The Muskox of Nunivak Island
Apply for the Draw
Begin this adventure early! Apply by December 15th for the muskox hunt(s) of your choice on the Alaska DF&G website.You must have a valid hunting license to apply. I’d recommend purchasing a license as far out as you can so that you can use the same license in multiple draws. (Example: applying in Dec 2021 for the winter 2023 hunt should purchase a 2023 hunting license and use it for the next 3 consecutive draws). Hunt codes are as follows: DX001 (Fall hunt on Nunivak Island) or DX003 (Winter hunt on Nunivak Island). You can apply for 6 total choices at $10 per choice. I’d recommend applying for the winter hunt x 6 choices. If you can talk a buddy into applying with you, you will avoid having to pay for a non-hunter to join you on your own trip. You may apply up to 2 applicants on the same application and it would not hurt your odds much at all of drawing a permit.
DX001 : Fall Bull Muskox Hunt (Aug 1-Sept 30)
DX003 : Winter Bull Muskox Hunt (Jan 15-Mar 31)
Before the Winter Hunt
Now it’s the third week of February and you’ve drawn the permit for unit 18, Nunivak Island for bull muskox! Chances are you do not have the proper hunting license for the calendar year in which your hunt takes place unless you planned ahead as I indicated in the previous paragraph. Make sure that you purchase the $160 non-resident hunting license for the calendar year in which you will be hunting. The actual permit that you drew (the piece of paper that has the notchable tag with harvest ticket) will be mailed to you from the AK DF&G the July following your successful draw result. At this point you have your annual hunting license (paper, printed from the web), the muskox permit (paper, sent to you in the mail), and you will need one more vital item to be able to go on the legal hunt, a locking-tag. You can purchase the $2,200 non-resident locking tag at any time before your hunt, but keep in mind that many vendors in the state do not carry muskox tags or they will sell out before you get there. I recommend ordering your locking-tag online from the AK DF&G website at least 2 weeks prior to your departure date. They will be available in January of the calendar year indicated on the tag. Keep in mind that Alaska hunting regulations and permits/harvest tickets are structured off of a regulatory year basis (July-June) but that hunting licenses and locking-tags are calendar year based (Jan-Dec). Soon after you draw the permit you will need to decide if you want to make this hunt happen or not! The biologists and department appreciate if all permit holders will call and indicate their intent to use or not use their muskox permit for the upcoming hunts. Many hunters are overwhelmed by the logistics and aspects of muskox hunting on Nunivak and will surrender their permit back to the state allowing another alternate-list hunter to receive a permit.
If you decide to keep the permit and embark on the hunt, now it is time to reserve space for a critical part of your successful hunt, a licensed transporter on the island. Unlike most hunts in Alaska where you can get dropped off by a plane or boat transporter and be able to bring your own gear to start hunting, Nunivak hunts are an entirely new animal. One would have a very difficult time arriving at the Mekoryuk (MYU) airport and being able to set out on your hunt unless you brought a snowmobile or seaworthy boat along with you in your checked baggage. The Mekoryuk airport is nothing more than an airstrip carved out of the tundra, usually surrounded by high snowbanks and ice. There is no taxi service, no shuttle service, no hotels, no restaurants, and only one small native corporation owned convenience store. Basically put, it is a village that is a long way from nowhere!
Now that you know you must have local help on the island, even for the self-guided hunter that you are, let’s discuss a few details about transporters and/or guides. Transporters on the island have created their own niche market for permit holders traveling to the island each hunting season. A standard transporter agreement will include transportation to/from the airport, a place to sleep in their own homes or outbuildings, meals, and transportation to and from the field via boat or ATV (fall hunt) or snowmobile (winter hunt). The transporters have multiple snowmobiles and sled combos and will generally lead you on the trails out on the island so that you can locate herds of musk oxen and harvest your trophy. Transporters can stay with you in the field and help you transport your trophy back to the village. However, transporters may not help you judge trophy quality, indicate which animal to shoot, or help you field dress/cape the animal in the field. When I went on my hunt with my father in the winter of 2019 we used our transporter to take out to the far end of the island and to leave us there with our camping gear and one snowmobile for the remainder of our hunt. This option is a little more extreme as most hunters will only stay in the village at night and go on short day-only hunts with the transporter as their snowmobile guide. All prices are subject to change and negotiable, but most transporters will charge between $3,500 - $5,000 for a transported only hunt for one hunter. Additional non-hunter fees may range from $1,000 - $1,500 depending on the arrangements. Do not expect to have a structured contract with arrival and departure dates, etc. I would focus the most on your hunt start/intended arrival date and “wing it” from there. You will not want to be on the island longer than needed and generally a good weather day or two will be more than sufficient to kill a trophy ox.
All of the transporters I have spoke with and met in person on the island are down to earth, sincere people. I would feel confident in staying with any of them. Keep in mind that most of them do not have websites, in-home computers, printers, etc. and are blessed to live a simple life in a very tough environment. Go into the booking process with an open mind and clear communication and you will have a great experience. I also recommend enjoying the journey and getting a look into their native, true Alaskan lifestyle. Since the season dates were extended by a few weeks starting with the winter 2021 season, this will cut down on the crowded transporter housing issues that we have had in the past. Make sure your transporter is spreading out his hunters across the season dates.
Keep in mind that when selecting a transporter you are selecting the quality and availability of their equipment as well. Snowmachines, trailer sleds, etc. are all on the line. The remote edges of Nunivak Island are no place for a broken down sled!
Current Transporters (as of 2021)
Abraham “Abe” David
Mekoryuk, AK resident
Licensed Transporter: Nunivak Island Experiences
Edward “Ed” Kiokun
Mekoryuk, AK resident
Ishmael & Viva Smith
Mekoryuk, AK resident
Licensed Transporter: I & V Transporters
Anchorage, AK resident
Licensed Outfitter/Guide & Transporter
Once arriving in the town of Bethel, you may feel that you have accomplished most of your journey. But beware, your journey has just began! Feel free to get comfortable at the "other terminal", the one in which you will be flying out of to the island. Ravn Alaska Airlines shut down in early 2020 but is scheduled to reopen sometime in the future. For the most part, all hunters in the fall 2020 and winter 2021 seasons used Grant Aviation to fly to the village of Mekoryuk. Most likely you will spend 1-5 days sitting in Bethel waiting for the winds, snow, ice, freezing rain, or pilots to be able to take you out to the island. Get comfortable at the airport waiting area.
Once you make it to the island, you will quickly realize that the "airport" is nothing more than a cleared path in the tundra. There are no buildings, waiting areas, or baggage claims. Everything will be tossed out of the Cessna airplane on to the frozen ground and your transporter will be there on their snowmachines and ATV's to give you a frigid 10-minute ride to the village of Mekoryuk. If you are not dressed properly, this will be the most miserable 10 minutes of your whole hunt!
The village of Mekoryuk is home to some of the most cordial and hunter-friendly communities that I have ever seen. Because residents must draw for bull-muskox permits as well, many residents will see you as one of the "lucky few". Get comfortable and at the discretion of your transporter, you may visit the native NIMA Corp store in town, the washeteria (the laundromat that doubles as a public shower house), and other local attractions. Keep in mind that if your transporter does not have a WiFi connection, the only hope you have for cell-phone service is GCI Alaska. Some hunters even will buy a pre-paid GCI phone before leaving Anchorage to ensure they can call home while sitting in the village of Mekoryuk
Spend as much time possible looking at different herds of muskox on the island. We spent the three days we had before the season opened to take photos and video of as many muskox as we could find to identify mass, horn drop, horn tips, boss size, age, etc. in as many bulls as we could see. Much like a sheep hunt, finding the animals is not the tough part. Judging and selecting the one you want is the tougher task.
When you find a group of muskox that you intend to hunt, don't underestimate their ability to flee danger! They will often herd up presenting no shot but when they are pushed to break up their huddle, they will often take off to make it a few hundred yards! It took me a while on my hunt to make sure I got the target bull memorized in my mind and that I could pick him out of the group through their constant shuffles. Once he came clear and walked by me single file, I let him have it with the Mathews Triax bow!
Taking Care of the Ox
Often thought of as a creature the size of an American Bison, these Greenland Muskox are much smaller than you might think! Once the extremely long hair has been removed from the carcass, I likened my bull to about the size of a spike elk.
A few things to remember... We chose to skin out the entire face of the muskox while it was fresh and warm in the field. As long as you have enough daylight, I would recommend this. A long skinny flathead screwdriver and a long bladed flexible filet blade will come in handy while skinning the cheek portion out on the side of the face.
The lifesize cape with the lowest toe bones included fit in the X-Large KUIU game bag with some room to spare. Later, we weighed this cape bag and it came in at 106 pounds! Keep this in mind as you plan for how you will ship your cape, meat, and skull back to your taxidermist.
Most important of all, have a great time and take someone with you that will help you enjoy the frustration of logistics, enjoy the journey, and will take part of the unique experience with a smile on their face. My father Mitch and I made the most out of this journey. Thanks to warm Bunny Boots and the prototype Kutana Gale Force gear from KUIU, we stayed warm and I was able to bring back a Boone & Crockett Muskox. My bull scored 109 6/8" Official after the 60-day drying period.
Upon return from hunting back to Mekoryuk you must keep in mind that it's up to you to be ready to take care of your trophy. Meat can be left outside as long as it is taken care of and placed in hard-sided bins and thick trash bags, ready for your flight. It will certainly freeze. If you intend to donate some or all of the meat to the locals, make sure to take a transfer of possession form that you can complete and make the legal transfer. It is nice if your transporter has a shed or some sort of heated area for you to finish caping and fleshing your skull if you have not done so already. Anything left outside during the winter hunt is sure to be frozen until you make it home!