as the other one was space-age.

The folding Magnum Hunter had a grip combining brass fittings with rosewood panels, but the blade was still Gerber steel, which meant it could be whetted to a sharpness that would shave your arm, and retain its edge almost indefinitely. A few sessions with my trusty Arkansas oil stone and I could hold a sheet of newspaper in the air and effortlessly slice it from headline to footnotes.

For the next 20 years, that knife was my companion on every hunting trip I made: caribou in Quebec, grizzly in Alaska, Dall sheep in the Chugach Range, Cape buffalo in Tanzania.

Sometime in the late ‘90s, I was visiting with the folks in the Gerber booth at the SHOT Show. Gerber had all but abandoned traditional knives with brass and wood handles, and was heavily into interchangeable blades. I mentioned my venerable Magnum Hunter and received the horrified response: “You don’t take that hunting, do you? That’s a collector’s item.” It turned out the knife I’d paid about $50 for in 1985 was now changing hands for $300-plus. They offered to give me one of their new knives to hunt with, so my Magnum Hunter could retire to a display cabinet, but I declined. I bought it to hunt with, and hunt with it I would.

Not long after, I came to regret that decision. In 2004, flying from Botswana into Johannesburg, my bag was opened and rifled, and my Gerber was stolen. Nothing else was missing — just my precious hunting knife. I imagined it embarking on a new career, slashing people’s luggage if not their throats, and mourned.

Somewhere along the line, I wrote a piece about the theft — I forget where or when — and had all but put it out of my mind. It was, after all, 17 years ago.

Then, last month, I received a call from a total stranger who had somehow tracked down my phone number. “Are you Wieland, the gun writer?” he asked.

“Uh…yeah, that’s me.”

The gentleman on the other end of the line then told me he’d read my article about the knife many years ago, and had come across an identical model in a knife collection he bought from an old man in Arizona. It was like new, in the box, complete with leather sheath and the little Gerber brochure on how to maintain it. He wanted to send it to me as a gesture of appreciation for all the stuff I’d written over the years, that he had read and enjoyed.

I could hardly believe my ears. Seriously? I mean, seriously?

Yep. All he needed was my mailing address. Somewhat tentatively, I gave it to him, and the conversation ended.

Five days later, I opened the mailbox to find a small cardboard box from an address I didn’t recognize. Inside was a genuine folding Gerber Magnum Hunter, never used, never carried, pristine and sparkling. The only difference I could see between it and my old one is that my wooden grips were a little darker — but then two decades of carrying, handling, skinning, field dressing and the like will have that effect. I couldn’t believe it.

In fact, I can scarcely believe it now.  But there it is: An extraordinarily generous gesture.

And now the question: Will I carry this one up and down mountains, put it at risk among baggage handlers, Customs officers, and the TSA, and let it acquire the lovely patina of age? Or should it reside on a shelf, a beautiful artifact from a bygone age of knife-making?

The jury’s still out on that one, but I rather suspect I will hunt with it. That, after all, is what it was made for.