Rising out of the boggy, barren tundra on the east bank of the great Mackenzie River in Canada's Northwest Territories, the little oil town of Norman Wells is as bleak an outpost of civilization as one is likely to find on the North American continent. Owned by Imperial Oil Limited (Esso of Canada), Norman Wells enjoyed a brief boom during World War II, when crude oil from its wells was piped to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, some 400 miles to the west. After the war the town and its 250 residents—mostly oil workers, miners and a few weather-beaten prospectors and trappers—settled back into the lonely stillness of the tundra. For a long time the only visitors passing through this dismal oasis were sport fishermen and an occasional tourist on his way to or from Inuvik, an Eskimo village 200 miles to the north, above the Arctic Circle.
But last fall Norman Wells, remote as it is, began to attract new visitors—big-game hunters who used the town as a jumping-off place for the rugged Mackenzie Mountains to the west. From August until mid-October some 75 hunters, most of them from the U.S., lugging duffel bags, expensive rifles and cameras, flew into Norman Wells from Edmonton. Landing on the dirt runway in a swirl of dust, they paused just long enough to buy cigarettes and whiskey before heading out to a nearby lake, where floatplanes waited to take them into the Mackenzies.
The snowcapped peaks of the Mackenzies, the northernmost cordillera of the Rocky Mountains, thrust up more than 9,000 feet above the tundra and serve as the boundary between the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The range covers 75,000 square miles of uninhabited and largely unexplored wilderness—the last frontier for big-game hunting in North America. The hunter who takes his sport lightly can forget about the Mackenzies, for they encompass an area that has remained for centuries in what wildlife biologists refer to as the total wild state. Put another way, it is the kind of wilderness that fights back.
Up to 4,000 feet above sea level there is nothing but miserable bush—rolling tundra covered with a thick carpet of spongy caribou moss out of which grow tangles of buck-brush willows that slap, pull and tear at man and beast. There are great, oozing muskeg bogs into which men sink up to their knees and horses to their bellies. Walking in the bogs is like trying to walk on a sea of marshmallows. Put your weight on a springy tussock and it gives way under you, sending you crashing into the muck. Only an occasional patch of black spruce, arctic fir and alder, together with a few sparkling lakes and rushing streams, interrupt the endless expanse of tundra that marches monotonously through the valleys and up the mountain slopes.
From June into early September the bush is aswarm with a buzzing scourge of flies—bulldog flies, black flies, sand flies—mosquitoes as big as hornets and several varieties of gnats and no-see-ums. Not surprisingly, few men have penetrated very far into the Mackenzies. For several years fishermen have been flying into the N.W.T. to catch trout, grayling and arctic char, but until last fall the only nonresident big-game hunting was for buffalo on the southern prairies near Fort Smith on the Alberta border. Those hunts were canceled after only three years when an epidemic of anthrax infected the herd in 1961.
But the buffalo hunts, though short-lived, proved that controlled big-game hunting was an industry that would help to bring money to the north country. In 1963 the Department of Northern Affairs authorized Donald Flook, a research supervisor for the Canadian Wildlife Service, to make a flying survey of the Mackenzies with a team of wildlife biologists and outfitters. The group found Dall sheep, grizzly and black bear, moose and caribou throughout the mountains and mountain goats in the southern tier of the range. Even though they learned almost nothing about the available game supply or its movements in the Mackenzies, Flook and his staff recommended that a nonresident season be held during the fall of 1965. "The only way you can tell how much game there is in an area," says Flook, "is after it has been hunted for several years and a record kept on the size, age and sex of the animals shot." Six outfitters were licensed to take hunters into the new area, and each chose a loosely defined section to operate in. The fee per outfitter was $50, plus a $10 license for every guide he employed. At the time it seemed to the outfitters like the greatest real-estate bargain since Thomas Jefferson talked Napoleon out of the Louisiana Territory.
But at least one outfitter, Stan Burrell of Sundre, Alberta, found that the cost and the physical labor involved in setting up and servicing hunting camps deep in the bush, 150 miles from the nearest outpost—Norman Wells—was far more than he had counted on. A stocky, balding man of 38 who left school after the eighth grade to work on his father's ranch, Burrell runs the Hungry Horse Ranch in Sundre and has been outfitting in the Alberta Rockies for the past 15 years. In 1959 he invested $20,000 in the buffalo-outfitting business and almost broke even before the hunting was outlawed. Hungry for a new hunting franchise, Burrell wangled his way onto the first survey of the Mackenzies and in August of 1964 got permission to take four friends into the mountains for an exploratory hunt. The party hunted for 10 days and bagged four good Dall rams, a highly prized blond grizzly and a bull caribou.
"That was all I needed," Burrell recalls. "A famous outfitter once said that he would lead a packtrain to hell if the trophy hunter had that particular horned head in mind. I knew I had to gamble on outfitting in the Mackenzies, even if it meant mortgaging my life away."
And Burrell came close to doing just that. On April 6, 1965 he wrote prophetically in his diary: "Outfitting account way overdrawn again." A month later, with only one $400 deposit on hand, Burrell decided to put on a crash program to raise more capital. He bought a mailing list from a large U.S. taxidermy firm and sent out 6,000 form letters extolling the area's untapped hunting-and-fishing opportunities. His direct-mail campaign worked, and eventually he booked 28 hunters and collected $10,000 in deposits. It was not quite enough to make the down payment on a floatplane. Undaunted, Burrell mortgaged his 1,600-acre cattle ranch for $25,000, put $11,000 down on a $21,000 floatplane, rented a wheel plane for $900 a month and bought 34 pack and saddle horses for $5,000. On June 23 Burrell and a six-man crew began loading trucks in Sundre for the 1,500-mile trip by highway to Ross River in the Yukon. Into the trucks went horses, 26 riding saddles and 36 pack saddles, horse blankets, ropes and harnesses, pack boxes, tin stoves and telescoping stovepipes, A-frame wall tents, dishes, axes and saws, two-way radios, two outboard motors and an inflatable rubber boat, a dismantled wagon with rubber tires, tarpaulins, 300 pounds of horseshoes and 2,000 pounds of food.
From Ross River, Rex Logan, a neighbor of Burrell's and a licensed Mackenzie outfitter who had agreed to act as guide, plus three wranglers, convoyed the horses and equipment nearly 250 miles through the bush, following the abandoned Canol Road most of the way to Burrell's campsites. On Canadian road maps the stretch of Canol Road between Ross River and Norman Wells is indicated as a dirt road and marked CLOSED TO TRAFFIC.
One of the most expensive ($134 million) and least publicized boondoggles of World War II, the Canol Project, a four-inch pipeline and a dirt-and-gravel service road, was pushed through the bush by civilian construction workers under the orders of the late Lieut. General Brehon B. Somervell and the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. The idea was to pipe oil from the wells in the Mackenzie River delta to a refinery at Whitehorse, Y.T., where it would be processed and delivered to U.S. forces in Alaska and Canada.
The project was ill-conceived and ill-fated. Harry Truman's Senate investigating committee called it "inexcusable." At the height of its production, no more oil was put out in a year (one million barrels) than 10 tankers could carry. It was shut down less than a year after it was opened and charged off to the "wastes of war."
The first time Stan Burrell flew over the Canol Road he visualized it not as a path leading nowhere, but as a landing strip and a highway into a hunting frontier. "The only way to get horses into the Mackenzies," says Burrell, "was by the Canol Road, and we would never have made it without Rex Logan." A leather-tough cowboy, Logan thrives on the demands of such an assignment. "He is the only man I know who can conquer the bush with nothing but a pair of wet jeans, a knife and a little bread and tea," says Burrell.
The journey along the Canol Road tested Logan to the extreme. At the very start, as he and his men set out for the bush with the packhorses carrying several tons of supplies, they were confronted by the Pelly River. The horses took one look at the foaming current and refused to budge. The men tried riding them bareback across the river, but the horses turned back the moment the bottom dropped away. Finally the men towed several horses across behind a boat, and the rest followed reluctantly. Sixteen days and several more roaring rivers later, having been bitten by hordes of flies and mosquitoes, soaked by rainstorms and stuck in mud slides, the packtrain straggled into the first campsite, at June Lake in the Mackenzies. Only one horse came up lame and had to be shot. In three days the carcass had been picked clean by grizzlies.
By July 24 Burrell had landed his floatplane in the rock-studded rapids of the Keele River and, with the help of three of his men who had brought supplies 350 miles upriver from Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie in a skiff powered by three outboards, he started to build his base camp. That night, in a model of understatement, Burrell wrote in his diary: "We are sure heading into a lot of unknowns and sticking out necks."
Burrell had sunk more than $50,000 into the operation, and Logan had invested another $10,000. When Burrell greeted his first party of hunters at the dusty airstrip in Norman Wells on August 1 he was painfully aware of the high cost of pioneering. Even with the $40,000 (including deposits) that he would collect from his hunters, he might well wind up in the hole before he broke camp in mid-October. And his problems were just beginning.
During the two-month hunting season, Burrell cracked up his wheel plane, damaged his floatplane and found that his seven Slavey Indian "guides" from the Mackenzie River region, whom he hired at $10 a day, did not comprehend trophy hunting. "The Indian," says Rex Logan, "looks at any animal, especially a cow moose or caribou, and says to himself, 'Meat, meat.' He just doesn't care about the horns, and you can't hardly explain it to him."
Most of the Indians were petrified by horses, two-way radios, wolves and grizzlies, and Burrell had to resign himself to the fact that they were only useful working around the camps. At least one Slavey, a nut-brown little man named John Michelle, who wore a Jimmy Cagney tweed cap all day and even to bed at night, had good reason to fear grizzlies. Michelle suffered through an ordeal with a big bear that made the experience of being trailed by a pack of wolves (something that seems to happen to every Indian) seem pallid by comparison.
Left alone at Stan Burrell's June Lake camp one evening, Michelle heard a noise. He peeked out through the tent flap and to his horror saw a grizzly gorging on preservative salt from a five-gallon can, which it had smashed apart. When the bear had eaten the last lump of salt it walked over to the tent, lay down right by the flap and stayed through the night, snoring fitfully. Michelle was armed with an ancient .303 Enfield rifle, but he was afraid to use it; so he cowered inside the tent, stoking the stove and rubbing his eyes to stay awake. The grizzly left at dawn but returned the next night and for three nights after that to rummage around and sleep by the tent until morning. Not daring to anger the beast, Michelle took to opening cans of salt and leaving them out for the bear. When Burrell finally flew into camp with supplies Michelle blurted out his story and showed Burrell the bear's footprints and the depression it had made by the tent.
"I knew he was frightened," Burrell said later. "But someone had to get that camp in shape for the hunters. So I just told Michelle that the only reason the grizzly kept coming back was because he liked Michelle. I told him not to shoot the bear but to save it for one of the hunters coming in."
The hunters quickly learned that looking for trophies in the Mackenzies could be an exercise in misery. During August, clouds of insects rose out of the bush to plague them. Those who refused to swallow their pride and wear head nets soon found themselves swallowing insects every time they opened their mouths.
The weather changed so abruptly that many a hunter had his entire wardrobe hanging up to dry in the steaming tents at night. Temperatures dipped as low as 10° at night and then soared to 75 by midmorning. There were showers nearly every day. Unaccountably, hail pelted down out of clear blue skies. An hour later the sky would turn slate gray, and there would be thunder and lightning, followed by a drenching downpour driving down the valleys. The mountains were often wreathed in fog, making it impossible to find game through a spotting scope. While snow fell above 6,500 feet, sleet storms were buffeting the lower slopes and the valleys.
Burrell's guides at first found it difficult to judge distances accurately on the tundra. Deep, winding stream beds and mile-wide muskeg bogs turned what appeared to be an easy two-hour trip into a tortuous four-hour struggle. The long ride back to camp often continued into darkness and became a nightmare. Terrified by the pungent odor of fresh hides, horns and meat, the horses shied at every rock, tree and willow clump and bolted at the sounds and scents of animals moving through the bush.
But somehow the hunters managed to endure such hardships. For two weeks they slogged through tundra, forded rushing streams and puffed up unnamed mountains. Most of them came away exhausted but elated with their hunting success. Burrell, like the india-rubber man, managed to hold his operation together because of its very shapeless-ness. With what at times seemed a total lack of organization, he changed the plan of attack from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour, like a battalion commander behind the lines. And somehow he managed to finish the first season with his reputation intact. Well, almost.
He did overbook the hunt and, though he managed to get back most of his investment, he did so at the expense of several disgruntled hunters who did not get all they paid for. In the last-minute rush to get men, horses, equipment and trophies out of the bush before the howling arctic blizzards set in late in October, Burrell ruined one hunter's prime grizzly pelt by inadvertently stuffing it into a plastic bag before the Indians had scraped off all the fat and dried the hide thoroughly (the fat ate through the hide and caused gaping bare spots). He also shattered another hunter's hopes of making the Boone and Crockett Club record book by sawing the hunter's huge moose rack in half so it could be loaded into a plane, thus making the trophy ineligible for consideration. Burrell did measure the antlers, and found them one point below the record-book minimum. But the rack was never measured officially.
But most of the hunters who signed up with Burrell were more than satisfied. "These men all took a gamble just coming here," Burrell admits candidly. "This is as rough a country as any they will ever encounter. Even after two months we know very little about game movements in these mountains. Figuring in the weather and everything else, you may have to spend three days riding 60 miles just to find a silly caribou. Even so, no one can say that the game isn't here."
The Mackenzies are indeed rich in game. The best time to hunt there is in September. By then the frost has touched the tundra, turning it to a rust red. The sea of willows and alders takes on a rich, golden hue, and the blue caribou berries and cranberries are full and ready to drop. Even the flies and mosquitoes pester only in the midday sun. Everywhere there are crisscrossing game trails beaten into the fragile caribou moss.
Two-thousand-pound Alaska-Yukon moose, the largest animals in North America, roam through the low valleys, fattening up on green willow leaves and aquatic weeds for the rigors of the fall rutting season. By the end of August, when the soft velvet on their antlers begins to itch and burn, the bulls thrash around through the bush, flogging the willows and spruce until the velvet hangs in scraggly, bloody strips. In one long, narrow valley last fall a hunting party of which I was a member counted 17 bull moose. Eleven of them were exceptional trophies, standing 7 feet high at the withers with racks in excess of 60 inches.
For every moose in the Mackenzies there are at least 50 sleek, brown caribou with shiny, white manes and high palmated antlers that rock crazily back and forth as they trot along in their comical high-stepping gait. "Caribou are unpredictable," says Gordon Eastman, a wildlife photographer from Jackson, Wyo. who was making a movie in the Mackenzies. "No caribou is ever sure exactly where he is going. It's a combination of the rutting urge, wolves and just plain old caribou peccadillo. Several times caribou would trot right through our camp, move off 100 yards and then trot right back again."
Predictably, when Burrell's hunters were ready to look for trophy caribou they spent days chasing around after them through the willows and the muskeg. The best caribou head of all was found in the middle of the Ekwi River, where a family of wolves had chased and killed it as the poor beast floundered helplessly in midstream. The antlers were still in velvet, and the wolf pups had chewed on the ends of the soft, spongy tines.
A mature arctic wolf will weigh 160 pounds or more. Combining stealth with incredible endurance and an underslung jaw full of long, ripping fangs, it is an efficient killer. Slinking along through the tundra or loping across a mountain slope, it is an elusive target, and few hunters are fortunate enough to bag one.
While wolves are the most elusive trophies in the Mackenzies, the most prized are the pure-white Dall rams and the grizzlies. Their sheer numbers make the sheep far easier to come by. On the mountain slopes above 5,000 feet their trails are cut into the lush, alpine pastures and the frost-shattered slide rock, where the sheep feed on lichens and tubers, pawing them out of the shale with sharp hooves.
The primary prerequisite of Dall-ram hunting is a lung-bursting climb. This often means traversing a 45° slope covered with slippery, wet caribou moss and lichens, then up a steep coulee, across a rock-studded basin and finally up a nearly vertical slope covered with loose shale. The stalk often takes all day but, with any luck at all, the hunter can eventually get close enough to settle wearily into a prone position, wait until his heart stops pounding and his gun barrel stops wavering and then shoot a ram.
"In primitive country like this," says Gordon Eastman, "the sheep's only real enemy is the wolf and, except in the winter when they come down to scour the low, windswept slopes for food, the sheep can always jump up to the high ledges and crags where the wolves can't get at them. These sheep just don't have to run very far or very often, and they are simply not in the superb condition of a Rocky Mountain bighorn that has been chased around every fall by hunters." To prove his point, Eastman, who was in superb condition from lugging 60 pounds of movie equipment up and down mountains, actually "walked down" a Dall ram that should make the record book. Filming a band of 11 rams bedded down in black shale 800 yards away, Eastman suddenly noticed a big ram standing all alone on the point of a ridge. Picking up his rifle, Eastman charged down the steep slope, ran across the basin and puffed up another slope. The ram trotted along the far ridge for several hundred yards, then disappeared over the other side. Ten minutes later Eastman reached the top of the same ridge, dropped onto his belly and shot the ram at 400 yards. "His tongue was actually hanging out when I put the scope on him," Eastman said. "He hadn't run nearly as far as I had, but he was simply exhausted."
Unless they are badly frightened by a fusillade of shots or by a family of wolves bounding up the side of a mountain, Dall rams in the Mackenzies tend to be more curious than careful. Even the grizzlies don't seem to bother the sheep much. Grizzlies prefer to dig for rock squirrels in the alpine basins, or to overturn huge boulders and downed trees with their powerful forearms to get at the succulent tubers and tiny grubs underneath. In the fall the grizzlies hang out in the berry patches, their long pelts rippling like grass in the wind and their chins dripping sweet berry juice. But let them catch the stench of a rotting moose or caribou carcass and they immediately home in on it to file a claim. A grizzly will gorge on a carcass until he is bloated, then cover it with dirt and brush and lie quietly nearby until he is ready to eat again. The hunter who wants a grizzly bad enough—and most do—must check every available carcass. He does so knowing that the bear may come roaring out of a thicket and be on him before he can flick off the safety. Nevertheless, Burrell's hunters managed to bag seven grizzlies on carcasses and seven others in berry patches and on gravel bars in the riverbeds.
There are two distinct kinds of grizzlies in the Mackenzies, the mountain grizzly and the Barren Ground grizzly. Of the two, the thickset mountain grizzly, with the typical dish face and the pronounced hump, is the more common. It comes in varying shades of brown, black and. rarely, golden blond. Though not as large as the coastal grizzlies of Alaska and British Columbia, which grow fat on a rich diet of salmon and luxuriant grasses, the Mackenzie mountain grizzly is still an awesome beast, often weighing as much as 800 pounds, with a hide that will square close to eight feet. The smaller Barren Ground, or tundra, grizzly is reddish-brown or bay in color and has a long, sad face much like that of the black bear.
Few hunters will get a really close look at a grizzly during a two-week hunt in the Mackenzies, but if they do they may be content thereafter to watch any others from a mile away through a spotting scope. In one of the many shacks built by road crews along the Canol Road there is a tattered sign that announces in bold, black letters: "This is an Emergency Shelter for Your Protection. Do Not remove equipment. Report to next camp any Supplies used up. FAILURE TO DO THIS MAY COST A MAN'S LIFE."
Grizzly bears can't read. They have battered gaping holes in the sides of every shack, pushing their way inside and demolishing everything in sight. There are claw marks on the walls and on the ceilings, which are more than 7 feet high. Hanks of grizzly hair hang from nails on which the bears have rubbed and scratched themselves. One treasured bit of nostalgia in one shack that the bears did not defile is a sheet of plywood on which is penciled a rather well-done, life-size sketch of a nude woman, which the artist labeled "The Al-Can Girl." On the same board are two calendar columns for the month of August 1943. One is headed "To Texas" and the other "From Texas." Whoever was down in Texas—sweetheart, wife or worried mother—had the edge, 24 letters to 22. Outside the shacks, rusty road equipment is scattered about. At night, the rows of derelict trucks, stripped of engines and tires, and the tall telephone poles, their wires frayed and dangling, stretch away into the darkness, a ghostly spectacle made all the more eerie by the roaring silence of the tundra.
Stan Burrell had no time for ghosts. Whenever the weather permitted he was in the air, dropping supplies to sheep hunters in skeleton tent camps atop mountains, moving hunters from one lakeside camp to another, or flying to his supply cache in Ross River or into Whitehorse for 100-hour checkups and repairs on his planes. Like all experienced bush pilots, Burrell flies with what appears to be recklessness but is really skillful abandon, barreling through narrow mountain passes, over jagged peaks where the wind drafts buffet the small plane and sideslipping into lakes barely long enough to land on. He has, of course, had some narrow escapes, such as this one noted in his diary: "Saw 12 rams today, flew over to look them over, suddenly found myself flying down a blind canyon. Had to do a 180 to get out. Lucky."
As he was flying into the Keele River camp in his wheel plane one evening, Burrell hit a grapefruit-sized rock on the 1,000-foot gravel-bar landing strip. The plane lurched to one side, skidded along crazily in the gravel and finally came to a shuddering halt, nose down. Burrell had to fly in an engineer from Edmonton with a new prop and a landing gear.
The logistics of bush flying, however, do not begin to compare with those of wrangling horses in the Mackenzies. "A man just can't go out and buy himself a string of mountain-wise pack and saddle horses," Burrell says. "So we had to settle mostly for prairie stock, and this country is tougher on them than it is on us." So scarce was the feed, in fact, that Burrell's horses had to travel for miles on hobbles at night to find little patches of bunch grass to supplement their steady diet of willow leaves. Burrell ruled out air drops of baled hay and oats as too costly, but eventually had to fly in 30-pound blocks of concentrated horse feed at considerable expense. Miraculously he lost only one horse out of his pack string.
The Mackenzies, then, are not for just any hunter, for few will want to put up with a two-week forced march through such a harsh land, with no lodges to return to at night, only a candle to eat by and no ice cubes for the whiskey. "Up here," says Rex Logan, "a man's got to bend with the bush or be beaten by it."
For the man who can bend there are other rewards besides a sheep head or a grizzly rug. There is the satisfaction of hunting in primitive country with rugged, capable men like the grizzled, 43-year-old Logan. During one 10-day stretch, Logan rarely got to bed before midnight, and he was up every morning before 5 o'clock to chop wood, cook breakfast, round up and saddle the horses and make a lunch for the day's hunt. He was hardly ever dressed in dry clothes. He couldn't be bothered with gloves, even on the bitter mornings when the temperature dipped to 10°. "Gloves," he said, "make my fingers all thumbs." He never wore a head net or insect repellent, even when the flies swarmed around him. One day during the hunt Logan was high up on an unnamed mountain where he was skinning out a Dall ram. He had an hour's journey to make down the mountain to the horses. As Logan stuffed hunks of sheep meat into his packsack, he confided that he had undergone an intestinal operation several years ago. "Doc told me to take it easy like and not to cowboy it too hard or carry too much on my back. It's slowed me down, all right." A minute later Rex Logan was stepping briskly down the steep shale slope, with 60 pounds of sheep meat on his back and the 50-pound ram's head cradled carefully in his arms.
There is the food—the unforgettable taste of fresh tenderloin of wild sheep (thinly sliced and sautéed gently in butter, it is the most delicately flavored of all wild game), moose stew with dumplings, caribou liver fried in onions and caribou ribs smoked over green willow. The hunter who lives for four days in a spike camp on stale bread, pancakes and refried meat can look forward to fresh, hot gingerbread and raisin pudding back at base camp. He can, when the spirit moves him, catch firm, pink-fleshed lake trout up to 10 pounds from the shore of a lake and take lovely bluish-purple grayling from almost any lake or stream on every cast. When he gets bored with that he can fish the way the Indians do, using hooks baited with juicy mosquitoes, or bacon rind, and a piece of string tied to the end of a willow branch. He will catch almost as many fish that way as he will with his spinning or fly rod.
There are other rewards. Just getting to Norman Wells from Edmonton via Pacific Western Airlines is one. PWA may have the world's craziest cargo manifest. Going into the bush, they carry everything from refrigerators, eggs and vegetables to baby food and rock 'n' roll records for the Eskimos at Inuvik. They come out again with a cargo hatch full of duffel bags, scarred .30-30 rifles and yip-ping husky pups belonging to men who have spent the long, buggy summer in the bush. The man who sits down next to you may be a traveling salesman flying to one of the 40 N.W.T. settlements, or he may be a Slavey Indian going to Yellow knife to see his son play in the N.W.T. Little League championships.
But hunters who spend two weeks in the Mackenzies are more likely to remember other sights and sounds—three wolf pups howling high up on the point of a mountain ridge, the chilling "woof" of a grizzly prowling around the tent at 3 a.m., the pleasure in coaxing a raucous Canada jay or a saucy red squirrel to eat bread out of hand, the sudden whoosh of wings as a cinnamon-colored tundra falcon swoops down to snatch a piece of raw caribou meat from a table outside the cook tent, the long streamers of cold northern lights slanting across the heavens at night.
"This is the last great frontier on the continent, where a man with the time and the money can enjoy hunting in a truly unique primitive area," says Photographer Eastman wistfully. "It is-a chance for man to preserve an untouched country, not as a zoo, but as a usable resource, through careful game management and a limited number of hunters."
It is also the last frontier in North America that a man like Stan Burrell can conquer. What compels a young man with three children and a ranch to run to take such a gamble?
"I like the idea of being a pioneer," Burrell says simply. Somehow that does not sound like a cliché. "Sure I could stick to ranching and outfitting in Alberta," he adds. "But hell, I've already done that."
Stan Burrell found the challenge of outfitting in the MacKenzies was more than he had bargained for.
Burrell's limiting ground (shaded area) is roughly 9,000 square mill's of wilderness. The Canol Road, which runs through it, is used as a landing strip and a pack trail.
GULF OF ALASKA
GREAT BEAR LAKE
The abandoned trucks along the Canol Road seemed strangely out of place in the otherwise untouched wilds of the Mackenzies.