The Fan Hitch   Volume 16, Number 4, September 2014

          Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog                                    
In This Issue....

From the Editor: Chronology

In the News: An interview with Joelie Sanguya

The Arctic Domus Project

The Practice of Veterinary Medicine and Loving Kindness in Labrador

Canadian/Greenland Inuit dogs and the “domestication syndrome”

Ptarmigan Hunting with Greenland Dogs

Documentary Film on the Sirius Patrol

Book Review: A Trapper in North-East Greenland

Okpik’s Dream

IMHO: Reflections

Index: Volume 16, The Fan Hitch

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On the trail; note overhead telephone line.      Photo: Jakob Nørbech

Ptarmigan Hunting with Greenland Dogs

by Gisle Uren
Røros, Norway

On a fine Saturday morning in early March, I took my brother-in-law and niece sledding. We harnessed the dogs, mounted the sled and simply enjoyed the lovely day. Planning only to head out for a few hours to let the dogs run and the passengers experience sledding, we opted for an easy route along a well-traveled hard packed trail following a summer road. The road goes over some quite beautiful terrain and in the summer acts as both an access road to three secluded and now uninhabited farms as well as a shortcut between Røros and a neighboring rural area.
The first kilometers of the trail climb steeply upward, allowing the dogs to burn off some of their excess energy before settling into their steady pace, a comfortable speed which at first impression seems slow, but which gives you surprising difficulty trying to keep up either on foot or even on skis. They also seem to be able to maintain this pace almost indefinitely. Fascinating animals these Greenland Dogs – hardy, cheerful and full of survival instincts.

As we reach the higher parts of the trail, we come out of the gradually thinning spruce and birch forest and onto the more open mountain plateau. This is not an untouched wilderness area, but small game are abundant here, and the odd moose passes through year round. This is also the winter grazing area for parts of the reindeer herd of the local Sami herding district. So meeting reindeer while sledding is a frequent occurrence.

Regarding reindeer, my older dogs are actually very reliable and experienced. I have several times gone straight through large herds of reindeer without hardly causing any disturbance. The lead dogs focus on the trail, the reindeer sidestep a bit to get out of their way and then mingle back together and continue grazing once we have passed. My younger dogs have less experience with this and seem more easily excitable as we approach reindeer. Though domestic reindeer are more docile and easier to approach than the wilder version, they still have instincts enough to sense this difference and try to stay clear of my wolfish team thundering through their midst.

Gisle dives in to see what has the dogs’ keen interest
                                                                         Photo: Jakob Nørbech

Just as we approach the last hill, Nalle one of the lead dogs, suddenly jumps to the right, dragging his teammate Eqqo with him. He dives into the snow beside the trail and comes up with something white in his mouth. I recognize it as a ptarmigan, step on the brake, drop the snow hook and sprint forward to retrieve it from the dog’s mouth.

On inspection, the bird is stone dead. OK, not very surprising given it is almost decapitated, but it is also unexpectedly stiff. This means rigor mortis has set in. Vast experience from many years of watching crime series on TV, tells us Nalle is no longer the suspect. What the cause of death is we can’t tell. Because of this we deem it not fit for consumption and throw it far off to the side of the trail instead of taking it with us.

In the evening, we look over the pictures we have taken. On the larger computer screen, the probable cause of death dawns on us. Stretched across the trail is a single strand of inconspicuous telephone wire. The ptarmigan has simply flown straight into the wire, been killed instantly and plummeted to the ground beside the trail. In an instant we are reduced from hunters to scavengers

Could have been a tasty treat!
                                                                           Photo: Jakob Nørbech

The bird most likely flew into the wire during the darkness of night, and had only been lying in the snow a few hours. No longer than it would be in a trapper’s snare, it would have been safe to eat. Now we are not even scavengers any longer, but stupid tourists. We just threw away a delicious meal.

Survival instincts? I think not.
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