Alaska: Musk Oxen

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THIS WEEK! Robert and his son Matthew draw coveted Nunivak Island tags. “PEOPLE PUT IN FOR THIS YEAR AFTER YEAR” after miles of walking…’THIS IS SOME PRETTY TOUGH TERRAIN”…can they final get a shot at the elusive Musk Ox???…“THEY’RE RIGHT ON TOP OF THIS HILL”

Nunivak Island is the second largest island in the Bering Sea lying about 130 miles west of Bethel Alaska. 1,631.97 sq miles in area, 47.3 miles long and 66 miles wide, Nunivak Island is the eight largest island in the U.S.  210 people call it home among the roughly 600 muskoxen and managed herd of roughly 2000 Reindeer.  The island’s entire population lives in the north coast city of Mekoryuk, the islands only permanent settlement.  Nearly all the permanent residents of Nunivak are Cup’it Eskimo. The people of Nunivak Island still depend to a large degree on subsistence hunting, and also commercial fishing and industrial work on the mainland.

At the close of the last ice age muskox were found across northern Europe, Asia, Greenland and North America. By the 1920s muskox had disappeared from Alaska, Europe and Asia. In 1930 muskox were reintroduced to Alaska with 34 muskoxen from East Greenland via Fairbanks. By 1968 the herd had grown to 750 animals. In the mid 1970s hunting was introduced through draw permits. 36 years later Rob and son Matthew would follow in his fathers footstep drawing the coveted Nunivak Island Ox hunt.

Muskox meat is an excellent choice cut of meat high in protein. Mature bulls weigh between 600 – 800 lbs and dress out 480 lbs and provide roughly 300 lbs of meat. Nunivak Island also has a healthy Reindeer population, which is controlled strictly by the native NIMA Corporation.

Nunivak Island is cloaked in tundra. The word “tundra” (from the Finnish tunturi: “treeless heights”) refers to treeless ecosystems where winters are long and cold, and summers are short and chilly. Those conditions are found both in the high latitudes and also atop high mountains. High-latitude tundra is called arctic tundra or lowland tundra, and high-altitude tundra is called alpine tundra. The defining characteristic of tundra is the lack of trees. Either way, it means you have your work cut out for you if your hunt involves hiking tundra. Lots and lots of tundra. Welcome to Nunivak Island!

Muskox hunting season is divided into two time periods: a fall hunt that runs from September 1 – 30 and a winter/spring hunt which occurs Feb 1 – March 15. The fall hunt can be wet and windy and transportation is usually by boat or ATV. Or, in our case a lot of hiking. The winter/spring hunt can be cold with wind and blowing snow. Currently 10 permits are awarded by lottery for the fall season and up to 40 permits are awarded for the winter/spring hunt. Hunters lucky enough to be drawn for a permit have a nearly 100% success rate though, based on MY experience the fall hunt requires a lot of hiking on foot while the winter hunt may be hampered by winter snow blow out. Folks, this is the ultimate Alaska hunt so if you have the chance, don’t delay.

This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime hunt for any hunter lucky enough to draw a tag. Expect to pay up to and beyond $10,000+ depending on your resident status. But don’t kid yourself, hunting Nunivak’s Musk Oxen in the fall is no easy task. We stopped counting GPS miles well after 35+ and that was during mid hunt. All in all this was a very enjoyable hunt on a very remote island in the Bering Sea. Expect to lose some weight! ~Tim


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 Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

Nunivak Island reindeer and Muskoxen Survey – 2009

Air transportation provided in part by: Grant Aviation 



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