Local film critic wears coyote on his head

Tackling the biathlon the old-fashioned way -- with a muzzleloader

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— It isn't every day that I encounter a man with a coyote on his head. So, whenever the occasion arises, I always go out of my way to engage the gentleman in friendly conversation. You never know when the opportunity will next present itself. I spied just such a fellow in Steamboat Springs over the weekend, and if you read this column to the end, I promise to tell you what he said.

There were a lot of loud bangs emanating from the ball fields at Howelsen Hill on Saturday morning so I pulled myself away from the telemark ski race and walked over to see what was going on. It turned out that all the ruckus was being caused by a Winter Carnival event that may be the only one of its kind in the whole wide world.

It was called the 29th International Muzzleloading Biathlon. Steamboat's Bill Gilbert helped found the event and can't believe it was 29 years ago. Paul Yonekawa is one of the primary organizers today.

The event is very similar to the Olympic biathlon events held at Utah's Soldier Hollow last winter; contestants take part in a cross country ski race and pause at regular intervals to fire their weapons at a series of targets.

Gilbert was competing with a beautiful flintlock that isn't as old as it looks. His smoothbore rifle was carefully crafted by a man in Utah. It's a replica of a weapon that might have been used in the French and Indian wars between 1750 and 1760. Although the flintlock itself wasn't ancient, part of the weapon was 200 years old. Gilbert was using a flint that was recovered from the wreck of an English sailing ship that went down on a reef in about 1803.

The flint in a flintlock is used to strike a spark that ignites the powder. A salvage diver working the shipwreck recovered musket flints that had been part of the original ship's cargo and sold them to an acquaintance of Gilbert.

Gilbert's 200-year-old flint wasn't working particularly well over the weekend. He pointed out how its ragged edge was preventing it from dependably striking sparks.

And that led to another story.

Historically, soldiers in the era of flintlocks often discarded their flints for a new one after firing their musket just four or five times. They couldn't afford to have their weapons misfire.

Some soldiers, however, would pause to sharpen or "skin" their flints. Hence the term "skin flint," signifying someone who was cheap.

Anyway, I promised to tell you about the man with a coyote on his head.

Bruce Verstraele is a BLM surveyor from Grand Junction. He's one of those people who feels like he was born about 150 years too late. Given his choice, Verstraele said he would prefer to be transported back in time to a Sioux Village on the Great Plains.

"Make it about 1820. I'm on the banks of the Yellowstone and I'm about to leave on a buffalo hunt," he said.

Verstraele was wearing a beautiful buckskin coat trimmed with red flannel on the lapels and a coyote skin for a winter cap.

I figured him for a guy who had probably watched the movie "Jeremiah Johnson" at least a dozen times. But he dismissed the Robert Redford flick with a shrug.

"He prefers 'Lonesome Dove,'" his wife, Pat, said. "He watches it once a week."

Who would have guessed the man wearing a coyote on his head would turn out to be a film critic?

There were a lot of loud bangs emanating from the ball fields at Howelsen Hill on Saturday morning so I pulled myself away from the telemark ski race and walked over to see what was going on. It turned out that all the ruckus was being caused by a Winter Carnival event that may be the only one of its kind in the whole wide world.

It was called the 29th International Muzzleloading Biathlon. Steamboat's Bill Gilbert helped found the event and can't believe it was 29 years ago. Paul Yonekawa is one of the primary organizers today.

The event is very similar to the Olympic biathlon events held at Utah's Soldier Hollow last winter; contestants take part in a cross country ski race and pause at regular intervals to fire their weapons at a series of targets.

Gilbert was competing with a beautiful flintlock that isn't as old as it looks. His smoothbore rifle was carefully crafted by a man in Utah. It's a replica of a weapon that might have been used in the French and Indian wars between 1750 and 1760. Although the flintlock itself wasn't ancient, part of the weapon was 200 years old. Gilbert was using a flint that was recovered from the wreck of an English sailing ship that went down on a reef in about 1803.

The flint in a flintlock is used to strike a spark that ignites the powder. A salvage diver working the shipwreck recovered musket flints that had been part of the original ship's cargo and sold them to an acquaintance of Gilbert.

Gilbert's 200-year-old flint wasn't working particularly well over the weekend. He pointed out how its ragged edge was preventing it from dependably striking sparks.

And that led to another story.

Historically, soldiers in the era of flintlocks often discarded their flints for a new one after firing their musket just four or five times. They couldn't afford to have their weapons misfire.

Some soldiers, however, would pause to sharpen or "skin" their flints. Hence the term "skin flint," signifying someone who was cheap.

Anyway, I promised to tell you about the man with a coyote on his head.

Bruce Verstraele is a BLM surveyor from Grand Junction. He's one of those people who feels like he was born about 150 years too late. Given his choice, Verstraele said he would prefer to be transported back in time to a Sioux Village on the Great Plains.

"Make it about 1820. I'm on the banks of the Yellowstone and I'm about to leave on a buffalo hunt," he said.

Verstraele was wearing a beautiful buckskin coat trimmed with red flannel on the lapels and a coyote skin for a winter cap.

I figured him for a guy who had probably watched the movie "Jeremiah Johnson" at least a dozen times. But he dismissed the Robert Redford flick with a shrug.

"He prefers 'Lonesome Dove,'" his wife, Pat, said. "He watches it once a week."

Who would have guessed the man wearing a coyote on his head would turn out to be a film critic?

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