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Nunivak Musk Ox with Bow and Arrow

By Chuck Eisenhower  
ALASKA NORTH ADVENTURES

Nunivak Island in winter has a kind of end-of-the earth feel to it, but as I sat astride my snowmachine looking over the country, I had to admit that it had its own fierce beauty. Anticipation of seeing and then stalking and taking a big bull musk ox had me keyed up. My senses drank in the raw primitiveness of this incredible land.

Chuck Eisenhower and his musk ox.I thought more than once as we zoomed across the island on our powerful snowmachines that this snow isn't far different from a concrete driveway. The wind and extreme temperatures harden it right up. I was glad to have my own snowmachine to ride and not be bounced around in a sled on this hunt.

My hunt had its beginning back in May of 1998 when I applied for one of Alaska's musk ox hunts. Alaska is the only place on American soil where these ice age-looking beasts may be hunted in the wild.

In mid-July 1998 as I looked over the list of Alaska's special hunt permit winners I was ecstatic when I saw I was a winner of a bull musk ox tag for the spring hunt of 1999 on Nunivak Island. My mind replayed a hunt there in the spring of 1994. Back then I had harvested a nice bull with a rifle. My thoughts started over a mental list of what I needed to do over the next eight months to be able to take a musk ox with a bow and arrow.

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The time passed quickly and I was soon sitting on an Alaska Airlines jet headed to Bethel, Alaska for the mandatory Department of Fish and Game hunt orientation. Then I was off to the village of Mekoryuk, the only village located on Nunivak Island. It lies at the north side of this Bering Sea island. The island is 65 miles long and 45 miles wide, and has approximately 190 year-round residents. Charlie Spud, a Yupik Eskimo, was my transporter for this hunt. Charlie picked me up at the airport. It was a short snowmachine ride back to Charlie's house where I readied my equipment for the start of my hunt the next morning.

The Alaska Game Commission transplanted musk ox to Nunivak back in 1935 and 1936. They released 31 animals here that they had captured in Greenland. Alaska's original musk ox were hunted to extinction in the mid-1800's - perhaps by whalers and others. They had originally ranged Alaska's arctic and western coastal tundra. There were several reasons to re-establish the musk ox herds in Alaska. Biologists believed animals from Nunivak Island could be used to provide a nucleus herd from which musk ox could re-establish populations throughout their historic range in Alaska. The first modern hunting season was in 1975. 

Today the Nunivak herd numbers around 600 animals, down from a high of around 700 animals in 1968. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued 35 bull and 40 cow tags for these spring hunts. Hunts are important. There are no natural predators here.

Click for more information about this bookHere is map coverage for the entire state of Alaska in one
easy-to-use software set.  Click here for more information.

After a hearty breakfast we headed out across the island to locate my musk ox. The weather was great, and the temperature was at a crisp 10 below zero, with a light wind. The sun came up in brilliant blue sky. After riding for three hours I saw my first herd of musk ox, a group of 7 bulls up on one of the many extinct volcanoes on the island. With a short climb I was able to get a better look at this group. This herd had two nice bulls in it. I worked the herd for an hour and a half to no avail. I could not get with in range to take a shot. With the largest animal sensing something was not right, the bulls moved off out of range before I could get a shot. The same sequence happened twice more my first day out. On the long ride back to the village in the dark I had time to think about what I needed to do to get within shooting range of these beasts.

On the 6th of March we were up and on the trail before daybreak. We headed towards the "Dunes" as Charlie called them. These are on the far southern side of the Island. On the ride there we passed fish camps used by the villagers in the summer to catch and dry there fish for the coming winters food. The Nunivak Island Native Corporation on the island also has a reindeer herd. We saw around 1000 of these moving over the landscape, near a cliff-lined coast. Above one of theses cliff areas we spotted six bull musk ox feeding, but after a closer look I decided not to stalk them for fear of shooting a musk ox and risking the animal going off the cliff. An over-the-cliff retrieve was not even remotely possible. So we rode on. After riding 88 miles from Charlie's house I spotted a lone musk ox in the dunes area.

Getting my bow from the freight sled Charlie had in tow behind his snowmachine. I made my way into the dunes to look over this animal. After working in on it I discovered he was with three others, two of which were also mature bulls. 

After looking over their location, I began my stalk. I ran to the outside of the mountainous dunes to my right, with the Bering Sea coastline at my left. Getting to the spot I was going to need to climb in on the bulls. I stopped to calm my nerves. I was nervous and shaking to think I was just moments from a chance of taking a musk ox. The wind was blowing out of the east. It made staying warm and thinking clearly about the shot a real chore. 

As I climbed up the snow-covered dune, the back of one of the animals came into view. I was about 30 yards from them at that point. I took a reading with my Bushnell Yardage Pro 600 range finder to be sure.

I got down on my hands and knees for the last part of the stalk. I crawled forward about a step and looked, then slowly crawled for the last ten yards. 

Now all four bulls were in range. One was lying to my left. The others were to my right. I removed my glove and nocked an arrow. I took a deep breath and stood for my shot. As I stood, the largest bull looked at me and started to snort and rake the ground and backed into the other two bulls standing behind him. As I drew my bow the wind blew the arrow off the rest and string and fell to the ground. Now I was standing 20 yards from a mad musk ox, and my arrow was sticking in the snow at my feet. At that point, I'll have to admit I was thinking 
"what am I doing this for??"

As I took a second arrow from my quiver the bull that was lying down stood up to see what all the fuss was about. I laid my bow on its side and drew it so I wouldn't lose my second arrow to the same fate. Now the bull was standing broad side looking at me. I held my 20-yard pin steady and released. My arrow hit right were I was hoping -- but the bull moved off about 40 yards. I moved up to 20 yards again and took a second shot. The musk ox fell over onto the wind-blown snow-covered tundra and my quest for a musk ox with a bow and arrow was now a dream come true.

Click here for more information about this bookThere are some basic principles for successful hunting, whether hunting Nunivak for muskox, or the Edwards Plateau in Texas for whitetail.  Alaska Guide Tony Russ writes how to be successful.  Click here for more information about this book.

After checking my first arrow placement during the field dressing, I found that had hit a rib going in. This caused my arrow to deflect high just catching the top of one lung. The second shot hit both lungs. With the sky darkling for a winter storm we worked hard and fast for the four-hour ride back to the village.

A musk ox hunt is not physically demanding like sheep or even elk hunting, but I think all hunters should try it at least once in a lifetime. Just to be in the arctic and looking over these great creatures was an incredible thrill. 

After the 60-day drying period my musk ox scored 97 6/8 Pope and Young points. This is a trip I'll remember for a lifetime.


TRIP NOTES:

Location: Nunivak Island, Alaska
Equipment used: Browning Dakota Bow
Arrows: Easton P/C 6.3/340 
Broadheads: Muzzy 100 grain three bladed
Camo: Skyline
Optics: Redfield 10x50 binoculars, Bushnell Yardage Pro Compact 600
Back Pack: Badlands 3500


ALASKA NORTH ADVENTURES
arranged Hunt for
SPUD TRANSPORTING SERVICE

 

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