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The Kraken Prevails November 2017
Brad Birdsell  

A few years back I was just riding along on my dirt bike when a particularly nasty pine tree reached out and grabbed my handlebar. The resulting short flight was followed by a horrible landing that seemed innocent enough at the time.

Not feeling much pain, I got back on the horsey and resumed my ride, only to find out that I did not have the grip to work the clutch. You see, my left thumb landed behind a rock or root or some other immovable object and the rest of me kept going. The ligament in my thumb was snapped. You know, the one that allows an opposable thumb.

Of course I do not know anything is really wrong other than a sore & weak thumb until my wife forces me to go to the doc a few weeks later. So, the thumb doc ranges my thumb and says, “you severed your such-n-such ligament, we need to do surgery this week, if we wait too long the re-attach will not take”. My response, “Woah there doc, how long is the recovery, I have an archery elk hunt in a few weeks”. Doc says, “the thumb needs to be casted for 4 weeks followed by physical therapy, no hunt for you.”

Research time… can I get AZGF to transfer to a later tag… can I transfer my tag to a buddy? No, but wait a minute, I can get a waiver to use a crossbow! So the doc signs the AZGF forms and I get my waiver. It turns out that there are no temporary waivers. This is a lifelong deal!

A quick check with my circle of hunting buddies finds not a single crossbow among them. Honey, I need to go crossbow shopping. With not much time to buy the thing and get proficient at shooting it, I decide to go with a package deal all set up and ready to shoot. The Barnett Jackal arrives just after my surgery.

A couple of days later I am at the range with the rest of the fellows on my tag; brother Larry, and two buddies Mike & Eric. Everyone is interested to see the crossbow in action and to get a chance to shoot it themselves. My first shot sends the bolt downrange with a deafening “CRACK”.

The chatter comes immediately, “Good god man, can you put a silencer on that thing”, “did it explode”, “sounds like someone hit a trash can lid with a baseball bat.” The jabs continue through the session and at some point when I am lining up a shot, my brother puts on his best Zeus voice and says, “RELEASE THE KRAKEN”! The name stuck and the Kraken has never been silenced.

According to Wikipedia, a “kraken is a legendary sea monster of giant size that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Authors over the years have postulated that the legend originated from sightings of giant squids that may grow to 40 or 50 feet in length. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the kraken have made it a common ocean-dwelling monster in various fictional works.”

The elk did not cooperate that season and none of us ended up with meat in the freezer. My thumb continued to be a problem and as it turned out, the re-attach was too late.

The ligament had “died,” not enough strength to stabilize the thumb joint. Pass two at fixing my thumb involved stealing a ligament from my wrist and attaching at both sides of the thumb joint. And of course it was scheduled just before elk season. So, the Kraken gets another opportunity but fails to deliver meat to my freezer.

A few years go by without getting drawn for a tag, but we finally draw an archery cow tag hunt in 11M. This time my only excuse for hunting with the Kraken is that it is tuned up and ready to go and my traditional compound bow is now old, neglected and un-tuned, kind of like me.

The “M” in unit number 11M is for metropolitan area, in this case Flagstaff. I have a little cabin outside of Flagstaff but inside of 11M. And, I am always out and about in the metropolitan forests, so I know these animals fairly well.

Opening morning finds me 80 yards from a mega herd that the bulls have not split up yet. There had to be 50 or 60 animals, several bulls worthy of harems, a couple of 4x4’s, countless spikes and the rest are cows and calves.

The big boys are busy trying to split off their own harem while keeping them from being stolen right back, so they are no problem. The cows and calves are being pushed back and forth by the big boys, so they are distracted. Looks good for a stalk.

There is tall grass and not much for trees on our ridge so I belly crawl to within 40 yards. Then the 4x4 juvenile delinquents show up. They start sparring and one of them is winning and thereby pushing the other towards me. The cows and calves move away from the chaos, so after everyone settles down, I am back on the belly crawl, only to have the youngsters mess things up again.

About this time a truck pulls up and stops on the other side of the ridge and the hunter gets out and just starts walking straight at the herd. Now this is a very peculiar archery hunting technique that I personally have never witnessed. But, I hoped that he would push them right by me… and he did, they went by me at about 30 MPH.

With the morning hunt a bust, I went off to hunt more remote terrain. The remote terrain I am speaking of is a tight and steep group of 5 finger canyons that drain a wide flat ridge down to a common low park area. The herd in this area graze at night on the park and move up into the finger canyons to bed during the day.

Day 2, I get into the herd quickly before light, but they start moving up the canyons before shooting light. They are not moving fast so I am able keep up, but this is a difficult game to play. I end up following them all the way up the canyons before they slip over a ridge and disappear. It is afternoon, I am tired and hungry, so I give them a rest while I go do the same.

This same scenario plays over and over for several days and I am getting tired of it. It is now Friday evening and my brother shows up to join the hunt. I take him out the following morning and we get right into them and guess what… chase them all the way up the canyons all day long.

Sunday morning finds us in the herd as usual and they are starting their move up the canyons. About this time, I am thinking to myself, “Am I living my own twisted version of the movie Ground Hog Day?” I turn to Larry and whisper, “time to change tactics.”

We back off slowly and then jump into the Rhino and haul ass to a spot that gets us about a mile from the head of the canyons. We double time it for about three quarters of a mile and then start still hunting across the ridge that drains all 5 of the finger canyons. Thirty minutes later and we spot them on the move, coming out of the second canyon and across the ridge right towards us.

There is not much cover, so we hit the dirt behind what little cover there is. I am on my belly with the Kraken propped up on a small log, and Larry is behind a sapling pine tree that would make Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree look like the one at Rockefeller Center.

The lead cow actually goes past us enough to wind us and backtracks 20 yards. I get a range on her at 40 yards and prepare for the shot when she starts walking straight towards me. I am just about to make a bleat sound to stop her when she stops on her own accord. I am not comfortable about a front-on shot so I am waiting for the eternity of 10 seconds when she quarters and looks back over her shoulder. Just enough to slip the bolt right behind the front left shoulder, thwump! Well, ok, it was more like, “Crack!”, then “thwump”. We watched the herd take off in the direction that they had come and about 100 yards out, my cow laid down. She would get up later and manage another wobbly 50 yards, but then laid down for good.

I get a lot of flak from my hunt buddies about, “cheating” with a cross bow, but realistically the range is not any different than modern compound bows. So it is still a close quarters hunt and that is what I love about hunting with arrows & bolts.

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