Last June I had the opportunity to review three of Rock Creek’s pocket knives. I was very impressed by their design, functionality and construction. Those knives left an impression on me and so when given the chance to write up a pair of Bowie knives by Rock Creek, I was more than happy to volunteer. After I received the knives I became somewhat nervous at the prospect of evaluating a “Bowie” knife. As I write this article I am still nervous. Why? The Bowie knife is the quintessential American knife. More than any knife in the United States it has a lot mythology attached to its name.
I have witnessed adults argue vigorously over what a Bowie knife looks like, who actually invented it, where and when it was used with no resolution. As a kid I remember with fondness watching on television John Wayne as Davey Crockett wielding a Bowie Knife in The Alamo. In the 1980s Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo used a Bowie knife doing battle against America’s Cold War enemies. Based on those films I remember as a teenager participating in the Civil Air Patrol that I wanted a Bowie Knife. I had to have a Bowie knife for survival purposes. After college I participated in Cowboy Action Shooting for several years and routinely saw Bowie knives of every design tucked into gun belts including my own Coleman Bowie. Almost every large knife manufacturer to custom knife makers have taken design cues from the many versions of Bowie knives. Rock Creek Knives has an entire line of Bowie knives and this month the Grizzly and Sable Bowies will be evaluated.
First up is the Grizzly, a clip point Bowie that measures in at 12 7/8 inches. The 8 1/8 inch blade is forged from Hanwei’s proprietary HWS-1k Steel which according to Rock Creek provides for a long wearing edge and is corrosion resistant. What stands out about the blade is the stick tang of the Grizzly. Clearly this knife is meant as a survival knife or self defense. The Grizzly’s handle is made of rounded Sambar stag that is sandwiched between a stainless steel cross guard and butt cap. The butt cap is hand finished to match the contours of the stag handle which not only looks great but gives the knife a hand- made custom feel to the knife. Overall this is a large knife that weighs in a 14 ounces which I think is pretty light considering its size. Included with the knife is a bark tanned belt sheath that has a double row of stitching and a snap closure to keep the knife secure. To accommodate the large round stag handle and guard the top of the sheath has a large wedge shaped block in its construction so the knife sits properly in the sheath when worn on the belt. The tip of the sheath also includes a metal protective end cap that is pinned through the leather. The entire ensemble looks very workmanlike and clearly Rock Creek mean this knife to be used in the field and not just for show
The Sable is a bit smaller than the Grizzly and measures in at 10 ¾ inches. It is manufactured from the same HWS-1K steel as the Grizzly and its blade measures 6 ¼ inches. The handle is made from chemically treated bark tanned stacked leather which feels as hard as wood scales. The stacked leather looks great on the Sable and I wish more knife manufacturers would use it. It has a classic look that I find very appealing. One of the more notable features of the Sable is ¼ inch thick tang of the knife that also contributes to its 10 ounce weight. I really liked the thick tang because the Sable can be used for batoning and prying if necessary. The guard has a nice smooth choil to protect the index figure and the top the tang has deep grooves cut into to provide grip for the thumb. All of this gives the knife a great feel for field work. The Sable also comes with a bark tanned leather sheath similar to the Grizzly that has three metal caps to protect wear points on the sheath. They are secured with pins through the leather and provide a solid durable finish to the sheath.
I have had a number of months to test out these both of these knives. Unfortunately I have not had an opportunity to get out into the woods for an extended period time so I had to rely on my urban environment for testing purposes. First, I used both knives in a kitchen capacity using them to cut cooked and uncooked meat as well as cut up vegetables. Both knives worked great and I have no complaints in terms of their function in that regard. I then used both knives to cut up card board boxes and plastic bottles. Again both knives performed these tasks well. I filled several cat liter containers and empty detergent bottles full of water and tested out the puncturing ability of the knives. The Grizzly easily passed through the plastic of both containers. The Sable also punctured both containers easily but left a much bigger hole. After creating several holes I used the knives to cut the containers up and I found with the Sable I had more control when cutting. Next, I cut several length of nylon rope of varying thickness and finished up with some paracord. I also had some nine ounce latigo leather that I was able to puncture and cut into strips with both knives.
My next series of tests involved some unruly saplings and vines in my backyard. Again both knives worked well cutting small branches and extracting vines from my fence. I found the Sable to be easier to use for these tasks because its design provided for greater control. I then used the Grizzly and Sable to carve up an old walking stick to see how they fared at carving stakes and notches. The Sable was easier to use for these tasks as the Grizzly is a couple of inches longer. Both knives work great in cleaning up branches to make fire pokers, walking sticks and skewers.
After all the tests and use of these knives I don’t have one complaint or issue with the function or presentation of either knife. The sheaths are well made and look nicer than many manufacturers’ current offerings of nylon and kydex. The leather is definitely a nice touch that I associate with custom knife makers. Both knives fit nicely in the sheath with minimal rattle. The stacked leather handle of Sable reminds me a bit of USMC Ka-Bar knife. It gives the Sable a great and classic look. I have not been big fan of stag handled knives in general, but the Grizzly has definitely changed my mind and I will be looking to add a few more stag handled knives to my collection in the future.
Hands down the Grizzly and Sable Bowies are two of the best mass produced knives that I have had the opportunity to use. Continuing from the pocket knives last June these knives are superbly constructed and durable. Beyond simple function and utility they look great. The aesthetic look of Bowie knife are important and Rock Creek’s interpretations live up to billing in my opinion. According to Rock Creek’s website The Grizzly’s MSRP is $174.00 and the Sable’s MSRP is $113.00. Both knives can be found for less from many Internet knife retailers. I think the pricing of these two knives is fair considering the quality of their manufacture. Custom knives are not usually in my budget and Rock Creek’s offerings are affordable. If I had to choose between the two knives to make part of a survival kit I would probably select the Sable Bowie based overall functionality. If I was looking for large knife for self defense and pure aesthetics it would definitely be the Grizzly. In the end I don’t think either would be a bad choice and I highly recommend them. They are definitely some of the nicest knives I have used and easily comparable in quality to a couple of custom made knives in my collection.
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