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Bering Sea Muskox

December 2019
Story by Steve Gottfredson
State: Alaska
Species: Muskox

Sometimes, my buddy and I joke around that the best way to get kids into hunting is to deprive them of the opportunity. It seemed to work for us. In one of those strange twists of fate, I met my friend, Chuck, in seventh grade when I saw him drawing deer antlers on the cover of his notebook. We struck up a friendship when we both realized we shared an obsession for hunting. The crazy thing is that neither of us really got to do it much. If our dads or brothers got us out on the general deer hunt for more than one weekend a year, we felt like we were doing well. To fuel our interest, we’d spend lunches reading Field and Stream in the library or we’d get one of our moms to drop us off in the foothills to go shed hunting.

Fast forward 30 years and that same friend and I were standing on the wind-swept edge of the Bering Sea cliffs of Nunivak Island, Alaska. I’d just filled my bull muskox tag, and I had to remark that if someone told me back in junior high that we’d be hunting muskox together, I would not have believed them.

We were inspired to put in for?a muskox hunt based on Huntin’?Fool’s coverage of Alaska. Nothing stokes the imagination like hunting in Alaska, and unlike so many publications that simply avoid even starting a conversation about self-guided hunting in Alaska, I’ve found that Huntin’ Fool improves every year. The other thing I’ve loved about Huntin’ Fool is access to the Hunt Advisors. In another one of those wonderful twists of fate, Huntin’ Fool’s own Austin Atkinson completed the exact hunt three weeks before us. The insight he shared was worth all the years I’ve been a member of Huntin’ Fool.

Hunting Nunivak Island as a non-resident is a huge challenge in logistics. As far as I can tell, every major winter storm that slams the lower 48 originates right around this island. While we were waiting for our plane to take us from Bethel to Mekoryuk, we met a hunter who didn’t fill his tag because the weather was so bad that he couldn’t get out hunting during the days allotted. Compounding that problem was that he got separated from his gear. His flight made it, but the one carrying his gear did not.

After all the concern and problems with weather, our commercial flight landed amid a blue bird day. Our transporter, Ed Kiokun, was anxious to get us out because it was so perfect. We made a quick change at his home and drove our snow machines south toward the heart of the island. Traveling across the tundra was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was like a moonscape covered in snow and ancient volcanic craters. Ed was as thrilled as we were. He told us it had been 15 years since he’d been able to access the highest part of the island called Robert’s Mountain. Apparently, the area is so consistently foggy that it is one of those places people rarely get to visit. Making the moment even more impressive was that there were five bulls right at the top of the mountain. My inner caveman was awakened as Chuck stalked in and was able to arrow a really big one. The herd of muskox bucked, bolted, and rumbled away, and Chuck’s bull expired within 100 yards.

The next day was another weather day, which was fine because we were able to get the muskox meat processed. Later that day, the weather let up a bit and we were able to do some red fox hunting. The mid-winter pelts were as prime as anything I could imagine.

The day I got my bull, we decided to have Ed take us out toward the west end of the island, which was the same area where Austin Atkinson got his bull. We spotted a bull and cow muskox out on the edge of a windswept sea cliff. At first, we weren’t sure the bull was a shooter as we judged it through the spotting scope from over 1,000 yards away. We decided to leave the snow machines and stalk off across the tundra to close the distance and get a better look. This old bull was standing on the sea cliffs with a one-horned cow about half its size. His shaggy black hair was blowing in waves down the length of his hide with each blast of wind coming toward the Bering Sea. Matted dreadlocks of last season’s bleached wool whipped and snapped in the gale. The look he gave us revealed everything we wanted to see. He had huge bases separated by a deep gap and the weathered bosses of an old warrior. His long dropping horns looked like he was wearing an old-time leather football helmet. We knew he was a bit broomed and was missing all but the tiniest bit of black tips, but he looked like a stud old bull.

As I readied to shoot, the wind was gusting close to 40 mph. We decided to close the distance to 200 yards. I used the extra time during the stalk to calm my nerves and relish the anticipation of the moment. We’d seen muskox run from us earlier in the trip, and we worried we were pushing our luck because we were now out in the open and directly upwind. Finally, I lay prone across a soft sea grass tussock and readied to shoot. My last thought before I started shooting was that the bull’s body was so big that it would be embarrassing if I missed. After two shots, I was starting to worry because the bull didn’t look hit nor like it was even bothered. It ended up taking four bullets, all of which connected exactly where they needed to go. Those bulls are just very tough animals.

Walking over to the bull, the wind was howling! My first impression was just to soak in how stunning the setting was right on a sea cliff overlooking the white-capped waves of the Bering Sea. The second impression was how beautiful the bull’s coat of hair looked rippling in the wind. I now understand why so many hunters want to do a full body mount after they shoot a muskox.

I can’t imagine a more unique trip than our hunt on Nunivak Island. We had a great experience staying in the village of Mekoryuk and brought home hundreds of pounds of meat from two record book bulls.

Alaska Muskox