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Thread: Nunivak Island Muskox Hunt Report 2018

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    Member BrettAKSCI's Avatar
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    Default Nunivak Island Muskox Hunt Report 2018

    Prehunt:

    At the request of a forum member I thought I'd put together a report to share some of the information and experience I gleaned from my recent hunt. And also to highlight the costs you will incur, so people will realistically put in for these tags. I think this is a pretty good idea. I don't mean to come off as a know-it-all or braggart in any way. I just think that creating a resource to help future hunters plan might be valuable.

    I drew DX003 the Nunivak Island bull muskox tag last year! I was on the Internet and speaking with friends to research outfitters the same day. I found quite a bit of information on various outfitters, but I found the most information on James Whitman and all of it was positive. I found the next most information on Ishmil Smith and similarly it was all good. I also found that the start of the hunt February 1st was the best time to go. None of the bulls have been taken yet and the animals haven't been "messed with", so they are theoretically closer to town.

    The only town on Nunivak Island is Mekoryuk with a year round population of 200. With ideal ice conditions, I have heard it is possible to run a snow machine from either Bethel or Tooksook out to Mekoryuk. That said the sea ice must be there and this is not to be taken lightly! From what I saw from the air there was plenty of open water between Nelson Island and Nunivak Island. Also, from what the locals in Mekoryuk said the ice had only come in around the island within the last 2 weeks. So basically you must use logistics out of Mekoryuk to do the hunt. There are really no good DIY options.

    So essentially, you must contract with a local outfitter. There are about 4 outfitters there. James and Ishmil are two of them. At a minimum you must contract a transported hunt with one of these outfitters for $3,000 (2018 prices). A transported hunt includes snow machines, sleds to tow gear and the muskox, gas, lodging in a home, meals, help with snow machines, and help navigating the island. A transported hunt will not include trophy judging, skinning, quartering, trophy care, or meat care. James Whitman is currently the only licensed guide and has a concession/contract with the USF&WS there to guide hunts (I believe a maximum of 2 per year). A guided hunt with James is $6,000 (2018 prices) and is all inclusive with everything the transported hunt includes, but also help with trophy judging, skinning, quartering, trophy care, and meat care.

    I grew up in Ohio. The ONLY time I have ever been on a snow machine was sitting on the back of one behind a cousin when I was 8 or 10 years old. Also I didn't have anyone going with me, so I chose the guided option. I had it booked within a day or two of drawing the tag. The prime season opener spots fill up fast. Had I not decided on a guided hunt, I probably still would have gone with James for a transported hunt based off my research. Ishmil would have been my second choice had I not been able to get the dates I wanted with James.

    Once I had the dates and outfitter figured out I booked my flight from Anchorage to Bethel with miles (15,000ish) on Alaska Airlines. I then bought a ticket with Ravn Air from Bethel to Mekoryuk for approximately $600 round trip. You will need to travel Bethel to Mekoryuk on Ravn as the final leg of your trip because that is the only carrier and flight to Mekoryuk. I believe they do the flight twice a day Monday through Saturday and once Sunday.

    My next step was figuring out gear. Usually I don't need to buy much of anything gear wise for a hunt these days. This hunt was an exception. Most of the things you will need are normal things you have around the house or have for your "normal" hunts, but the really specialized gear is the clothing and a -20F sleeping bag. I picked up a -20F Marmot down bag form Cabelas on clearance in the spring. I went to Wiggy's for the outer clothing. Mark set me up with bibs, a parka, a face shield, and heavy gauntlet lobster gloves. I borrowed Baffin and Northern Outfitter boots from friends and finally settled on the Northern Outfitter boots. They worked great!

    Another consideration was I have AT&T for a cell carrier here in Anchorage. Bethel, Mekoryuk, and really any bush community only have GCI. There is cell service in and in close proximity to Mekoryuk. I bought a long distance 1-month plan from GCI for $45 and switched the card/chip before the hunt. I also did call forwarding from my AT&T number to my new GCI number, so people calling me wouldn't have to know the new number. It worked just fine. When I returned I switched the card/chip back and stopped the call forwarding. Pretty easy!

    Also important is that there's no airport building in Mekoryuk. The airstrip is 2 miles from town and you will likely do it on a snow machine. Also the Caravan in Bethel will be on the runway and cold, so have your warm clothes ready for the plane and the snow machine ride into town. One group of hunters was picked up in a truck, but don't count on it. Check with your outfitter first, so you know what to expect. I did speak with one previous hunter who got frostbite on his face and it was on the ride into town because he was not prepared.


    The Hunt:

    I flew from Anchorage to Bethel the morning of January 31st. The morning flight to Mekoryuk had actually turned around due to extreme turbulence. My afternoon flight was cancelled. I caught a cab and spent the night at the Longhouse. The Red Door restaurant downstairs was pretty decent. The next morning I flew out Mekoryuk. I was picked up be assistant guide Ed Shavings, III and packer George Christmas. They would be guiding me on my hunt. After a short 2-mile snowmachine ride into town I met James and settled in. Since it was a short day we would hunt fox and then get an early start the next day for muskox. Nunivak has a commercial reindeer herd that roams the island. They herd and slaughter them a couple times a year. One of those times is at the beginning of muskox season and the location is only 3 miles out of town. The local foxes come in to that area to eat the carcasses.

    Another hunter doing a transported hunt and a friend who was accompanying him were staying at the house with me. They did not bring a rifle for fox. They took a loaner .17HMR from James and we all headed out to the “reindeer pile”. As I arrived I immediately saw 1 arctic fox in a sea of red fox. I tried a shot at 215 yards (which my gun can do), but the wind was WAY too much for a 17 grain bullet! I “snuck in” (they ignored me) to 110 yards and shot the arctic fox. I followed up with two red fox in fairly quick succession. I then backed out and let the other guys use my gun to take another two red fox each. James’s .17HMR was having some scope issues.



    We all skinned our foxes and hit the sack.

    Then next day we left at first light around 9:30 or 10am. We all rode out together about 10 miles until we split up with James taking the other hunter and Ed, George, and I heading a different direction. We didn’t see a lot a first. Finally we drove up on a herd of 8 or so muskox. Eventually the 2 bulls left the herd giving us a good look and it was clear the larger bull was mature, but not very big.

    Now I would think it highly obnoxious to show up on a guided hunt and say “I want a B&C animal!”, but I ran into the director of F&G shortly after drawing the tag and he told me in no uncertain terms that they managed the hunt conservatively and that taking a B&C bull was very likely if I was patient. That wasn’t my goal, but after hearing that…..why not? I don’t know that I’ll ever do it again and it’s not really truly a “hard hunt”. Let’s do it.


    So when James asked me “What are you looking for?”
    I said “A big, mature bull.”
    James, “B&C?”
    Me shrugging my shoulders, “Sure.”

    Ed worked for his dad guiding hunters before working for James. He has over 30 years experience hunting and judging muskox. He was a very pleasant, soft-spoken, and obviously a knowledgeable man.

    After passing the first group we quickly spotted a second large group of 20-30 muskox 1.5-2 miles away with another 2 smaller herds within a mile of it. As we were making our way over toward the herd we spotted two muskox immediately to our right. They were both mature bulls. We drove up to them for a closer look. One was older and more worn with his black tips worn off and hooks barely coming back up at all. The second was a very mature bull with large bosses, horns that dropped to his jaw and black tips that came back up to his eyes. I immediately knew he was bigger than the other bulls we had see, but to be honest I didn’t really know how big. Ed hopped off his snowmachine to get a closer look.

    After looking him over Ed came back to me and said, “He looks good. He has good bosses, at least 25 inches, and holds his mass well. You really need to see 25 inches to make book.”
    Me, “Should we shoot him?”
    Ed, “Yes.”
    Me, “Ok.”

    So I got off my snowmachine. Went back to the sled and produced my rifle from its case. The bulls were near the edge of a cliff over the Bearing Sea. They didn’t really want to run. They just stared us down. I walked up to 50 or 60 yards and knelt down. For the muskox I brought my .325wsm with 200 grain TSX handloads going 2940fps. I lined up behind the shoulder of the broadside bull to minimize meat damage with a lung shot. The bull didn’t react to the shot in any way. After waiting for him to fall and watching him walk away from me I decided to shoot again. Still no affect. I shot yet again. Finally after a few more steps he fell over. I’ve shot exactly 3 moose. All of which took 1 shot. 2 dropped immediate and never moved again. Muskox are tough!









    While caping him we found all three of my TSX under the cape of the offside ribs. Friends and I have used that rifle/load combination to shoot 3 very large trophy moose and we have never recovered a single bullet. I recovered all three from 50-60 yard shots! That hair and hide are tough!



    Anyway we loaded him up and headed for Mekoryuk. The kill site was 30 miles as the crow flies. We probably did 40ish miles in a little over 2 hours. Now it was a cold (less than 10F), clear, and beautiful day, but it was also VERY windy. On the way out the 20mph wind with gusts to 30mph was at our backs. Not too bad. On the way back going 20mph on a snowmachine we had a 20mph wind with gusts up to 30mph directly in our face. My beard and mustache hairs were freezing to the inside of my balaclava! It was really a pretty cool experience even if it was a bit cold!

    The next day I packed my gear and rearranged my flight to return on the evening flight. I was scheduled to return the 6th, but even arriving a day late to Mekoryuk I made it back to Anchorage the evening of the 3rd.


    Random Thoughts & Tips:

    I used 5 wax 50lbs. fish boxes to bring the muskox back. That’s bone in. I gave a small amount of the ribs and brisket to James. I would plan 5-6 boxes to be safe.

    I used a heavy trash bag tied up and rapped up inside an 8x10’ tarp to bring the skull back for a European mount.

    Take lots of duct tape.

    I’m having one of James’s family harvest my quiviut from the hide to send to me for yarn. Then I’m having things made for my family. I’m still figuring out where to make the yarn and who to make items. I’ll try to update everyone as I make a decision.

    I brought 2 full fish boxes of vegetables and fruit with me from Costco. It cost me extra luggage fees, but it was a really nice and REALLY appreciated treat for the community.

    There’s 1 communal shower in town.

    We used a honey bucket at the house.

    Food wasn’t bad at all. I did bring snacks, but never touched them.

    Prepare to keep your face covered. It can be VERY cold and windy when riding.

    The insulated orange gloves from BJ Sporting Goods are great for working on the downed animal and keeping your hands warm.

    A rangefinder isn’t that important for muskox, but nice for the fox. You don’t need a spotting scope. Binoculars are needed. Sometimes you can see muskox with your naked eye from a long ways away, but nice to have a bit of help.


    Prices:

    Transported Hunt

    Hunt $3,000
    Airfare $1,000
    Baggage Fees $500
    Resident Tag $500
    City Tax 4% $120
    NIMA Trespass $100

    Total $5,220

    That’s of course for a resident, if you don’t need a hotel, don’t have baggage fees, don’t have change of flight fees, and don’t count any gear you need to buy.

    Guided Hunt

    Hunt $6,000
    Airfare $1,000
    Baggage Fees $500
    Resident Tag $500
    City Tax 4% $240
    NIMA Trespass $100

    Total $8,340

    That’s of course for a resident, if you don’t need a hotel, don’t have baggage fees, don’t have change of flight fees, and don’t count any gear you need to buy.

    Additionally I had tips for my guide and packer, a night hotel stay in Bethel, Bethel taxis, Bethel food costs, extra baggage for the food I brought out, and fees for harvesting the quiviut. Not to mention taxidermy and meat processing. In other words an easy $10,000 bill all in.

    This is an expensive hunt any way you slice it. The people of Mekoryuk are very nice. The Island is beautiful! It’s like something out of the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”. There are endless vistas of snowy desert for as far as the eye can see. It’s really extraordinary. It was not the toughest hunt I’ve ever done, by a long shot, but it was a great adventure and well worth it!

  2. #2
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    Excellent write-up sir...very informative and educational. I've been to Mekoryuk a few years ago for work, and your descriptions were right on. Again, a very well done and useful report and I'm glad you got the bull that you had hoped to get.

    I'll see in another week or so if I will be going there next year.

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    Very well done!!! Thanks for sharing!!! The muskox sure is quite a beast!!!

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    Thanks for the great report, pictures, and especially the information on the logistics. Gorgeous bull!

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    Member Roland on the River's Avatar
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    Very well written and very informative. Enjoy the sweet tasting meat as I was very lucky to have a couple friends harvest and share.

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    Member Roger's Avatar
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    I usually always skip the long write ups and just look at the photos But Dang that was a great story and very informative. That there should help someone looking to do that trip. Great write up!
    PEOPLE SAY I HAVE A.D.D I DON'T UNDERSTA.....OH LOOK A MOOSE !!!

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    Thanks for taking the time to do that. I've found that many do not realize the cost of this hunt when they apply for it. Several have asked me and I usually tell them to plan on 5K minimum before taxidermy.

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    Great experience. Thank you.

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    Member BrettAKSCI's Avatar
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    Thanks all!

    Brett

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    Member AK145's Avatar
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    Brings back some great memories from last year! Too much fun! Thanks for sharing!

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    Super Cool! Headed out on the 26th with Ishmael Smith.

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    Very Cool!

    Muskox hunting is one of my favorite hunts.
    If you can't Kill it with a 30-06, you should Hide.

    "Dam it all", The Beaver told me.....

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    Great write up! How big is this reindeer operation?

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    Quote Originally Posted by 323 View Post
    Great write up! How big is this reindeer operation?
    Not 100% sure. I heard mention of slaughtering 500 animals. I think they do a couple roundups/slaughters per year. Not sure if that's 500 per time or total. I only saw a few lone animals here and there. Apparently the mass of them congregate around the Southwestern side of the island. We didn't make it over there. I guess they traditionally herded them on foot, but most of the people don't want to do that any more and choose to do it during the winter on snow machine. At least that's what I was told. Anyway I would guess there are a few thousand animals.

    Brett

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    Really enjoyed your write up and hope to make use of your advised if I ever draw a tag-maybe next week if lucky!

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