by Manley J. Anderson
Ensign Sets Sights On North American Super Slam
I’m interested in the “North American Super Slam,” said the co-owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Jamestown and an avid bow hunter since his youth.
He explained the “slam” involves taking 28 animals on the continent and he plans to do it strictly with a bow and arrow.
“To be quite honest, I figure it’ll take me 10 to 15 years to complete,” Ensign said. “I’ll have seven (of the 28) this fall if I get a Barren Ground Caribou.”
He said the continental “Super Slam” is made up of five species of caribou, four species each of sheep, deer, and bear, and three each of moose and elk, plus five miscellaneous species – mountain goat, musk ox, mountain lion, bison and pronghorn antelope.
Of the 28, Ensign has a species each of deer and caribou to date, plus a mountain lion and most recently a musk ox claimed last month during a trip to Victoria Island, at least 200 miles north of the Artic Circle and about 300 miles north of the last tree he saw in the region. The island is located near the Beaufort Sea, offshore from Nunavut in far northern Canada.
Accompanying Ensign of the trip was Bob Miller of North East, Pa, chairman/president of Better Baked Foods and also a veteran bow hunter who had collected a polar bear on a previous trip to the Artic.
“To get the Super Slam,” I have to go back for the polar bear,” Ensign explained, “The purpose of this trip was to see if I could handle weather conditions.”
The pharmacy partner found he did quite well in this regard. “I actually got cold only once – on the way out,” he said, explaining this occurred only of the forehead above his goggles.
“On the day coming back,” Ensign related, “it was 29 to 34 (degrees) below (zero), with a 10 mile an hour wind and we’re going 25 miles an hour into it.”
He said, depending on which wind chill chart was used, the composite temperature on the occasion equated to between 60 to 90 degrees below zero.
Ensign credited much of his relative comfort in the bone-chilling temperatures to wearing an anorak, a white windbreaker for camouflage and totally wind-proof. “It really is a lifesaver,” he said.
The trip out to the island from the closest little airport proved to be an adventure in itself.
Ensign explained it was made aboard a qamituk, a large wooden-runner sled pulled by a snowmobile.
“It was a bone-jarring ride,” the traveler explained. “No shock absorbers. It’s a horrible ride at 25 to 30 miles an hour – very rough. I sat on a small innertube. It made all the difference in the world.”
He said a total of five hunters made the trip, noting “Everyone got one (a musk ox)” and estimating he saw between 80 and 100 of the shaggy animals in 2 ½ days.
The local man said they have been known to charge hunters, but only for a short distance as their protective covering of qiviut, which is eight times warmer than cashmere, causes them to overheat quickly.
Ensign said that en route to the hunting grounds, the qamituk broke through the ice about 200 yards from shore.
“That was close,” he said. “That was probably the one most unnerving part of the journey for me. This truly does define the Arctic.”
Ensign went on to relate, “It was a journey. It was an expedition. It’s not just about killing an animal. It was a lot of fun.”
He explained the Inuit guides lived in the village of Kugluktuk that translated to Coppermine in English
“Most Inuits are very religious, Ensign related, “and my guide was frequently humming “Rock of Ages” and said grace before meals. It was a cultural experience as well as a hunting trip.”
As for shelter, “My tent was four blankets sewn together by the guide’s wife,” he said, noting this attests to the ingenuity and frugality of the Inuits.
“Up there, bannock bread tastes great,” Ensign related, explaining it is a cross between a doughnut and a pancake.
He said that in Yellowknife, he and Miller flipped a coin to see who would get the first shot at a musk ox and Bob won. “He wanted the larger boss and I wanted the heavier horns.” The boss is at the center part of the head where the horns meet and traditionally comprises their widest section. As I was, each man ended up with what they desired.
When they reached the hunting grounds, both men made their stalk, with Ensign never having seen a musk ox before.
“Bob got his musk ox 10 to 15 minutes before I did,” said Ensign who video filmed the occasion.
“He explained, Bob stalked to about 35 yards for his first shot which was a shoulder hit. Then he moved about 10 yards farther away and got an excellent second shot.”
Ensign said he got his shot at 26 yards and the target animal died about 10 seconds later with both his and Miller’s musk ox expiring about 50 yards apart.
The Jamestown area man said that between the two of them they took out 184 pounds of meat, with a limit of 90 to 99 pounds per hunter permitted to be flown out, depending on the airline. The remainder of the meat was taken back to the Inuit village and given to the elderly.
Ensign said of the meat, “It is excellent. I prefer it to beef – no preservatives and very low in fat.”
He estimated that both of the musk ox taken would place within the top 20 in the Pope and Young rating system of such animals taken with a bow and arrow.
This coming fall, Ensign hopes to go to Canada’s Northwest Territories for central barren ground caribou.
He said the snow encountered on Victoria Island was “real dense, the consistency of Styrofoam,” while noting the Inuits melt ice, not snow for water.
Ensign said the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) were spectacular, spanning the horizon in a second or two beginning at one end as orange, then green and returning to orange as they approached the opposite horizon lasting a couple of hours and making a static-like sound during the progression.
He said the vast majority of the passengers on the plane from Edmonton to Yellowknife were of Asian descent and disembarked at the latter city to see the northern lights, which he believes have a romantic connection for them.
Ensign said that when shadows lengthened on the tundra, they reminded him of what believes the moon surface is like.
He said that as for wildlife other than the musk ox, he saw two birds of prey, three ravens and maybe 50 caribou. “I never say a wolf, a varying hare or a polar bear.”
While Ensign is pursuing the “North American Super Slam,” Miller planned to return to Africa to continue his bow and arrow conquest of “The Big Six,” composed of lion, leopard, hippopotamus, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo, having already taken the last named animal.
Both men have been serious bow hunters for the last 10 to 15 years, but with Ensign explaining that Miller’s attempt to take a rhino and elephant in Africa will have a different twist to it.
He said the effort will involve a syringe-tipped projectile designed to anesthetize he animals which will be revived after photographs have been taken.
“This (his and Miller’s Arctic trip) was the first of many more to come, I believe,” Ensign said. “This wasn’t about the hunt. It was an Arctic journey. It’s all about friendship and camaraderie.”