Nunivak Muskox Hunt March 2014
Here’s a muskox hunt report from the first week of March out on Nunivak. It was a great experience and absolutely well worth the cost. If you ever get lucky and draw a Nunivak muskox tag, do yourself a favor and fork over the money because you won’t regret it. On this hunt my buddy Larry accompanied me as an observer. It was the first time either one of us had been out to the island. James Whitman was our transporter, and he did a fantastic job. James is a great guy and I highly recommend his services to anyone lucky enough to draw a Nunivak tag.
We left Fairbanks early on March 1st and flew out to Bethel. We had about a two hour layover, and that was plenty of time to get over to Era/Ravn/Hageland (whatever they’re calling themselves these days) with all of our gear. After waiting an extra hour or more, for God only knows what reason, we hopped on the Grand Caravan and headed out to Mekoryuk.
The Bering Sea. You could see walrus swimming around down there.
The frozen coastline of Nunivak.
Dropping into the airstrip at Mekoryuk.
The weather was beautiful when we got out to Mekoryuk. Bluebird skies and hardly any wind. Compared to other villages I’ve been to in the Y-K region, Mekoryuk is very well kept. Note, if you fly out for the winter hunt make sure you have warm clothes on or easily accessible. It’s a couple mile snowmachine ride from the airstrip to the village.
Here’s James’s house where we would base out of for the duration of the hunt.
Everything was pretty much going along without a hitch, except for the fact that Era/Ravn had forgotten the totes that I had nested together with some of our essential gear. Because we had flown in on a Saturday, the next flight wouldn’t be in until Sunday evening. That meant our first huntable day was lost thanks to airline incompetence. Larry and I spent the day walking around Mekoryuk, chatting with the locals and reading books. The villagers in Mekoryuk are extremely friendly and we spent a lot of time swapping stories with people we bumped into around town.
These are the reindeer corrals just outside of Mekoryuk. The village owns the reindeer herd on the island and they treat them like wild livestock. They periodically round them up and castrate the bulls into steers for better meat production. According to James there’s currently about 2,000 head on Nunivak.
On Sunday evening James’s Uncle Ray and I headed over to the airport to meet the plane and get our gear. Ray is a heck of a nice guy and we really enjoyed his company. He invited us over to his house later in the trip and showed us his hunting pictures and Chupik Eskimo artifacts.
The other guy that helped out quite a bit and worked for James as the camp cook was his nephew, Joe. He was also a heck of a nice guy and kept us well fed with his muskox dinners. If you’ve never eaten muskox it’s absolutely terrible, and if you end up with any you should drop it off at my house so I can dispose of it for you. Here’s Joe catching a nap at the kitchen table.
Monday morning we were finally able to gear up and hit the trail. We could see that the snow was blowing inland but we figured it was worth getting out and giving it a try. James and I ready to leave Mekoryuk and head south:
Here’s Larry and James as we stopped to stretch our legs and dust off the snow. The further south we went the worse the wind got.
James working the GPS:
Visibility eventually got so bad that James would disappear as soon as he would take off. After about 30 miles James suggested we turn back. This white boy wasn’t about to argue with the Chupik Eskimo in the middle of a blizzard, so we headed back for Mekoryuk. We wouldn’t have seen a muskox unless we just crashed into one.
Tuesday morning the winds were slightly better, but still weren’t great. James wanted to try heading further west so we took off on a more southwesterly course than the day before. This was a very low snow year on Nunivak and we had to work our way through areas where a lot of the snow had blown off.
A herd of about 100 Siberian reindeer we bumped into not long after leaving Mekoryuk. At a distance they look just like caribou, but up close they’re noticeably stockier with shorter necks.
Muskox are pretty conspicuous animals, but Nunivak is a huge island and they can roam a long ways. Here’s Larry glassing from a pronounced high point. Photos make Nunivak look pretty flat, but the island has some sizable terrain features, and James said the mountains rise up to around 1,700 feet. From this spot we spotted a small group of animals along a distant lake shore, and based on how tightly they were bunched we assumed they were muskox. We rode for quite a ways to where we could get a better look, only to discover they were more reindeer.
I was starting to get a little anxious at this point. It was the third day of the hunt and we hadn’t even seen a muskox. We continued to ride and glass, but we just weren’t seeing any muskox. We eventually crossed a large plateau and then rode up a large volcanic mountain. From the top we quickly noticed a group of four muskoxen about a mile away, and it didn’t take more than a cursory glance to realize they were all bulls. We rode toward them and they immediately started to run, but quickly formed up their classic defensive circle.
The waiting game started as I tried to figure out which bull to try and take. One of the bulls was obviously young, with bright white horns and bosses that spread out wide from his head. Another bull had good length, but he too had very white horns that didn’t come back up to the plane of his eyes. The other two bulls were noticeably taller bodied. The one had good mass and even horns that came back up to the plane of his eyes. The other bull had somewhat offset horns, and very curly hair. He looked like about 800 pounds of hamburger on the hoof, as I’m sure he was an old bull. I opted to try for the other tall bull. The problem was trying to get him to clear for a shot.
The waiting game continued for probably 45 minutes before the bull finally stepped out just far enough for me to take a shot. His vitals were just past the closest bull, so I quickly drew, aimed, released and hit him directly in the shoulder blade. I had hugged my sight too far forward out of caution so I wouldn’t accidently the bull next to him. The arrow got very little penetration and broke off. The group ran a short distance and bunched up again.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy with myself at that point, and I wanted to quickly put a lethal arrow into the bull. The problem now was that I really had to make certain I shot the same bull as they moved around just giving me bits and pieces glances. After about fifteen minutes the bull finally cleared just enough for a second shot and I placed one right behind his front shoulder. The broadhead made a complete pass through and the bull quickly went down.
It took less than two minutes and the bull had expired from the Grim Reaper RazorTip.
I haven’t a clue what this bull scores and I’m not about to score him. He’s a mature bull, and exactly what I went to Nunivak for.
It's tough to have a bad time when you're hunting with a good friend.
Larry and I skinned him out, quartered and separated the meat, and loaded him up in the cargo sleds for the trip back to Mekoryuk. We didn’t have to worry about meat spoilage as the quarters drifted over while we butchered.
Back in Mekoryuk we spent the next day boning and caping the bull. It definitely helps having one of the foremost experts on game meat care with you when it comes time to break out the knives.
Muskox are miserable animals to cape out. The area underneath their horns is a serious pain to skin out because there’s so little room between the cheek and the horn. You really need a thin knife like a Havalon, and a straight screwdriver to dig out the old quiviut and grass that’s built up under the horns.
Once you do get them caped out though, their skull is amazing:
Congrats on a great hunt, and well earned Trophies, thanks for sharing !!!
Here’s some of the pros and cons that might help anybody else who’s planning a trip to Nunivak for DX003.
James Whitman – Again, the guy is a great transporter and we were completely satisfied with his services. If you draw DX001 or DX003 the first thing you should do is call James and get on his schedule.
TAG BOMB (Boned Out Meat Bags) game bags worked great. We wanted to see if this diminutive 10 ounce game bag set was enough to fit an entire boned out ox, and it certainly was. Standard TAG bags are a huge space and weight savings over conventional game bags, but the BOMB bags take it even further.
Kenetrek Grizzly Pac Boots – Kept both Larry and I warm and dry and they’re much more comfortable than bunny boots. Cold feet were never a problem.
18 gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck totes – We loaded up three of them with 85ish pounds of meat each for the trip back. They’re easy to stack and hold up well, even in the cold.
Havalon Piranta knife – worked great for cutting meat and caping. Just bring plenty of spare blades, because I must have broken a dozen of them.
Orange fisherman’s type rubber gloves – I was able to wear a lightweight pair of liner gloves under them to stay warm, but I still had plenty of dexterity, and the rubber kept my hands clean.
50 gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck totes – They might have the same name as they 18-gallon version but they’re nowhere near as durable. I brought two, one for the whole hide, and one for the whole skull, and both of them fell apart. Size wise they were just right, but they’re too brittle to handle the cold and they were a duct taped, tarped over mess by the time we got home. Definitely don’t take them.
Era/Ravn’s flight schedule – We had a two and a half hour layover planned in Bethel on our return. Era was almost an hour late getting to Mekoryuk to pick us up even though the weather was great. What was supposed to be a direct flight to Bethel then took even longer because they decided to stop in Toksook to pick up more passengers. By the time we got to Bethel we had missed the check in cutoff with Alaska Air by three minutes. Thankfully the one guy at the counter was very helpful and rebooked us later that evening without charging a change fee.
Plano Bowguard Case – That brand new case didn’t even survive the trip out before all of the connection points broke. I had to pad my bow with spare clothes to keep it from bouncing around. I returned it as soon as I got home and swapped it for an SKB.
Bring several books because when the wind blows there isn’t much to do. GCI is the only cell service available in Mekoryuk and James was gracious enough to let us use his phone to call home and check in. There’s only one television station in town and it gets pretty stale while you wait out the weather.
Would the Havalon torch work? ....they use the thicker 60A blades.
also for totes, would large waxed boxes work with duck tape and 550 (parachute) cord wrapped around it?
wow great hunt write up. thanks for sharing.
Originally Posted by kahahawai
I've honestly never used the torch so I have no idea. The Piranta worked fine, I just broke quite a few blades. I had a bunch, so it was no big deal. A little heavier blade probably would have worked better though.
If I was going to do it again, I would probably bring out a good sized trash can for the hide. My hide (hooves and all) in the tote weighed 101 pounds. Thankfully the guy at AK Air was cool and let it slide under the 100 pound limit before it has to go as cargo. The waxed boxes, duct tape, and 550 cord might work, but I'd try and stick with a more solid, plastic container. If you want to keep the whole skull you need a sizeable tote for that as well. They have a big melon.
Have you ever noticed that those things look alittle like yaks?