Sometimes the best hunting and fishing opportunities arise when least expected. It was late fall when I was hiking the Colorado high country together with my wife and a few friends taking photos of aspen foliage when we happened upon a large field of kinnikinnick bordering the edge of a high plateau. The low growing plant is common and barely worth mentioning except for the fact that this field contained a large patch of variegated kinnikinnick, a most uncommon variety to find in Colorado. It was also thick with orange berries instead of the usual red bear berries. As any serious hunter knows, this plant variety is catnip to the Rocky Mountain Kriscat. For those unfamiliar with the beast, a Kriscat has short stubby legs, a thick fur coat like a chinchilla and is roughly the size of a small Mongolian mule. The male, or King Kriscat, has a shaggy mane covering their eyes and ram-like horns that extend straight up before curling downward. King Kriscats are tough to find and even tougher to bring down. A King Kriscat has been on my bucket list for some time now.
While the rest of my party took photos of the mountain scenery, I stalked the kinnikinnick field searching for signs of Kriscat. I was soon rewarded by finding lines of dry twigs that the Kriscat uses to mark its territory. A few yards outside the twig circle I found abundant and fresh Kriscat tracks and scat. There was no mistaking that I was standing in the middle of prime Kriscat hunting country. Yes, it was a hunter’s dream come true. With a shooter’s eye, I planned my hunt. A long range shot is the only way to bag the super elusive Kriscat. I settled on a rock outcrop some two hundred yards from the kinnikinnick patch, and logged in the GPS coordinates. As we departed the plateau, I carefully marked the path, so that I could retrace my steps to the outcrop.
As soon as I arrived home, I began preparing for the hunt. I am an Old School hunter and decided on using my authentic, double trigger Hawkens muzzleloader equipped with a ghost ring iron sights and modern nylon sling. My Hawkens rifle is barreled 50 caliber and has an oversize beavertail stock for stability. I also carry a homemade triple leg shooting stick of my own design. This rig had proven to be a deadly accurate at the rifle range, even at extreme distance. I was both hopeful and confidence as I packed the gear into my Jeep.
I was so excited about the hunt that I hardly slept that night; nevertheless, I awoke before the 3 AM alarm and quietly departed without disturbing my wife. By 4 AM I was at the trailhead taking my first GPS readings and making final adjustments on my gear. It was a moonless, pitch dark, crisp autumn night. I donned my lucky charm; a worn, orange flannel flat cap, and switched on the red filtered flashlight. I was right on schedule as I began marching up the mountain to the Kriscat hunting grounds. After thirty minutes of hard going, I reached my first GPS waypoint and discovered that the GPS battery was dead. I carried eighteen spare batteries, but none that fit the GPS. I decided to march on with my Boy Scout compass and rely on my trail markers. I estimated an hour hike, but it took more than twice as long. My long shooting sticks got tangled in every low branch and required constant adjusting and re-adjusted. My fifty pound back pack and fifteen pound Hawkens felt like giant boat anchors as I clambered over the rocks. It was exhausting work, and I ran out of drinking water before reaching the plateau. Quite frankly, I was not properly packed for a mountain hunt.
The early rays of sunlight were lancing through the night sky when I collapsed in a heap atop the rock outcrop that I had scouted the day before. I loaded my Hawkens with a 50 cal sabot/45 cal 220 grain bullet, set up my shooting sticks, readied my binoculars and range finder then satisfied all was set, I stretched out on a blanket and closed my eyes for a few minutes rest. Instead I fell fast asleep. I awoke with a start, and was shocked to see it was full daylight. I glanced at my watch and realized I had slept over two hours. A wave of disappointment hit me as I readied my binoculars. Had I missed the hunting window? I peered over the rocks and glassed the kinnikinnick patch.
My situation is summed up best as a good news, bad news story. The good: a full brace of shaggy mane Kriscats were feeding in the kinnikinnick patch. All three were trophy males. Many a hunter had paid several thousand dollars per shot at a swanky hunting lodge to get an opportunity to shoot one Kriscat. I was looking at an once-in-a-lifetime hunt: three Kriscats. Now the bad: I had ended up on the wrong outcrop and was a mere ten yards away from the kinnikinnick patch instead of the planned two hundred yards. I was clearly over gunned with the Hawkens zeroed at two hundred yards. I would have to improvise a new plan. To make matters more complex, an enormous Mexican Hare was harassing the Kriscats causing them to be in constant motion. The Hare was charging the kinnikinnick patch and stamping his paddle sized back feet on the ground. A Kriscat, carrying a twig in his sharp teeth, met the charge and laid a twig before the Hare. The Hare would not pass over the twigs markers, but kept looking for an unprotected opening to raid the kinnikinnick patch.
As I mulled over a new plan, I heard more commotion on my left side. I spotted a Russian Boar a mere twenty yards away. The brute clawed his large, menacing tusks against a Ponderosa Pine. It was a clear signal that the nasty beast was getting ready to charge me. I discovered later that the boar and Mexican Hare were escapees from a local, exotic hunting ranch. Only the Kriscats were native Colorado. I decided to re-target the Hawkens at the boar. I needed the knockdown power and really had no other choice for giving the big boar some hot lead training. I scoped the boar with my range finder/elevation compensator and estimated that aiming at the boar’s front left hoof would place a fatal shot into his brisket. I was forced to deploy one of my backup firearms to shoot a Kriscat. I selected a light caliber, semi-auto Whisper Slide pistol of the Italian make and design. It is a tactical model with a weaver rail and reflex optics. The suppressed pistol shoots so quietly that a hunter can miss the first shot without startling his prey; thereby, getting a second, or if lucky, a third shot before the wild animal flees the area.
I thought Lady Luck was on my side as a murder of crows landed on a few fallen trees near the kinnikinnick patch. The (mostly useless) Colorado Crow is noted for his loud, harsh, constant noise, and provided cover for me to move my shooting sticks, cock the set trigger on the Hawkens, cap it and then load the Whisper Slide pistol with subsonic ammo. I struggled to control my breathing as I took shooting position. I intended to fire the Whisper Slide pistol, with my right hand, at a Kriscat aiming for a neck shot. If I missed the difficult neck shot, I would fire one or maybe two more shots at the Kriscat before cracking down on the boar with a one armed shot from the Hawkens.
I swiveled my head from one target to the other, concentrating on trigger control. Both being tricky shots, I took my time to sight in. I panned the pistol at my Kriscat targets and selected the best, clean shot. I adjusted my pistol sights; red dot, switch to green dot, no back to dim red, no too dim, switch to crosshairs, no back to dot, switch to dim crosshairs and so forth. I wasted way too much time. Meanwhile a posse of wild turkeys wandered into the kinnikinnick field and scattered the crows. Just as I was gently squeezing the trigger on the pistol, a big crow landed on my head. I instantly felt intense pain as the crow’s sharp claws ripped into my scalp. I screamed and flinched and the Hawkens discharged prematurely nearly knocking me off my feet. The kinnikinnick patch was a blur of wild animals charging this way and that. I fired into the melee and emptied my pistol magazine like some fool cowboy in a TV western. I missed the Kriscats and they disappeared over the rim of the plateau. The evil crow was still on my head. In a fit of white hot anger I swiped violently at the crow with the empty Whisper Slide, and pistol-whipped myself in the process. I was knocked out. I awoke with a lump on my head and a seriously bruised ego. I packed my gear. To add insult to injury, the crow had swiped my flat cap. I forced myself to patrol the hunting field to check for blood stains. I trudged listlessly about, and was astonished to find a gobbler lying dead in the kinnikinnick patch, shot through the head with his long red beard wrapped around his neck from the bullet impact.
After I got home and dressed out the wild turkey, I phoned Lawrence, my old hunting buddy in Wyoming. His wife Nancy answered the phone. Lawrence was out, but Nancy being a full-blooded Shoshone Indian and a born huntress was keen to hear about my latest hunting adventure. I told her the whole awful story. After a long pause, Nancy explained that a crow landing on your head is Bad Medicine, capital B. Just ask Johnny Depp about his career tanking after wearing a ridiculous crow headdress in his dismal movie, The Lone Ranger. She gave me clear instructions, as only a true Indian can, on how to break the Crow curse. I followed her advice to the letter and can safely say that the curse is broken. In proof of my good fortune, I was to discover later that my turkey was a blue-ribbon gobbler, and the biggest one taken with a pistol shot in state history. I got my picture in the local paper, and news of the first gobbler taken with a Whisper Slide pistol caused a minor sensation in Italian hunting circles. To my great surprise, I was invited to speak at a Mountain Hunting Round Table in Milan, Italy, with a full expense paid trip for two. My first inclination was to decline the trip to allow a more deserving, more skilled American sportsman to share his hunting wisdom with the Italians. My wife talked some sense into my head, “We always wanted to go to Italy, and we are going! Just talk about the turkey, and keep quiet about the Kriscats and crows.” I accepted the invite and got the airline tickets. I prepared my presentation for the meeting, and followed my wife’s advice by leaving out the bad parts and focusing on the good events of the hunt. I even embellished my story a bit to come off as somewhat heroic; because after all, that is the Old School way to tell a good hunting story.