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Iditarod Musher Chases Off Bison With Ax

Two bison, an adult and calf, stand against a snowy landscape.

Wildlife are a common occurrence on the Iditarod trail, and they sometimes have chance encounters with mushers. Most notably was the 2016 incident between wood bison and DeeDee Jonrowe. Now, in this year’s Iditarod, one more musher can say they’ve come across bison along the trail.

During Marcelle Fressineau’s third Iditarod run, somewhere between Rohn and Nikolai, her dog team stumbled across a few large woodland creatures.

“I saw three bison in the middle of the trail, and I tried to slow down and stop the sled, thinking that they would go away. But they stayed on the trail and I stopped my sled, and it was difficult to stop because the dogs were excited. There were two big bison and one small one, and the young one decided to come near the dogs.”

Fressineau said she was scared, as she did not see any tracks, and the bison caught her off guard. So to protect her dogs and herself, Fressineau grabbed the only tool she had.

“So I took my ax and I run to the bigger one, ‘cause I know it’s dangerous to approach the young one, and I yell ‘go away, go away,’ and they go off into the bushes.”

The veteran musher from Whitehorse says she has encountered moose on the trail before, but not bison. Even though she did not have a firearm with her, Fressineau’s tactics prevented her team and herself from getting injured.

Now Fressineau focuses on getting to the finish line in Nome. She departed Takotna after finishing her 24-hour layover at 8:47am Friday morning.

Image at top: File photo. Public domain, via Pixabay.

At night, a musher inspects an ax using the light of her headlamp.

Marcelle Fressineau examines her ax, which she used to fend off bison, in the Takotna checkpoint. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM.

Iditarod musher examines her sled in a snowy checkpoint, at night, by the light of her headlamp.

Marcelle Fressineau examines her sled during the early morning hours in Takotna. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM.