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Quest for Nunavut muskox (Continued)

12/15/2005

As our team motors into a new area some 50 miles west of Cambridge Bay, muskoxen are seen dispersing in the distance. Glassing with Nakashook, I notice two big bulls split from the herd and angle toward a long ridge.

When the muskox herd runs at the sound of the snow machines, the older, mature bulls often get separated.

Weak from breeding season, the heavier-bodied bulls break through the crusted snow and have trouble keeping up with the younger and faster herd animals. Once separated, the old bulls typically head for the higher points of terrain in seek of refuge.

Planning a strategy to use the sleds to get in front of the bulls, we circle back out of-sight, then motor a couple of miles to a base point along this high ridge.

While I gather my bow, Nakashook points to the peak of the hill and waves me up toward the high ridge.

With no muskox in sight, I climb up the ridge to its point and peer over the rim.

In the white expanse, I spot a lone muskox on the hoof that is heading toward my position. The big beast is about a half-mile away, but is walking as if on a string to the high peak.

Grabbing an arrow from my quiver pack, I knock it in place on the bowstring. Dressed in my "space suit," my outer layer is actually a thin, white coverall that appears to blend me perfectly into the snow-camouflaged rocks that have become my temporary blind.

With each step, the big bull closes the distance, yet its angle is taking the beast out of bow range. As the snow crunches under each hoof, my only option is to move and give away my presence.

Leaving the security of the rocky cover, I move to my right several steps and immediately the bull's eyes and defenses are on me.

Instead of running, the bull's instinct is to turn and face me, allowing me to close the gap to less than 30 yards between his boss and my broad heads.

The hunt now becomes a standoff, and the shaggy bull begins to display aggressive posture. Rubbing his horns on the ground and pawing with hoofs, the bull steps even closer … then with a quick burst charges toward me.

Backpedaling, I keep my eyes stationed on the bull as his charge is pulled up short at a mere 15 yards. Immediately he exhibits more rubbing of his horns and displays of aggression.

Taking advantage of the close quarters and defensive display, I draw my bow then sidestep for a somewhat quarter-to angle. Centering my sight pin behind the muskox's shoulder and with one final check of bowstring clearance, I touch the release.

In the frigid cold, my bow groans as it sends the razor-tipped arrow to its mark. On impact, the bull raises his head then begins to pursue my position.

I retreat with caution, attempting to keep at least the safe 15-yard minimum between us. After a few steps the bull stops, wobbles and falls in its tracks.

A roar of excitement echoes out behind me as guides Nakashook and Evetalegak look on with smiles at the accomplishment.

My success has translated into their success and meat will be carried back to the small village. The bull is an old one, with a boss full and solid and horns long and swept from years of wear.

The cheers and kudos end quickly, as not a moment can be wasted. In this frozen tundra, the beast will freeze solid in an hour.

Photos are taken quickly and the beast is skinned and quartered, then loaded on the freight sleds. The meat is needed for families in town and the trophy cape and horns are rolled up to be shipped back to my taxidermist in Florida.

As the freight sled clamors back toward the dim lights of Cambridge Bay, I can't help but think how remote this place is … and about the hardships of the Inuit hunters who have hunted the muskoxen for hundreds of years.

This climate is so unforgiving, and the people and animals that live here are truly amazing.

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