Purple Hull knife celebrates special friendship

A box from Jess "The Undertaker" Essex recently arrived in my mailbox.

The thing inside choked me up a little.

It was a knife and leather sheath made by Master Bladesmith Samuel Riner. The blade has a 4 1/2-inch blade made of 80CrV2 stainless steel.

According to KnifeArt.com, 80CrV2 knife steel is extremely tough and retains a durable edge. It is prized in the construction of tactical knives, hunting knives, tomahawks and everyday carry designs. 80CrV2 steel has high carbon content, as well as chromium and vanadium that affect the strength and hardness of the crystalline matrix of the steel.

Vanadium is prized in knife-making because it produces very durable carbides at the molecular level of the cutting edge. Tool steel, heavy equipment and even nuclear reactors use vanadium in their construction.

That's vital information for all of our blade geeks, but wait! There's more!

The blade has a black vanadium finish that resembles Damascus steel at first glance. The handle is made of Fibermascus. Essex describes it as a fabric saturated with epoxy.

"I presume he [Riner] either presses it into a form or lets it harden and then shapes it like wood," Essex said. "I do know that it is impervious to all external conditions. It won't rust, bust or collect dust!"

The handle is purple. A stamp in the blade gives meaning to the handle. It is a small representation of a Western 16-gauge shotgun shell head. Above it is etched, "Purple Hull Society."

Essex and I are the founding members of the Purple Hull Society, a brotherhood of 16-gauge shotgun fanatics. Other members include Glen Chase, Jimmy Rowe, Connie Meskimen, Jay Bly, Andy Lock and member-at-large Brad Hendricks. We hold two board meetings annually in the form of waterfowl hunts in which only 16-gauge shotguns may be used.

The only requirement for membership is to hunt with a 16-gauge. The Purple Hull Society hunts have acquired such a stature that members of 16-gauge appreciation groups on Facebook request invitations to the hunts from all over the country. Essex, respectful of his renown as the group's elder statesman, wears a coat and tie to the hunts.

There are only two Purple Hull Society knives. Essex has the other one, but his has a conventional stainless steel finish, so both are one of a kind.

Ted Griffith of Salem, whom I met when we were both being treated for cancer, gave a knife to Dr. Jonathan Laryea, our surgical oncologist. He included a note that said, "If you give a friend a knife, you'll have a friend for life."

With that sentiment, my Purple Hull Society Knife joins a pantheon of prized possessions that have deep meaning to me because of the friendships they represent. I also have a giant Lynn fighting knife with sharpener and leather sheath given to me by Dr. Bobby McGehee, with whom I share an annual Christmas holiday deer hunt in Grant County and an occasional striper fishing trip on Lake Ouachita.

Propped against my bookshelf are two split bamboo fly rods given to me by Willie Johnston of Hamburg. Readers of this space know him as Willie the Barbecue Man. We met when he called to harangue me about being a hunting and fishing ignoramus. We have been close friends ever since.

I have a bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon that's a gift from Alan Thomas, who I met in 2005 shortly after becoming Outdoor Editor at this newspaper. Beside it is a bottle of Blade and Bow bourbon given to me by Brad Conley, a hunting and fishing buddy I've known since sixth grade.

I have many turkey calls made by Bill Rhodes, Grant Westmoreland and David Taylor, all of Sheridan. I have others from Eddie Horton of Camden, David Frachiseur of Dierks, and a Furr's call from Jim Wells of Hamburg commemorating the late Gary Watts of Paris.

A plaque from Ed Kubler honors a decades-long friendship of anglers that includes names that often appear in this space. Some are dead and some are living. In my life, I've loved them all.

As much as it is about hunting and fishing, this gig is also about the friendships that were born in this space from a mutual love of hunting, fishing and shared values about faith, family and loyalty. Every hunter and angler belongs to a similar posse. Our readers get it.

My house is full of these mementos. They are all out in the open where I can see them. I look at them and see my friends.