The holidays are always a balancing act for a ski racer. You want to visit with people but too much of a good thing can kill your racing the following weeks. I think a good balance was struck this year, and the last few intensity sessions have confirmed both of us are feeling fit and haven’t indulged too much over Christmas.
The skiing in Whitehorse has steadily improved and is great right now. Cold, squeaky snow and bomber tracks make training a pleasure. It was great to have Graham Nishikawa home for the holidays to give us some feedback and keep us on our toes when we’re skiing. A big thanks to Graham for lending us a selection of his skis to use in the coming races.
The biggest news of the holidays though is that Michael Abbott shot a bison! After a frustrating fall getting skunked hunting caribou, moose and sheep everything came together for him on New Years Eve. This was in part thanks to Knute who had been hunting in the same area earlier in the year and gave us the information we needed for a successful hunt. Little things made a big difference. “Keep your rifle in hand and loaded”. “Watch your breath so the scope doesn't fog up”. “Keep the scope on minimum power”. “Don’t spook them, if they start running, you’ll never catch up to them”. “Aim low, behind and below the shoulder”.
The standard method for hunting bison in the Yukon is to take a snow machine out on back-country trails, look for fresh sign and then follow tracks to try and find them. Because this is the normal method, bison seem to be learning to avoid the trails and areas frequented by snow machines. Human-powered bison hunting isn't something that most people do, because of the incredible amount of work it takes to get a 1000lb+ animal out of the bush once you shoot it. We decided that we were up to the task.
Sunrise found us trekking across a frozen lake, towards an open hill-slope with bison tracks on it. An hour and a half later we were looking at fresh tracks, trampled pine trees and fresh beds. We knew they were close. Following the sparsely treed ridge we quietly walked down towards a little hollow with Michael leading, Colin following and Dave Gonda at the back. I think all three of us saw the bison at the same time. We dropped to the ground as a bull walked past us no more than 50 meters ahead. We thought it had seen us but it didn't run and didn't look our way, just walked out of sight down the hill. A few moments later we spotted a mound of fur just past where the first bull had walked. A second one was bedded down close by! We dropped our packs and Michael tried to re-position to get an angle on the second bull. He must have heard us because shortly after we started moving the second bull stood up and immediately moved behind a screen of trees. We thought we were busted. We stopped moving and waited to see what would happen.
Lying in the snow we got colder and colder locked in a staring contest with a big bull bison. He was safe from a shot because of the screen of trees. He didn't know what we were and was waiting for us to move so he could find out. There was no wind and he couldn't smell us. We weren't standing on two legs so he didn't know we were humans. As our legs started cramping and muscles started shaking from the cold, the first bison came walking back up the hill. Michael quickly moved a few steps from cover and dropped to one knee to get a solid shot. The bison stopped and looked straight at him before beginning to move again. Patience paid off and the first shot hit its mark. Knute’s rifle did it’s job well. We went to where the bison lay in the snow and to our surprise saw the second bison standing nearby! we were able to watch him for a few minutes up close before he took off into the bush.
It was only noon, but we knew it was going to be a long day. Colin ran the 5km round trip to the truck to get sleds while Dave and Michael started field dressing the bison. It was dark long before the quartering was complete and we finished the job by headlamp. Just as Dave got a fire going a pack of wolves began to howl in the distance. We cut more quickly. By 6pm we had the meat sectioned into manageable chunks and began the task of hauling it out of the forest. A very steep hill, dead-fall and willows made for a tough trip out with heavy sleds. The moon was bright enough that we could walk most of the way back without headlamps. It took almost two hours to get to the truck the first trip. The second trip was slightly faster with a trail that had set up nicely from our first trip. Back at the truck by 10:30 we headed for town. Our timing upon return to Whitehorse was impeccable. It turned 2015 as we reached the outskirts of town and caught 5 different firework shows on the way in!
The next two days were busy with butchering, grinding, wrapping and freezing meat for the winter. Our next races in Duntroon will be fueled by bison!
Some beautiful skiing in Whitehorse.
Mike and Dave
The end result: a portion of the bison.