Tara (Taylor) Pilgrim, originally from Raleigh, poses next to the bison she killed in February during the annual bison hunt.
If you ask Raleigh native Tara Pilgrim (née Taylor) how she felt about the opportunity to hunt a bison last month, she would say amazing.
Getting a license to hunt bison in Northern Alberta is rare. So rare, in fact, only 125 are distributed each year, with there being over 15,000 applications in 2016.
“It’s the lottery of the hunting world,” Pilgrim told the Northern Pen last week, fresh off the hunt in the Rainbow lake area of her current province. “It was an insane, once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Part of the license allows someone else to take part in the experience, so Pilgrim took her husband Justin, a St. Lunaire-Griquet native. It was something that was special for the couple, because they both love to hunt.
The couple each submitted an application for a bison hunting license last year in April, and when the licenses were released in June, no one was more surprised than Pilgrim was to receive one.
“I called Justin at work, and I’m reading his (licenses) out,” she recalled. “He got an elk and a moose. And he asked me, ‘What did you get?’”
Pilgrim also received an elk license, and she was shocked when she learned she got the bison tag.
“Justin said, ‘You must be reading that wrong,’” Pilgrim laughed. “I said, ‘No joke. Awarded, bison, Tara Taylor.’ I had to take a screen shot of my computer screen to send him.”
At the time, the couple weren’t married. In fact, they had been together for nine years, and would always just shrug the idea of getting married, saying, “No rush, one of these days.”
Because of their love for hunting, it became a bit of a joke, that they finally took the plunge because, “Tara got the bison hunt.”
Bison hunting season begins Dec. 1 and continues until the last of February.
It was the beginning of February before the couple was able to take the trip, over six hours north, to the hunting grounds. It was too cold in December, and they took their honeymoon in January.
So on Feb. 6, they loaded up their gear, and began a four-day trip. They stayed in a rig camp, hunted roadside on that trip. It was not an easy task.
“As easy as people think hunting is, these animals are extremely intelligent,” Pilgrim explained. “They herded on the native reserves (where there’s no hunting).”
The next few days were a big miss for them, not seeing many of the animals, and not having the opportunity to shoot one.
“We went back home to Grand Prairie, empty handed,” she said.
The opportunity was still there to head up again. It’s a long drive, but the license is so rare, the two debated what they could do.
“I was adding it up in my head how much these four days cost,” Pilgrim said. “We could be in Mexico for a second honeymoon for that amount that this costs.”
But they decided to give it another go.
“You don’t hunt to justify the spending, you hunt to justify the passion,” she explained.
Their second trip, they had an advantage. They knew where the bison herded, they knew they had to head into the bush.
After travelling more than 20 kilometres on snowmobile into the wilderness, Tara Pilgrim was looking left, and Justin Pilgrim was looking on the right. They noticed tracks near a creek over an embankment.
Tara saw them first.
“I was bounding on Justin’s back, trying to get him to look,” she laughed. “There were 40 to 60 in this herd.”
She took her 300 Win Meg, aimed at a large bull and took the shot. The animal staggered for a moment, and then down he went.
“I was screaming and freaking out and high-fiving,” Pilgrim said. “I never even had to put another shot in him when we got to the animal.”
The bison was massive, she explained. The biggest animal the couple has ever seen laying on the ground.
“I’m 6-feet tall, 160 pounds, I’m not a small woman,” she said. “I just sink in that picture.
Photos were a must when they saw how big the animal was. The size of its horns were 14 inches on the round, 17 inches long, and from one tip to the other was 13 and a quarter inches.
“The butcher guessed he was between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds,” she said, noting they gave just under 700 pounds of meat to the butcher.
The couple don’t often buy beef from the store, because with the Alberta large game hunt, they have their five deep fridges stocked up.
Sharing the passion
Some may find it a little unnerving to go into the Pilgrim’s home. They have several trophies from previous hunting trips, including a big horned sheep, a wild boar, a white tailed deer and two bears. The bison is now at a taxidermist.
“We are not trophy hunters by no means, but we are proud of what we do hunt,” Pilgrim said.
Both hunted when they were younger, living on the Northern Peninsula. Neither hunted together growing up because they didn’t meet until they were adults, even though they lived in neighbouring communities.
“I didn’t know any of Justin’s hobbies or interests when we were younger,” Pilgrim said. “I only hunted with my dad. Justin hunted since he was old enough to hunt. I always had the rush from shooting.”
But that’s a passion that developed among them as a couple. They learned more about it, and continued to grow as hunters.
“It’s an extremely different hunting lifestyle out here,” she said. “Out here it’s a passion. Back home it’s to feed your family for the winter.”
The hunt was something she was happy to share with her new husband, even though they had to leave their young son behind for those few days. Hunting is something they will continue to do, and likely teach that passion to their child.
“We did it as husband and wife,” she said. “I was so proud that I was able to show him that I have his passion, and we fit together in that lifestyle.”