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And Then There Were Seven

December 2023
Story by Mike Menasco
State: Alaska
Species: Muskox

As I drove from California to Oregon for a February elk hunt, I received a call from a friend whom I had met in an online hunting forum just a year earlier but had only talked to over the phone. Sharing a passion for hunting and the outdoors, Louis had convinced me a few months earlier to put in for some species in the Alaska draw with him. One of those was the coveted Nunivak Island muskox hunt out of Mekoryuk. He was calling to say we had beaten the long odds of drawing the tag. To say we were ecstatic would be an understatement. 

Over the next few weeks, we did a lot of research on transporters and decided to sign up with Ed Kiokun. He had a tiny house in town for us to stay in, which was very comfortable, for our visit in late January. We booked 10 days for our hunt, giving us ample time if Mother Nature didn’t want to cooperate. 

The months flew by, and before we knew it, we were off on our adventure. After hearing all the horror stories about winter travel, we had some terrific luck getting to the island without delays. The weather seemed unseasonably warm when we arrived. There was time left in the day for us to walk along the beach hunting for fox. During our exploration, we did run across a fox, but he gave us the slip after several attempts to find where he’d run off to. We couldn’t have asked for a better first day on the island. As we went to sleep, we were hoping for the weather gods to continue to shine in our favor for our first day of muskox hunting. 

We woke up late as the sun doesn’t rise until 10:00 a.m. and received word from Ed that we were going to be heading out around 10:30, even though it was foggy in town. Like two kids in a candy store, we got our gear ready for the frozen journey that lay ahead of us. A few miles out of town, the fog broke and it turned into a sunny, beautiful, windless day where one could see for miles. We were heading towards a small mountain, more like a large hill, where we had spotted some black dots on the ride out. 

After a two-hour snow machine ride, we were at our destination, looking at a herd of nine bulls. After spending a little time looking them over, it was easy to tell there were several shooters in the group. Which one would Louis take as he was up first? 

We played a game of cat and mouse for several hours, and at one point, we were a mere 50 yards away from the herd evaluating the bulls. Being this close made them keenly aware of our presence as they formed into their defensive position of a tight circle. We remained patient for them to separate, and by late afternoon, Louis had taken a very nice bull with his muzzleloader. It was a little late in the day to try for a double, so we began processing the bull. Within an hour, the group had come back, walking 100 yards away from us and heading back up the hill. I was tempted to shoot mine, but we stayed focused on processing the bull and instead marked the area where they went for the next day’s hunt. 

As we were processing the animal, a few foxes started to show up and I was able to take a beautiful red fox as he was looking for scraps. The processing of the bull took longer than we expected, but we completed the task as darkness was falling. The snow machine ride back to the village was amazing under a moonlit sky. 

On our second day of hunting, we awakened to another foggy morning with the wind howling. Louis wasn’t feeling well and ended up coming down with strep throat during our hunt. That didn’t detour him as Ed said we were heading out even in the poor conditions, confident the herd wouldn’t be far from where we had left them the evening before. 

We arrived at the ridgeline where we had last seen the herd. A quick walk along the ridgeline confirmed the group had been there recently with their tracks heading off the backside. From there, we went back the way we came and around the mountain. It did not take long for us to cut their tracks at the bottom, even with visibility being less than 300 yards with ice fog. Fortunately, tracking a herd of eight muskox is easy in fresh snow even in poor conditions, and after five miles, we had caught up to them. 

Due to the conditions, the herd did not try to run but got into their typical defensive position of a tight group. I grabbed my rifle and looked over the bulls, deciphering which one to shoot. I had an idea from the day before that there were a couple I would be happy to harvest. Luckily, one of them was at the edge of the herd, presenting me with a clear shot. After four confirmations from Louis that the bull was clear, the .338 RUM barked. I heard the bullet impact, but the bull disappeared back into the group. Now the waiting game started as I wasn’t shooting again unless I could tell for sure which animal had been shot. Louis and I gathered up and were discussing our next move. After 10 minutes, one laid down at the back of the herd, but there was one at the front of the herd that appeared to be limping. We had noticed one limping the day before always bringing up the rear, but could I have accidently shot two? 

After 15 minutes of us being near the herd, they had had enough and took off. It was at this point that we saw the bull with the limp was just fine. The bull that had been laying down was slow to get up but was able to catch up to the herd. It was at this point we confirmed he was indeed shot. Now we just had to wait until he lay down again as he disappeared into the herd once he caught back up to the group. After a short period, the bull again lay down, allowing me the opportunity to put the animal to rest. I felt bad for the bull with my poor shot placement. While processing the animal, I determined my bullet hit a little far back as I hadn’t realized he was quartering to me as much as he was. 

The next couple of days were spent processing the animals in between fox hunting out at the reindeer slaughter grounds. We ended up taking seven foxes between the two of us, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any arctic fox during our stay. We also spent time walking around the community, meeting with the people who call Mekoryuk home. Everyone was exceptionally personable and interested in where we were from

After eight days on the island, we called for an early flight out. Again, the weather gods were on our side as well as Lady Luck as we got 800 lbs. of gear and meat out on one flight. Upon returning to Bethel, we never left the airport as we managed to get our flights changed to head back home that evening after an amazing hunting experience on Nunivak Island. 

Thanks to Ed for an incredible time, to Louis for his help in processing the animals, and to all the fellow hunters who provided information about logistics and how to field judge muskox.