Soldiers from the Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG) know how to move and fight in Canada’s North – but can they catch a fish under the ice?
During Exercise ARCTIC RAM in the Northwest Territories, two platoons from the ARCG got some real-world lessons in winter survival from the local Canadian Rangers.
To start, Ranger Shaun Moosenose, who prefers “Moose,” took to cutting down skinny spruce trees for the poles of their prospector tent.
“Always cut down as much as you need, never more,” Moose told the troops. In less than five minutes, the trees were cut and scraped; the needles then scattered on the floor of the tent to provide insulation and comfort.
While they do some town duties, the Canadian Rangers mostly live on the land – building shelter daily and trapping animals for food.
Elder Ranger Freddie Flunkie demonstrated how to put together a log trap to catch martin. The animal runs underneath, knocking over the wooden latch and is caught in the trap.
Rgr Flunkie also tells the soldiers rabbits are an easy catch because they always run the same track to save energy. Some troops even set up their own rabbit snares while others took a break from eating rations by trying fried rabbit meat.
“In the old days they even used to snare caribou,” said Ranger Kenny Wedawin, translating for Ranger Joe Black who didn’t speak English.
Most of the rangers are village elders; Ranger Black is 78 years old and while he smiles and nods to most questions, he’s an enthusiastic instructor to new rangers.
“Not just anyone can join,” explained Moose. Recruiters come into the towns during summer, looking for those with keen survival skills.
Travel for the Rangers is similar to the ARCG: one man, one sled hauling a large wooden toboggan or komatik full of supplies. As for navigation, the Rangers know their way during the day and at night, look to the stars.
“At night we see where the Northern Lights are, and use the North Star,” said Moose.
Soldiers were also taken out on the lake to see how the Rangers net fish in the winter. When the ice isn’t too thick, the net is threaded through one hole to the other. To check their catch, the rangers simply pull up the net on one end.
Some days the catch is as large as 80 fish, this day it was closer to 20. The largest was an eight-pound, two and half feet long trout.
“One of the coolest things I did on the exercise was hang out with the rangers – those people have a wealth of knowledge,” said Cpl Shawn Weisman , 737 Communication Squadron.
For Lieutenant Rob Parker, 2 PPCLI, hanging out with the Rangers was his role in the exercise.
“My job was to liaise between the community of Gameti and the military and Rangers,” said Lt. Parker, who had already spent two and half weeks with the Rangers before the ARCG training.
Lt. Parker observed the rangers, seeing how basic survival is “second nature” to them.
“It’s a real opportunity to do this kind of training – we won’t find people like this much longer,” he said.
For more on what the ARCG soldiers learned, see the photo essay Canadian Ranger Training.
Article and photos by Daniella Ponticelli