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Thread: Nunivak Island Reindeer

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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Default Nunivak Island Reindeer

    spent the last five weeks on Nunivak Island chasing reindeer. My boss and i were the first professional hunters to guide on the island for reindeer since they were put on the island. originally siberian reindeer crossed with alaska range caribou (to introduce horn size and weight, and significantly raising body weight as a result) they used to be herded once a year at the end of there antler growth to harvest for the asian horn market. the market has long since fallen (viagra to blame?) and the reindeer roam the island at will. an incredibly odd animal to hunt due to unusual defense mechanism not found in wild caribou. the island has only fox, muskox, and reindeer for large mammals and zero big predators. this and generations of targeting the bigger bulls for their horns during the herding days resulted in very unusual defense tendencies past down through the generations. it was a very interesting month out there, and definitely some of the most unique hunting i've ever taken part in. it was an incredible way to spend july and early august and i feel fortunate to have been a part of the start of sport hunting such a weird, unique animal on Nunivak. the bull cow ratio is very skewed right now within the herd and the native corportation of mekoryuk has decided to generate some revenue by allowing us to take 25 bulls this year. about ten percent of the meat went to the crew, and the other ninety was donated to the locals in mekoryuk. it was fun, and an awsome way to spend july.

    i get a short break before three additional months of fall guiding season commences... headed out for a personal sheep hunt tommorow weather permitting. hope to be in place with my dad and a ram come opener! good luck to all this season216.jpg210.jpg...our favorite time of year is upon us.

    zack

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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Member broncoformudv's Avatar
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    Man talk about a unique hunting opportunity. Those reindeer look like they put some serious size on out there.

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    Nice racks! What's their unusual defense mechanism?

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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    I've helped corral deer on the Sew. Pen. The animals were herded to a large corral by helicopter and 4 wheeler. All deer were run thru a chute and each had their horns cut. No targeting of bulls was done. The herders were getting as much as 40 bucks a pound for antler. It was cut before the end of the growth as the antlers needed to still have blood flow to be saleable. Korean buyers bought all the antler. Every bull that came thru was castrated for meat sale. It is amazing how much fat a steer reindeer will build up.
    I'm curious if you had to " sneak up" on them, Zach? The ones around Nome were not very wild and could be approached to less than 50 yds often. Additionally, Reindeer herd up when chased. Caribou generally scatter.
    Any idea how many deer are on the Island?
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    Member PacWestFishTaxidermy's Avatar
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    Why mention "defense tendencies" and "unusual defense mechanism" and not tell us?

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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PacWestFishTaxidermy View Post
    Why mention "defense tendencies" and "unusual defense mechanism" and not tell us?
    whoops...sorry, thought i replied to mt's post a long time ago...i mustve not hit send right. i'll get back to it shortly.

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    They use Mosin Nagants brought over with them
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    Member ninefoot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by martentrapper View Post
    I've helped corral deer on the Sew. Pen. The animals were herded to a large corral by helicopter and 4 wheeler. All deer were run thru a chute and each had their horns cut. No targeting of bulls was done. The herders were getting as much as 40 bucks a pound for antler. It was cut before the end of the growth as the antlers needed to still have blood flow to be saleable. Korean buyers bought all the antler. Every bull that came thru was castrated for meat sale. It is amazing how much fat a steer reindeer will build up.
    I'm curious if you had to " sneak up" on them, Zach? The ones around Nome were not very wild and could be approached to less than 50 yds often. Additionally, Reindeer herd up when chased. Caribou generally scatter.
    Any idea how many deer are on the Island?
    ok...sorry, responded to this yesterday and thought i hit post...apparently not.

    mt...theyre pretty **** dull in terms of what hunters usually consider "smart" (me included). caribou arent winning any awards in my experience either though. HOWEVER.... these nunivak deer where suprisingly challenging to hunt when targeting the biggest bulls. for a couple reasons.

    after a month of interacting with them allmost ever day, sometimes for hours, and untold miles in what seemed a chaotic footrace half the time, i've come to the conclusion that there are only a couple traits that can be be counted upon:
    they always want there noses in the wind...to the point that within a half hour of a 180 degree wind shift i witnessed numerous groups completely stop what they were doing and starting moving towards the windward side of their summer grounds.

    also...theyre fast. they rarely stop, and the whole month i witnessed only four groups actually bed. i also know that at the fastest gait i can muster with a normal pack walking nonstop; these things can FEED away from me at nearly twice the speed.

    also mt: 50 yrds? you mean just walkin up to em? a mature bull? no way with these things. i mean they aint smart, by any means...but they **** sure know that an upright human form within four to six hundred yrds of them has never meant anything good, whether from herding or traditional hunting. nope...on nunivak if you break there buffer without any cover then you'll immediately get to witness the wierd trait i hinted to in an earlier post. first they bunch up. like so tight that there might as well just be one. just a biomass of reindeer that are immediately worthless to me since i cant get a mature bull free from potential collateral damage for a clear shot.

    the most interesting thing i observed (many different occasions, as did the other two guides who hunted later in the month) was what they did when you pinch them in tight in bowrange: and this is EXACTLY what i observed on many occasions...the whole herd would bunch super tight and the cows and young bulls would start racing around the outside of the herd...and i mean FAST. even more interesting is that during this chaos the most mature bulls would invariably standing dead center in that churning pile of deer and not move a muscle. the first time this happened i was mesmerized...there was like four hundred animals doing this crazy dance with the closest ones on the outside of the circle about forty yrds away, it was awsome, cept for the fact that every bull i really wanted this guy to shoot was standing stock still with multiple layers of moving reindeer between us...it was the third stalk with a bowhunter and we'd closed in tight before they made us using a neat little dry drainage in the terrain. they freaked out and starting this "circle the bigboys" routine immediately. its was nuts.

    i've got a few theories as to why this may have come about on a predatorless island with generations of herding history, as well as a history of targeting big bulls during the roundup ...but a month is hardly much of a knowledge base, and so far i'm just guessing. i saw there dance nearly every time i stalked a substantial sized group and surprised them at close range...a bunch. it wasnt coincidence.

    and guess what...its always clockwise. no exceptions. the local herders (a couple older gents that were open to us from mekoryuk)that were old enough to remember the days of herding them on foot knew well of this little dance, and had always observed the circle moving clockwise.

    they were especially quick to start this game when pinched between hunters and the coast or a big lake or tight drainage...

    whatever the many reasons they've adapted to this defensive show are, it boils down to one thing to a hunting guide: there little dance works pretty **** good against a guy that wants to shoot one of those giants in the middle

    most effective technique was to get out in front of them while well outside there comfort buffer and postion yourself in there intended path (which is often just guesswork while counting on there tendency to travel into the wind.

    to sum up, it was unique hunting, and definitely a walking game. average hunting day saw 7 to 9 miles...with many 10+ mile days.
    nunivak is a super neat place, and i loved the opportunity to see it and its inhabitants on such an intimate level, if for only a short time. it was cool, and challenging for different reasons. are they smart? hell no. are they wild...yep. for sure. with there own very unique learned traits due to there very different environment. just tame caribou? nah, not out there. theyre wild caribou/reindeer mix that have a very large island to roam, and only one "seasonal" predator for eons now... very different. it was super interesting, and shot all my expectations to pieces within the first couple encounters...

    was it easy hunting?...not at all. not when targeting the large bulls. the most frustrating part was trying to keep the client on the same page. in the excitement of the big herd its hard to keep his attention on what your looking at when your picking a bull out thats not only big, but in a position to ethically shoot without animals behind or to close...there were countless time we were within easy range for long moments without my being able to let my hunter shoot...just too many animals.

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    Great great story ninefoot, thanks for posting it. What a goofy behavior - can't argue with success though

  13. #13

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    Sounds like a fantastic hunt. Sure wish you had some video of them grouped up and circling the bulls. That's the beauty part of hunting anything, you get to see close up and first hand what nature has to offer in the various animals. I enjoy every single hunt and some of the best have been those where I've never taken a shot. Can't wait to get back to Alaska just to see the great outdoors up there. Thanks for the story and photos.

  14. #14
    Member Matt's Avatar
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    Unique and big antlers on those bulls. Pretty neat! How big is this herd? I was always under the impression there was only muskox and fox out there.

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    Member Antleridge's Avatar
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    Pretty fascinating stuff - thanks for sharing the story!

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    Sounds like fun. We just buy a 1/2 reindeer from the Corp every year. Tasty meat.
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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Are these considered a private herd? Sounds like an interesting hunt for sure..

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    I think Zack is off sheep hunting. But in reply to dkwarthog's post, far as I know they are privately owned herd and no hunting license required to hunt them either.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkwarthog View Post
    Are these considered a private herd? Sounds like an interesting hunt for sure..
    Having hunted MuskOx on Nunivak my understanding through conversation is NIMA Corporation owns the reindeer herd.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdelarm View Post
    Having hunted MuskOx on Nunivak my understanding through conversation is NIMA Corporation owns the reindeer herd.
    Actually, if I remember right.................like many other things owned or used by this countries Native Americans..................the herds are held in trust for the owners by our govt. The BIA has some control over what goes on with Reindeer herds. However, with the loss of economical uses of the deer, BIA does not seem to get much involved.
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