Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Master Knifemaker, Gordon Romeis


The right gear can make the difference between a great day of adventure or a cascading event failure. There are some types of gear you can skimp on and some that are so important that you may want to pay a little more for quality. Cutting tools, more specifically knives, are such an item.

Gordon is a member of the Knifemakers Guild
 
 
Knives are an essential item for someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors. I recognized early on that many store bought knives don’t hold up over time, especially when put to hard use. Custom made knives can be pricey and you don’t always know what you are getting in terms of quality. A few years ago I found out about Gordon Romeis. He has been a knife maker since 1977 and is a member of the prestigious Knifemaker’s Guild. More importantly, Gordon has been able to bridge the value gap by giving the buyer a much higher quality custom made knife for affordable price. 
Gordon is always working on something new
 
Gordon’s workshop is located in Ft Myers. It is an unassuming backyard shed full of equipment and raw materials. Many knifemakers start with a pre-cut blade but all of his knives start out as a bar of 440c stainless steel that he shapes into one of his designs. This is all done by hand using grinders and sanders…and a lot of patience. Once this step is complete, the blades are sent off to be heat treated. Gordon then finishes the knives with a large variety of handle materials including Micarta, bone, horn and antler, wood and even mastodon ivory. A custom sheath is made from leather or a kydex material for certain blades.

Custom handles are made from exotic materials

Gordon at the wheel
 
Finishing up a new knife
 
One of my favorite knives of all time is the Romeis “Florida Caper”. This is a shorter, single edged blade that I use as a utility knife. I have done everything from bait cutting to making tent stakes with this knife and it still looks brand new. My Caper is outfitted with Micarta, an extremely durable material made of cloth and resin. It has a full tang and is very light. The fit and finish boasts the quality of this blade. It fits my hand perfectly and I have never found a store bought knife that comes close it and the Caper is a Romeis original design.
The Romeis Florida Caper
 
Over the years I have gone through several fillet knives. The blades can be so thin that they eventually bend or break with extended use. The balance of the knife can also be an issue with fillet knives as the weight is in the handle or whether the blade has a full tang, meaning the blade steel runs the full length and width of the handle which affects the strength and stability of the knife. My Romeis fillet is a balanced 6 ¼ inch hollow ground beauty. The blade is 1/16th inch thick for a flexible yet sturdy feel. The comfortable Micarta handle reduces fatigue and the high quality 440c stainless steel ensures it stays sharp after plenty of use.
Fillet knives in various stages
 
The finished beauty

 
Gordon makes a wide variety of custom products from paring knives to fighting blades, and everything in between. He uses Alabama Damascus steel to create one of a kind collectable knife and can make a completely custom shaped blade to your specifications. A standard knife, like the Florida Caper, can start as little as $165, which is a very small price to pay for a custom product of this high quality. For more information, check out Gordon’s website at www.romeisknives.com or email him at gordonromeis@gmail.com.

Combat knife

Finished orders

The Romeis para-hatchet

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hunting and Fishing Babcock Ranch


“There’s one” Dan exclaimed, quickly raising his rifle to his shoulder. I barely had time to react when the rifle cracked like thunder. I was able to catch a glimpse of the big hog just as he fell over.

 

We were hunting on Babcock Ranch Preserve, part of the Crescent B Ranch. The Preserve consists of over 70 thousand acres in Charlotte and Lee Counties and it represents one of the largest single purchases of conservation land in the state's history. The area protects incredibly diverse natural habitats, important water resources and scenic landscapes in the quickly growing southwest Florida area. Portions of the Preserve are under hunting lease agreements, and we were on Dan’s family lease. I was fortunate to be invited for a day of hunting and fishing in one of Florida’s best known and most pristine wilderness areas.
 
We arrived early the evening before, driving on partially submerged trails for miles from any asphalt covered roadways. These trails lead through open pastures, pine canopies shading palmetto and cypress lined creeks and ponds. This is a working cattle ranch and we drove past herds of cows being worked by real-life cowboys. This is the real old Florida, from the days of cattle barons and homesteaders.
 
The camp consisted of an older cabin situated on the banks of Clay Gully. Permanent buildings are not allowed, but the cabin was an existing structure from an earlier era, meticulously restored by Dan’s Father-in-law, Bruce. The remarkably quiet generators supplied enough electricity to provide air-conditioning and lighting which was a nice surprise given the remoteness of the camp and the residual heat left over from a hot summer day. After dinner, we fished in the creek for a while and caught some of the most beautiful bluegill I have ever seen.
 
 
 

After a fitful sleep, I awoke to fresh coffee and breakfast. In the inky pre-dawn darkness, we loaded up the camp jeep for the ride into even more remote areas to find our quarry. As our headlights scanned the trail before us, we spied raccoons, possums and deer scampering into the brush. After going through a couple cattle gates, we approached the boundary of the lease, Dan turned onto a submerged trail and the older but very capable camp jeep came to a sudden stop. Flashlight in hand, Dan surveyed the scene and found the problem. “Looks like we threw a wheel bearing. It’s on foot from here”. We made the best of what could've been a ruined trip and hunted our way back to the safe haven of camp. We had quite the trek ahead of us, with rifles slung, day packs stocked with water and jerky. This ended up playing to our advantage. Without the rumble of the engine and creaking of the jeep, we were able to pick up the subtleties of tracking. Turkey, deer, raccoon, hogs and alligator tracks were seen during our journey back to Dan's pickup at camp.
 


Since 1914, the Crescent B Ranch has produced timber, cattle, crops, and sod, and provided recreation opportunities such as hunting and ecotourism.  The area is so vast that much of it remained untouched and natural. During the sale of the property in 2006, a portion of the original ranch was reserved for a private residential development known as the Babcock Ranch Community and the remainder was sold to the state. The Preserve is managed by a unique public-private partnership which helps maintain the property as a working ranch with hunting and eco-tourism operations. Revenue from these activities provides the resources necessary to maintain and protect the property for the citizens of Florida.

 
 

 We had been walking the trail for a short time. The sun had come up over a nearby prairie flooding the wooded edge with light. “There’s one” Dan exclaimed, quickly raising his rifle to his shoulder. I barely had time to react when the rifle cracked like thunder. I was able to catch a glimpse of the big hog just as he fell over. There were a few others that scattered into the woods in response to the gunshot. Dan took off across the field, closing the gap in short order. It was a good hog, certainly big and meaty enough for a few family barbeques. A short foray into the woods confirmed the rest of the group was long gone. Dan field dressed the hog and we completed the long hike back to camp.

A couple hours later we were headed to a fishing pond on the lease. We stopped by the camp jeep to partially dismantle the front end for replacing later. Turns out we spun a hub as well. As we journeyed to the fishing spot, Dan explained there are a few on the property, and his family has landed bass up to 12 pounds. Not hard to believe when you see the deep, clear borrow pits and plethora of baitfish on the surface. Little fishing pressure means the fish are receptive to our artificial bait. Within minutes, drag was peeling line from my reel. The bass wasn’t huge, but it was fat and healthy. Bass elsewhere in Florida can sometimes be a little thin, but these fish are dense and heavy for their size and great fighters as well.


 
 

We rounded out the day with a photo safari. I didn’t want to keep Dan much longer from getting the camp jeep back in order. We drove through mainly forested areas, stopping to take photos of whatever looked good. Along the way we saw deer, Osceola turkey, quail and even some crayfish, which Dan says taste like little lobsters. I will take his word on that. Born and raised in Florida, Dan’s excitement and love of the area was evident. “Within a three hour drive from here, you can engage in world-class off shore fishing, inshore fishing, freshwater fishing and hunting”. Indeed he is correct, which is why Florida, and particularly places like Babcock Ranch Preserve, remains a sportsman’s paradise.