By now we’re well and truly deep into the series, and the pressure is ramping up! I think this episode by far was our favourite of the past three, as there’s a real sense of camaraderie and a lot of learning going down with the bison butchering. The chances are if you’ve seen episode 3 then you’re here to hear our thoughts on it, and if you’ve not seen it or any other episodes then click here!
Life at camp
We’d been living at the camp for over a week, so we’d all fallen into our daily routines. The camp itself was a short walk away from the cooking/eating area to ensure we didn’t attract any bears to our living quarters in the tents; we were ordered on day one to remove any food and smelly items such as toothpaste and deodorant from our packs and keep them at the cooking facility – if you are going to attract bears then you may as well attract them away from where you’re sleeping. Not shown on camera was also the food storage itself, we had about three or four large food bags that we hung about 30-40ft from a tree on the outskirts of the camp. A simple yet effective method of keeping your food away from Bears.
In the tents itself, we had a wood burner which was an absolute joy if we ever got wet, like jumping in a lake fully clothed or something, and kept the tent super warm at night. The guys who stayed back when the rest of us were out on tasks or challenges would keep the fires going in the tents if need be, which was really sweet. There was also a full bucket of water in the tent as an emergency fire killer.
We hung up a rope along the entire length of the ceiling in our tent so we could hang clothes to dry – during the first few days it rained non-stop so the only way to dry things was indoors. As our time wore on the sun became more frequent than rain which meant we could use an outside line and have some roof space in the tent. Our camp beds were super comfy, and the fleece-lined sleeping bags were an absolute dream when we finally got into bed – filming days usually started around 7 am and could go on as long as 1 am. Sleep was sparse, but we slept like babies even in the 24hr sunlight.
Breaking a trail
As Pete said ‘it’s heavy-duty gardening’ and he was 100% right! Using hand tools in a mosquito-infested forest, through the driving rain which eventually let up to beautiful sunshine, was certainly a brilliant physical task which we all completely immersed ourselves in. As with all the challenges, there is always the chance to stand out, to really shine and catch CJ’s eye, but this task felt equal amongst us all – we all put our most effort into it and so none of us had a clue who would be going up to Ose the following day.
Getting a chance to sit on the quad bike with the dog mushing was truly an unforgettable experience. Sitting on the back as Leigh shouted instructions at them and they jumped into formation was brilliant, and it took them a couple of goes around the new trail to not completely shoot past it every time we got close. I think we went around about three or four times which was cool to see how they reacted to the freshly cut trail. Having a film crew around was a little distraction for them, but they did really well!
As you saw in the show we would drive ourselves to locations, most of them being at least an hour or more away. We had a lot of time to chat and admire the scenery, but after our long day at the dog mushing location, the crew decided to send us home in a taxi instead as they were worried we were too tired to drive. What ensued was an incredibly memorable taxi ride consisting of a taxi driver full of stories and his pet Chihuahua who had entered his life after being abandoned by a passenger. What really solidified this taxi ride into my memory was him placing the dog outside onto the dirt road before speeding off and the little thing racing full pelt to catch up – this was a game the dog loved and they did it a couple of times. Jerome spent most of the journey in the front seat with the little fella on his lap!
I think a lot of people expected us to steer well clear of hunting/shooting/fishing whilst we were in Alaska, but we signed up for this experience knowing that this is part of the culture and lifestyle out there. Being pescatarians meant that we ate small amounts of fish, but no other meat. We were completely aware of the fact that life out in a house 100 miles away from the nearest road could lead to the potential death of an animal, whether that’s from self-defence or the need to hunt our own food. Being able to watch an animal be dispatched, and then butchered was important for us to see if we really could deal with that possibility.
The main reason we don’t eat meat is largely due to the overexploitation of animals, cramped living conditions, short lives, the stress of abattoirs etc…in an outdoor environment an animal that has lived its life free, wild, and is dead before it knows what hit it is, in our eyes, a much more ethical and ideal way to consume meat. We are aware that everyone has their own reasoning for their diet, which is why we don’t really go into much detail ever about our eating habits or reasons why.
My history with animals spans back a couple of decades; I studied animal husbandry at college where I worked at farms and zoos, before gaining a BSc degree in animal conservation at university. I’ve also worked in a veterinary surgery, so I have a lot of experience with farm and wild animals and plenty of pets. With that comes the experience of assisting in a number of surgeries (I actually assisted in Ginjey’s neutering so whenever people question me if she really is a girl I can confirm she really is!) and also assisting in a number of euthanising cases too, I’ve seen plenty of animals die in varying stages. I was prepared for this, and so was Theo.
The actual premise of us going to the Bison range was explained to us that there was an ‘angry bison disrupting the herd’ who was going to be dispatched – this is what the production team told us. We chose to attend because we knew an animal was going to be killed for the good of the herd, yet when we arrived the ‘angry bison’ had apparently been too angry and had already been dealt with. I’m not going to lie, me and Theo were irritated that we had been lead there on false pretences, but by then we were already a couple of hours drive from camp and a bison was still going to die. We wanted to learn and partake, but it was a shame to have been misled about the reasoning.
‘with a shot behind the ear they’re dead before they hit the ground’
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts a lot gets edited out, especially as it’s three days crammed into one-hour episodes. The owner of the ranch spoke for a long time before we went out into the field about how to correctly shoot the bison in the neck and the importance of it. We couldn’t help but question if he is so particular about it being done correctly how does he ensure paying customers to the ranch are a good enough shot? Apparently, they’re taken to a shooting range to ensure they can shoot accurately, but later on, after we’d done the butchering, off-camera he said ‘the customer is always right’ and he sometimes comes in and takes over if they fluff the shot. People come from all over to shoot a bison at the ranch, and for four thousand dollars, they can shoot, butcher and eat bison meat for however long it lasts.
Neither me or Theo are squeamish, and the only time I felt grossed out was when the bowels were accidentally cut into, the smell was like a train slamming into my nostrils. It was plugged up with tissue but in an ideal world, it wouldn’t have been perforated at all. The bison’s testicles were also thrown over my shoe, which you can see in one of the photos.
Having the owner say we were going to be crying under the truck, as well as calling us yoghurt eaters off camera, really put into perspective how people perceive non-meat eaters as emotional. I personally don’t think whether you eat meat or not should determine if you find it upsetting when something dies; death is in itself a sad experience, and being a meat-eater doesn’t mean you’re immune to emotions. That comment still baffles me and quite frankly made them look ignorant. Taking a life to continue your life is a serious situation, and people shouldn’t be mocked for their emotions.
And yes, we tried the Bison. After watching it be dispatched and then assisting in its butchering it felt right to try it. It was pretty tough as it hadn’t been cured, and most definitely had the texture and taste of Tuna!
There’s now one spot left to go and visit Ose mountain, along with one really fun – we think the best so far – challenge in the series to determine who should go up. We’re excited for the next episode and can’t wait to hear your thoughts!