Whether it’s watching our favorite football team, settling our gastronomic juices after a hearty meal, or just being with friends, firing up a favored cigar has never been more appropriate once the sun starts setting sooner and the air turns crisp. In fact, a big-ringed stogy works wonders for warming the hands while sitting around a campfire after a hunt, or for enjoying alongside a snifter of single malt at the lodge once the rifles and shotguns have been put away.
All of which brings up the subject of cigar etiquette. For example, if your hunting partner hands you a cigar, do you offer him one in return? Well, yes, if you happen to have an extra on you. That is why I favor a “three fingered” leather cigar case to slip into my hunting coat pocket, not only to protect the cigars, but to have an extra stogy to give to a hunting partner or the guide. Plus, having more than one cigar insures I’ll have a choice, such as Dominican or Nicaraguan, sun-grown or maduro. If it’s an extended hunt, I’ll often bring a box of cigars to share with the camp.
Whether to leave the band on or off is a question I’m often asked. In Europe they tend to take the band off, but to me that’s tantamount to covering the brand name of your rifle. Just as we’re proud of the guns we shoot, we should be proud of what we smoke. Show it off; leave the band on. Less chance of tearing the wrapper that way besides.
Then there is the matter of how to clip and light a cigar. Sure, you can bite off the cap with your teeth a la Clint Eastwood. But you risk tearing the wrapper. In the field, I’ll admit to occasionally using my knife to trim the cap. Another method, emulating the old Cuban cigar rollers, is to use your thumbnail to etch a circular cut in the cap, then plucking it out. But the best way to cut the cap is with a cigar cutter.
There are four types of cuts made by four different styles of cutters. First is the Guillotine cut, in which a straight-across slice takes off the head. Then there is the Punch cut, which consists of a round sharpened metal tube rotated into the head and a plug of tobacco is plucked out. The “V” cut, also known as a “cat’s eye,” slices a V-shaped wedge into the head. The Pierce is simply a hole punched through the center of the head.
In camp the pierce is often done with a wooden matchstick and I once saw it awkwardly performed with a spitzer bullet. But the single hole of a pierce acts as a collection point for rancid acids and tobacco juices, and your cigar will soon taste bitter. The V cut, on the other hand, creates an ample, two sided surface that provides an adequate draw, and the exposed tobacco — a potential gathering spot for bitter tars — is kept at an angle, away from your tongue. However, few clippers are capable of making a clean V-type slice without ragging up the edges. Plus, a standard V-cutter is not big enough to accommodate many of the larger ring gauges, and anything larger than a 48 ring may only produce a shallow slice instead of a deep cut. That said, there are a number of attractive antique and modern V-cutters with stag or engraved metal slabs that I enjoy just for their looks, if not their functionality.
The punch cut works well on most cigars, pyramids being the exception. But the more practical cut for virtually all of today’s cigars is the guillotine cut, which, like the V, exposes an ample surface for easy draw and full flavor. It is also a much easier cut to execute, consisting of two parallel blades that slice across the diameter of the cap. The only caveat is that some of the pocket-sized guillotine cutters are not large enough for cigars with big ring sizes, but at home, a cigar scissors can solve that problem. So for overall practicality, my recommendation is the guillotine. After all, what was good enough for Marie Antoinette should be good enough for our cigars.
When it comes to lighting, a butane torch lighter is my preferred choice (except in high altitudes). However, cedar matches are more traditional. But don’t use paper matches; they are impregnated with chemicals that will taint the smoke. Of course, I’ve used a burning campfire twig on many a hunt. Just be careful not to char the wrapper, which provides up to eighty per cent of the cigar’s flavor.
And never crush out your cigar, which will spread the ash and accent the smell of stale smoke. Instead, toss it in the fire, or put it in the ashtray, where it will soon go out of its own accord. Unlike cigarettes, there are no chemicals in a hand rolled cigar to keep it burning. In that way, it is just as natural as our sport of hunting, which is why the two go so well together.– Richard Carleton Hacker