Published by archerchick on 08 Jul 2011
Muskox with a Bow~ By David Richey
The bull was big… and close Ikey Nanegoak, my Inuit guide,
had spotted the muskox bull two miles away across the frozen
tundra of the Northwest Territories. Even at that distance the
animal looked massive.
We parked the snowmobile two miles away and began a methodical
stalk through the frozen rock formations to a boulder only 20 yards from
the unsuspecting bull. The animal was close enough for a bow shot but
we first had to size up its horns and boss to see if it would make
the Pope and Young club record books. The bull’s right horn was massive
We green scored the right side, including the bony boss, at over 65 inches.
Now if the bull would only turn and give us a peek at the left side.
Five minutes later the bull swiveled around the paw at a new patch of snow
for the lichens below, and the left horn was a bitter pill to swallow. It was
broken off eight inches back from the tip, and badly broomed like the horns of a full curl
“Too bad,” Ikey said as we started figuring deduction points. “If both horns would have
been equal that would be a new world record muskox.”
My muskox hunt had begun the day before with a grueling sled ride behind Nanegoak’s.
Yamaha snowmobile on a 90-mile journey across frozen Queen Maude Gulf to an
isolated trappers shack at one end of Victoria Island. The island, north of the northwestern
mainland portion of the Northwest Territories (NWT), is one of several NWT islands that
support good muskox herds.
My experience with winter is in Michigan is heavy snow and occasional temperatures
that plunge to zero. It couldn’t prepare me for an April hunt on an Arctic island where the
thermometer often registers 70 degrees below zero.
Snow squeaked underfoot and my nostril hairs froze instantly in the minus 40-degree
temperature as our snowmobile and sled skidded to a halt on Queen Maude Gulf. We’d
just begun my muskox hunt, and four hours after departing from Cambridge Bay on Victoria
Island, we had troubles.
It wasn’t serious yet, but anytime hunters have problems in cold weather, the complexion of
the hunt can change in a moments notice. A whiteout had washed across the barren Gulf, and
robbed us of all visible landmarks and our sense of direction. It was impossible to see the faint
snowmobile track leading across the gulf toward the island shack we would use as our hunt
Conditions can rapidly change in
the arctic, and seconds later the whiteout had
disappeared and was replaced by bright sun-
“Hurry. We go fast, and find the snowmobile track,”
I didn’t need further encouragement. The
idea of being stranded on the ice when the
bottom fell out of the thermometer is enough
to get anyone moving quickly, despite the
bulky caribou skin parka, skin pants and
We found the old trapping shack two hours
later and just before daylight passed into the
nothingness of an arctic night. The all-white
arctic rock ledge holding the trappers shack
stood out like a sore thumb in the landscape,
but the bone-chilling cold made it look as inviting
as a palace in the tropics.
Nanegoak and l unload food and survival
gear — including an emergency radio -— from
the 24-foot sled that had beat my backside
nearly raw over 90 miles of frozen Queen
Maude Gulf and Victoria Island`s wind-swept
island rock. The sled had pounded its way
over pressure ridges and rocks, and the snow-
mobile had broken a ski en route to our island
A quick supper, some quiet conversation
and an hour of listening to Inuits talking on the
radio provided our evening entertainment.
Eight hours of deathlike sleep rallied me
around for the next day ’s hunt.
The day dawned clear, cold and bright, and
with a cherry-red sunrise gave high expectations
of seeing my first muskox. Nanegoak,
from Bathurst Inlet, was making breakfast as I
scratched rime from the tiny window for a
look at the barren landscape.
An arctic white fox was nosing around
near camp, and with two quick shots my cam-
era recorded his image on film. We quickly
ate our breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and tea,
and began the hour-long process of getting
ready to hunt.
It’s not easy donning caribou skin parkas
and mukluks over other clothing. The skin
garments were tight fitting, and my antics of
pulling on this highly effective Eskimo garb
reminded me of an old lady pulling on her
“Today, all I want is to see a muskox,” I
said. “Just get me close enough to a few animals
so I can see what they look like. I want to
gauge just how long the chest hair is, and the
exact location of the heart and lungs in that
“If we find a trophy animal today I’ll hunt
tomorrow. I’d like a rubberneck tour of the
island to see its wildlife and landscape. I don’t
want my hunt to end the first day.” Nanegoak
speaks excellent English, and he promised a
tour that would show me white fox, Peary caribou and muskox.
My butt bounced against the hard wood
seat of the sled as Nanegoak’s snowmobile
pulled me along at 15 miles per hour. Several
white foxes scuttled away through nearby
rockpiles, and Peaiy caribou bounded over
the frozen landscape like youngsters hopping
down a sidewalk on Pogo sticks.
Two hours later I saw what I’d traveled
thousands of air miles to see — muskox.
Nanegoak spotted the first herd nearly two
miles away, and they looked like black lumps
of coal against the snow-covered island rock.
“We’ll stalk closer for a better look,” he
said. “We can get to within 100 yards, and
you can study the animals before you start
“Maybe one of the bulls will meet your
requirements. If there’s a big bull in that herd
we can come back tomorrow and stalk him
again. He probably won’t be too far away unless
some wolves move in and chase them
The stalk went without incident, and
brought us to the close-up vantage point described at the beginning of the story.
“Much of the time muskox horns are
nearly identical Nanegoak said after we discovered
the broomed left horn. “He’s the
largest muskox I’ve ever seen. He’s big, but
with the deduction points he probably wouldn’t
score 100 points. Let’s look for another herd, and maybe we can find something
Muskox are considered an arctic oddity. It
is neither an ox nor does it exude musk.
Rather, it is a close relative to the bison.
We studied the bull for several minutes. As
an ethical bowhunter, and one concerned with
making a clean kill, it was my wish to determine
the depth of the chest and the length of
the chest hair. An arrow shot too low would
sirnply cut hair from the brisket and allow the
animal to get away. Or, even worse, an arrow
improperly placed may wound the muskox.
We finally left the muskox and walked for
a half-mile before talking. Nanegoak proceeded
to explain the Inuit’s position in guidng muskox
hunters on the arctic islands.
“Muskox thrive on many arctic islands
and in some parts of the mainland Northwest
Territories,” he said. “‘They grow long hair
which offers insulation from extreme cold,
and that hairy pelt enables them to survive
temperatures that can drop to minus 70 degrees.
“These animals are an important food
source for the Eskimo people. Robes are
made from hides, and the meat is eaten. We
treat trophy bulls with respect and these animals
are the only ones we allow sportsmen to
hunt. For our purposes we prefer to eat cows,
calfs and immature muskox bulls.”
Nanegoak said paying hunters may only
take the hide, head, horns and 50 pounds of
meat from their kill. The Eskimo people use
the rest of the meat leaving nothing to waste.
My April hunt, just before the muskox
season ended, came as winter was ending its
six-month grip on the arctic. Even so, Victoria
Island’s evening temperatures plummeted
to minus 40 degrees and only reached IO degrees
below zero during the day.
Our sole consolation that evening was the
trappers cabin. It was snug and warm, heated
by a propane cookstove and a kerosene heater.
The sun had lost its feeble hold on the day’s
warmth, and as it plunged out of sight the temperature
dropped 20 degrees in as many minutes.
Dawn breaks like thunder in the arctic.
The sun popped over the eastern horizon of
Queen Maude Gulf, and one minute it was
dark and the next the world was bathed in
“Ready to go hunting?” Nanegoak asked
as the breakfast pancakes, eggs and sausage
were shoveled down. “Today we’ll find other
muskox, locate a big bull and try to get close
enough for a shot. If we have any luck we’ll be
back by dark with a fine trophy bull.”
I wiggled into my parka, pants and mukluks after
dressing in wool pants and a down
jacket. A wool stocking cap kept my ears and
head warm. I was ready.
Nanegoak was warming the snowmobile
as I double checked my Oneida Screaming
Eagle bow. I chose the bow for this hunt be-
cause it is less apt to freeze and snap in the
bitter cold temperatures. Wood bows with
wood or fiberglass limbs may shatter when
used in very cold weather.
The bow performed flawlessly, and I
screwed Game Tracker Terminator Double
Cut broadheads to my 2217 Easton shafts.
Now, all I had to do was to stay warm until we
spotted a muskox herd.
We cruised the seemingly barren island
until we found the muskox. Northwest Territories
law forbids getting closer than two
miles to muskox by snowmobile. If we spotted
some animals we’d have to stalk on foot to
within bow range.
We would ride for 10 minutes, approach
the top of a hill and park just below the crest.
Ikey and I would sneak up to the ridge and
glass for muskox. Two hours passed before
we spotted a muskox herd.
“No big bulls in that herd,” Nanegoak
said after glassing the animals. “There are 14
small bulls, cows and yearlings but nothing of
trophy size. Let’s go back to the snowmobile
and try another area.”
The sharp-eyed Inuit spotted another herd
three hours later. He pulled the snowmobile
and sled to a halt below a windswept ridge,
and studied the herd intently before giving me
a thumbs-up sign.
‘“There’s one big bull in that herd,” Nanegoak said.
“The big one is with a smaller bull,
and they are 200 yards from 12 other muskox.
Get ready, and we’ll go on foot from here.
Stay low, and we’ll follow this ridge line until
we reach that rock pile. Then we’ll move to-
ward the animals, and you’d better pray that
another rock outcropping is there to provide
cover. Grab your bow, and let’s go.”
He led me on a slow stalk toward the herd.
It was easy for the first mile but then we had to
crouch low and run from boulder to boulder to
reach a shallow depression that offered good
cover. It gave us cover for another half-mile.
Nanegoak suggested we rest for a moment
behind a huge boulder while he crawled to the
top of a ridge to check the big bull. He wiggled
through three inches of snow to glass the
muskox, and several minutes later was back
wearing a broad grin,
“We’re still a half-mile from the bull and
he’s big,” the guide said. “His horns will
score at least 100 Pope and Young points, and
perhaps a bit more.
That was great news. The minimum score
to enter a muskox in the prestigious Pope and
Young scoring competition is 65 points. Any
animal over 90 points is a trophy to be proud
of, and a bull that scores above 100 points is
We began a rock to rock stalk that took 30
minutes before we crawled within 50 yards of
the big bull. Now the big and the small bull
were only 100 yards from the herd as they
slowly fed toward that direction.
We had run out of cover. We stalked as
close as we could without moving into the
open, and now the bull was close, but still too
far away for a bow shot.
“Can you hit him from here?” Nanegoak
asked as he apparently read my mind. “It’s a
long bow shot but it may be tough getting
I practice shooting my bow year-round,
but most of my shots are at 30 yards or less.
I’m competent at that range but never practice
at 50 yards simply because I prefer getting
closer or not taking a shot.
“It`s too far,” I said. “We either have to get
closer or find another bull in an area where we
can stalk to within 30 yards.”
For me, the thrill of the hunt lies in the
stalk and knowing a good shot can be made.
Wounding a big game animal is a sin, and the
thought of a 50-yard shot was something I
wasn’t prepared to try.
Nanegoak thought about the problem before his fact lit up.
“Old Eskimo trick,” he said. “We’ll walk
slowly and as close as possible until the
muskox turn, and then we stop. I’ll move
slowly across in front of them, and as they
watch me, you move closer. Just move slow
and quiet, and move only when they stare in
We moved slowly out from cover, and I felt
as exposed as a nudist in church. We began
walking toward the two bulls, and when they
sensed our movement their heads turned our
We stopped and stood motionless for 30
seconds. Nanegoak began walking slowly
across in front of the bulls, and they looked
his way. My mukluks made little sound as I
eased forward, a step at a time, in a completely
The guide would move, and the bulls
would face the moving man. Then it was my
turn, and soon I sensed that slow movements
didn’t disturb the animals. I sneaked to within
30 yards before determining that it was time to
draw and shoot.
My Screaming Eagle came to full draw,
and the 30—yard pin snugged down low behind
the front shoulder of the big bull.
It was a good hit, and 20 seconds later the
bull lurched off on a short run. It staggered
and fell after running only 50 yards. The Double
Cut broadhead had done a good job of
cutting through thick hair and hide, and the
bull was dead within 30 seconds of the hit.
It was a thrilling hunt. The kill was anticlimatic
compared to the unique open-ground
stalk, spending several days with my young
Inuit guide, and learning more about myself
and the land I hunted.
Make no mistake about it: Muskox hunting
is not for the faint hearted. The weather
during an arctic winter is brutally cold, and
all bowhunting equipment must function
properly. And one costly mistake can jeopradize
the life of a careless hunter.
However, in this day and age it is a hunt
where sportsmen have an excellent chance of
scoring on a Pope and Young record-book animal.
The animals are majestic in their all-
white environment, and both the hunt and the
terrain is fascinating.
Now, my 100 6/ 8-inch record-book
muskox is mounted life size. It reminds me of
a wild and free land, and the stark beauty of
the arctic environment is forever etched in my
This trip proved that Canada ’s wild North-
west Territories offers great bow hunting
action . . . even in the dead of winter. Perhaps
one day I will return, and relive one of the
most memorable hunts of my career.
EDITOR ’S NOTE: David Richey has been
a fulltime outdoor writer-photographer for
more than 21 years, and this article was based ‘
on a hunt he made in April 1988. It was his
seventh trip to the Northwest Territories.
Richey is the staff outdoor columnist for
The Detroit News, Michigan’s largest daily
newspaper and the fifth largest in North
America. He rates his midwinter arctic experience
as one of the finest in his many years of
traveling around the world in search of magazine articles.
He and his wife, a well-known fish and
wild game cook, live on a 100 percent diet of
fish and game taken on their trips. >>—>
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