The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles has been chosen as one of the few Outdoor Bloggers to share content from a well respected and well known magazine in the outdoor community!
Please enjoy the following advance publication. I would like to thank the Bernard and Associates team and Sporting Classics for choosing The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles as a partner in their endeavours!
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Oxen of the Ice Cap
By Ron Spomer
remnants of the Pleistocene,
musk ox are flourishing on the Arctic tundra.
There were no polar bears, and no minus-60 degree temperatures. But there were musk oxen.
“On the bluff across the river,” our camp cook said, pointing. He was the first person awake in our tundra camp high above the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, one of the new provinces carved out of Canada’s Northwest Territories. “Probably an old bull all by itself. Just off that point. See?”
“Oh yeah!” Three veteran U.S. hunters eyeballed their first wild musk ox, one of most recognized yet least seen and least appreciated big game animals in North America.
Barren, harsh, unforgiving and brutal are a few adjectives that accurately describe the Arctic tundra. The land is flat to rolling, with intermittent ridges of exposed bedrock. Its soils are damp to submerged, despite annual precipitation of just seven inches. Permafrost holds runoff near the surface where a three-month summer is too short and cool to evaporate it all. Still, many of the lakes shrink or dry up completely, just as they do in North Dakota. And like North Dakota’s glacial pothole country, the Ellice River uplands, protected as the Queen Maude Bird Refuge, are a waterfowl nesting paradise, largely free of egg-eating predators like raccoons, possums, skunks and badgers. A few Arctic fox make a living here, but after the birds migrate south, winter ruthlessly winnows the puppy population.
We stopped for lunch at the first dry spot, then grabbed our binoculars and rifles and climbed high to reconnoiter. Our quarry had gathered atop a stony ridge where the wind kept insects at bay. Several cows lay chewing their cud. The old bull stood close beside a cow, laying his chin on her back. This was the one Linda would target. I’d try for his young competitor now circling the harem at a respectable distance.
Eons ago, when the northern ice cap oozed as far south as Nebraska and Illinois, musk oxen must have been more common, grazing side by side with wooly mammoths, perhaps, or Irish elk in Europe. They must have formed their defensive circles and thrown their hooked horns at dire wolves and saber-toothed cats. Maybe they watched alertly as giant cave bears lumbered by. Why they survived while so many Pleistocene mammals died out remains a mystery. Even their taxonomy remains clouded. Some consider them closely allied with bison, others with sheep. The short-necked, hump-shoulder body reflects bison, but three inches of pneumatic skull bone beneath the horn echoes sheep anatomy. Indeed, when bulls come to blows over their place in the pecking order, they run at one another from a considerable distance, landing horn-to-horn at nearly 25 mph. If this doesn’t settle the issue, they may indulge in bison-like shoving and hooking. With older bulls approaching 900 pounds total mass, these exercises can literally be earth-shaking.
The bulls we were stalking must have settled the dominance question much earlier. The longer-horned but younger bull maintained sufficient distance, yet continued pestering the herd boss, and that diversion aided our stalk.
“We can get fairly close if we slip behind this ridge . . . walk right up to them.” Well, not quite. But within 500 yards. Then we began to crawl, keeping large, frost-heaved boulders between ourselves and the herd, dropping into shallow, grassy ditches created by eons of freezing, thawing and runoff. The wind was in our faces.
“Freeze! They’re looking. That one cow is looking right at us.” She stared nearly five minutes before another altercation between the bulls distracted her. The master was again chasing the youngster from the forbidden city.
“Get to that ledge and we can shoot from it. Should be less than 200 yards.” I pointed to a box-like projection of rock near the far edge of our ridge.
“Let’s do it while they’re occupied,” Linda said, and we crawled again, fast until we fetched up against the wall.
I chambered a round. “Any time you’re ready, Linda. I’ll shoot right after you.” And I did. Poorly, putting the 160-grain bullet too far back. Both bulls rumbled downhill, coming closer. We each shot again and they fell in a little basin beside a tundra lake. But the cows kept coming, thundering right at us, throwing mud and grass from the muskeg, long, black hairs bouncing and blowing in the wind. I dropped my rifle and grabbed the camera in time to capture the galloping herd before it turned and disappeared over the ridge. Hump-shouldered and heavy, an enduring remnant of the Pleistocene. Still here.
Arctic weather on the Queen Maude Gulf isn’t kind to wood or steel. To combat the wet, I carried a Remington M700 Alaskan Ti (Titanium) with fluted, 24-inch, stainless-steel barrel pillar bedded in a synthetic Bell & Carlson stock with its MaxxGuard finish that seems to “give” like a thin coating of rubber. It doesn’t slip when wet. Highly functional, as was the R3 recoil pad, which incorporates LimbSaver technology. The rig weighed just 6 ¼ pounds. A crisp Kahles scope and mounts added another pound. The rifle was chambered for the excellent, veteran 7mm Rem. Mag., still as potent as it was when it first took the hunting world by storm in 1962. Remington’s latest premier loading of a 160-grain Swift A-Frame makes the old seven Mag. deadlier than ever. Both bullets pushed right through the bull.
Optical chores were handled with aplomb by Swarovski’s petite 8x32 EL and 20-60X 65mm spotting scope. SureFire’s latest little flashlight, powered by a single 123A 3-volt Lithium battery, blasted across the tundra like a klieg light during nocturnal visits to the latrine. Unbelievable output from such a small torch. Reassuring in grizzly habitat.
While rubber hip boots are standard footwear on the tundra, they are also clammy and sometimes cold. Since I didn’t have to drag stuck 4-wheelers out of the swamps, I kept my feet comfortable, warm and dry in a pair of ten-inch high, Gore-Tex-lined, Creek boots by Lowa. Instant comfort, no break-in required, great support.
IF YOU WANT TO GO
Contact Canada North Outfitting by e-mail: email@example.com. or visit: canadanorthoutfitting.bigbluesky.ca.
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Albert A Rasch™
Member:Kandahar Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...
Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.