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It's All About the Culture

November 2019
Story by Douglas Hartzler
State: Alaska
Species: Muskox

Alaska has a once-in-a-lifetime draw for muskox to hunt on Nunivak Island in the spring or fall. Established in 1930 from the Greenland herd, muskox have thrived and help support the 170 Cup’it Eskimos that inhabit the 1,630 square mile island. Reindeer, walrus, and salmon fishing also support a subsistence life in the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast.


In 2016, I hunted brown bear in Alaska, so I already had a hunting license. For $5 more, I applied for the 1%-2% draw for non-residents, and to my surprise, I was successful. Going from perfect Phoenix weather in February to the arctic was a mix of excitement and apprehension.


On February 24, 2018, I arrived in Bethel, the main hub in western Alaska to access Mekoryuk, the only city on the island. I spent two days sharing a crowded airport with native Eskimos waiting for flights to their villages. Weather had wreaked havoc with their schedules all winter, allowing only a few scheduled events for the local high school kids. You would never know by their patience since the weather was just a way of life for them. I made it to Mekoryuk on the last flight of the second day. From the airport, I enjoyed a snowmobile ride to town and my outfitter’s house where I was weathered in again.


The weather kept me inside the next day except for a quick snowmobile ride to the edge of town where I shot a nice red fox. The second day on the island was greeted with a beautiful sunrise at 9 a.m. The weather cleared and off on the snowmobiles we went with guides George Chintas and Edward Shavings III. You have the option of using a transporter or going fully-guided, and I chose to use outfitter James Whitman and be fully guided. I hunted foxes with Raymon Amos, and Joe Carawan was our cook. Everyone spoke a mixture of Cupig and English, and they were eager to share their life stories and history. Many other villagers came by to warmly welcome me to the island. Most were related to each other.


After 30 miles on the snowmobiles, which brought me back to my childhood in northern Wisconsin, we came across a bachelor herd of six mature bulls. Muskox hunting is usually a one-day hunt, depending on the weather. Bow or rifle would have been adequate for my harvest at 25 yards. George helped me pick out a six-year-old bull that scored 108" and was a true trophy. After skinning and processing the bull, the wind started to intensify and visibility was down to zero. GPS got us back to town as I could barely see the back of the lead snowmobile in front of me.


As we cruised along, I would like to say the tears that streamed down my cheeks were generated from the cold arctic wind sneaking in around my goggles. Guiding my snowmobile and exploring a great white wilderness while reflecting on who I was with and what was unfolding was a bit too much. The hunt was truly secondary to the blessing of experiencing a culture of true survivalists and hunters. I will always enjoy the memories of this once-in-a-lifetime hunt.