Dog musher Robert Grandjambe barely had time to put his foot on the brake before an angry bison tore down a narrow trail in Wood Buffalo National Park, straight at him and his dog team.
“I came around a corner and there was a buffalo,” he recounted. “In just seconds, by the time I’d stopped the dogs and put my foot down on the brake, he was coming at me full bore, head down. Oh my God!”
The Fort Chipewyan trapper was on one of his trap lines Feb. 4 when he came across the irritated beast near Moose Island. Before he knew it, the bison was charging the team. Grandjambe had hardly a moment to bail into the bush, narrowly escaping the animal, which ran straight over his dogs and sled.
“That was a really scary experience,” he said. “I bailed to the right of the trail and I just looked back a little bit and I could see one of my black dogs closer to the sled – he had been flung up in the air. The buffalo ran right by, he ran right over my dogs, right over my sled. In fact my tarp’s got holes in it where his hoof went through.”
The bison took pause 50 feet down the trail behind them. Frantically, Grandjambe straightened out his dog team, which was tangled up and afraid, and got out of there as fast as he could.
“I was so afraid, I was so scared, I didn’t even know I left my fur hat,” he remarked. “A few days later I went back and there’s my fur hat lying there on the side of the road.”
None of his dogs were killed, but a couple are bruised up and taking a break from pulling the sled.
Grandjambe said the whole experience woke him up to an important lesson.
“Watch your dogs,” he said. “My dog stopped and was gonna come back, so I should have paid attention. Instead of trying to make her go again, I should have stopped and thought, ‘Why is she doing that?’”
The other thing he said he learned is the unpredictable danger of sharing the road with bison.
“People have to realize – I never realized – how fast a buffalo is,” he said. “It looks sluggish and big and slow, but it’s not. It’s a very, very fast animal.”
Grandjambe said he often sees bison while out checking his traps. Typically they are out in the prairie and run away when the dog team approaches.
This time, however, Grandjambe suspects wolves had been bothering the bison, putting it in a state of distress.
“Wolves must have been harassing it, that’s why it was so upset,” he speculated, noting he had been tracking wolves in the area that had been eating at his furs. “So when I came along, it thought there were wolves coming down the trail. They usually run away, but this one, as soon as it saw us – boom. Before I had put my foot down on the brakes, he was on us already.”
Grandjambe, who is one of the last mushers in the community using dogs on the trap line, said he feels lucky to have come out alive.
“Be careful,” he warned. “That thing could kill you.”