Toppling Of The Tundra Tanks
Written by: D. I. (Ian) Hay
All of a sudden Bobby, our guide, signalled for us to stop and get down. An hour earlier we had spotted a large Musk Ox bull and an old cow meandering across the tundra. We raced in front of them and made our way across the rocky terrain and up the side of a rock bluff. I was glassing the undulating land looking for signs of the pair and thought I had spotted them several hundred yards ahead, bedded in amongst the rock outcroppings. Well, Bobby’s keen eye had picked them out coming our way and as we crouched in the midst of all the rocks, trying to blend in, all of a sudden this huge looking beast came trudging along the base of the rock outcropping we were using to conceal ourselves. Shortly after, another blocky beast came into view. I now know how the soldiers of World War I felt when huddled in their trenches and the enemy tanks appeared out of nowhere. These animals looked gigantic, with their shaggy, woolly coats blowing in the stiff arctic breeze. The female was leading and the male was a short distance behind. I had never been this close to a wild animal of this size, except moose, in my life. The previous year I had taken an Alaskan Brown Bear at close range and it seemed small in comparison. It was Quentin’s Musk Ox and as it closed the gap to us, my old knees were starting to ache on the rocks and all I wanted him to do is shoot this creature. It seemed like an eternity had passed before the resounding blast from the Browning A-Bolt 300 WSM broke the silence and we all watched this mammoth animal crash to the ground. The ranged distance was 53 yards. Well, as we stood over this prehistoric prize, my mind travelled back several months in time.
This hunt of a lifetime had all started the previous fall while we were field dressing a nice 4X4 mule deer buck. I asked my hunting buddy “What animal have you always wanted to harvest?” His answer was immediate “A Musk Ox.” His definitive answer took me completely by surprise. Wow, a Musk Ox – that conjured up images of blowing snow and extreme cold weather – not that it would bother me, as I had spend 30+ years in the Canadian Army and a fair share of time outdoors and up North. Well, we got the job at hand completed and started the journey off the mountain with the deer, heading to our respective homes.
Several weeks passed and we were out looking for coyotes and I asked him “Were you serious about wanting to hunt Musk Ox?” His reply was the same as previously, “Yes, I have always wanted to hunt them, but am not sure how to go about arranging the hunt; what the costs are, etc.” Well, my answer was quite simple “Sounds like a plan. It is better to do what one wants instead of just dreaming about it.” I made some enquiries, as I have hunted most animals in North America, some outfitted and some on my own. Soon I had a name of a highly recommended Inuit Outfitter in Cambridge Bay, NU. I made contact with his wife and we started laying the ground work for the hunt. I required into the equipment, including rifles and ammo, which would be required for this hunt.
Well, the countdown had just about run its course. All the planning was in place and all the timings had been set for this trip of a life time. Jimmy Crowston and I headed for our point of departure, Edmonton, Alberta, via truck at 3:00 AM, where we would meet up with Quentin Motley from Alberta. Some of you may have seen Quentin on the Wild TV Channel as he hunted caribou with Thomas Pigeon on Canada In The Rough TV show. After a 15 hour drive we arrived at the hotel and met Quentin. We departed on First Air early the next morning, made one stop in Yellowknife, NWT, changed planes and flew to Cambridge Bay, NU where we were met by Bobby’s super wife. That evening we departed for our hunting camp, which was located on a river near Mount Pelly Park. When I asked Bobby the name of the river, his reply was “River”. Ain’t life simple? Camp was extremely comfortable with a well insulated cabin with lots of room for the three of us. After getting our gear organized for the next day’s hunt, it was off to bed for a good night’s rest.
After a hearty breakfast, which included fresh fruit, we started out to look for our quarry. The weather was nice, one of the reasons we had chosen the early fall hunt and we had only driven a short time before we could see Musk Ox way off in the distance. One does not have to be in excellent physical condition to hunt these animals, but the law states that we could only drive a motorized vehicle within 1.5 kilometres of the animal, while hunting them. Most outfits utilize boats and navigate the water systems looking for them and once found, beach and continue the hunt on foot. Well we had a group of three bulls on the distant horizon, which deserved further inspection. Jimmy was first in line and off he went with his guide Clarence. Clarence, Bobby’s father had lived his whole life on the land and was very experienced on the ways of the land. Quentin, Bobby and myself watched the hunt unfold through binoculars. Although these colossal animals look less than brainy, looks are deceiving. There are folds in the terrain which one must use in order to close the distance and Jimmy and Clarence must have broken the skyline at some point, as we witnessed this group trot off into the horizon.
There was a good bull in this group, so Jimmy decided to try to get in front of them and complete the stalk on foot. This worked and soon Jimmy had his trophy on the ground. These huge creatures can certainly absorb a lot of punishment. Jimmy is an excellent shot and after three hits in the chest area, the animal finally succumbed. When we approached his Musk Ox we asked him if it was what he wanted and he certainly felt it was worth the trip. Bobby and Clarence only took about 45 minutes to prepare the animal for the trip back to camp. This included skinning for a full mount, as well as quartering the carcass.
We saw several more bulls during the remainder of the day, but none we wanted to harvest. Next morning we were greeted by rain and wind and spend quite an uncomfortable day traversing the land in search of our prize. The wind was relentless and manoeuvring into the driving rain was definitely uncomfortable. Lunch was eaten huddled together with a large blue tarp wrapped around us. One doesn’t fully understand this hostile land, until one wholly realizes weather conditions, such as we were now experiencing and the vastness of this barren land. Proper clothing is not just a must, but critical to one’s safety while venturing into this barren, harsh land. Well after a long day we were headed back to base camp when we saw our first Musk Ox of the day. I really think the Musk Ox were smarter than us and had sought shelter from this unsympathetic weather. It indeed felt good to enter the cabin with its roaring fire and hang up our wet clothing.
Next morning broke with a clear sky and the sun shining. What a 180 degree turn in the weather. Now the land seemed warm and inviting, as we started our trek in search of our trophies. We were only on the trail for a couple of hours when we spotted a bull and cow on the horizon, a long way in the distance. With nothing to compare size to, one has to rely on the knowledge and experience of the guide. After studying them for several minutes, Bobby agreed we had better take a closer look, as he did look titanic. We parked the quads on the nearest piece of high ground and started the long hike. We just had one more hill top to crest and we would be well within rifle range. When we poked our heads over the top, we were greeted with the sight of two Musk Ox trotting off into the distance. Too far away for a shot, but yet still close enough to judge the bull’s size and he was a good one. We decided to get well in front of them and wait until they walked to us.
This brought us to where Quentin put his trophy on the ground. It is amazing at just how fast Bobby takes to quarter and skin for a full mount, but I would hesitate doing this chore in
-40 degree weather, but it would certainly be incentive enough to not waste a stroke of the knife. Within 40 minutes of downing the brute, pictures were taken, congratulations were passed around and the job of field dressing and loading the hide and quarters on the quads was completed.
We stopped for lunch in the warm sunlight and it was somewhat scary at the dramatic change in the weather from the previous day – the forbidding part was, it could have happened in reverse and when we were on the land. Oh well, the weather continued to be our ally. After a nourishing lunch we continued on our quest to fill my tag. After bouncing over the rocky land for a couple of more hours we found ourselves on top of the highest piece of ground within several miles. From here we could see several small herds of Musk Ox feeding on the land. After a long and deliberate look at all of these animals, Bobby turned to me and said, “That bull way over there with about eight cows seems to be the best one and his bosses are wide.” So, off we hiked across this desolate ground once again. From our perch on top of the hill, the land looked quite flat, but when we got walking across it, it proved to be very undulating and Bobby had taken note of the landmarks and soon had us within 700 yards of the herd. From another good vantage point we were able to observe the herd and its massive bull. I say massive, as they all seemed massive to me. After some deliberation, Bobby says to me, “Ian, that is your bull.” So, with Quentin and me in tow, Bobby expertly utilized the land to get within 400 yards of the herd. Bobby instructed me to move forward another couple of hundred yards to a lone rock and that would provide me the cover necessary to make the final stalk. I made it to the rock unnoticed by any in the herd and had one final look at the bull through my binos. By this time he had detached from the herd and was feeding by himself. I ranged him at 272 yards and this was well within the capacity of my Browning A-Bolt 300 WSM topped with a 3.5X – 10X Leupold scope. I was using 180 grain Nosler AccuBond bullets and as I lay there with the crosshairs solid on his vital area, I slowly took up the squeeze on the trigger. The trigger sear broke and the resounding thunder of the bullet leaving the barrel startled me, just as it was supposed to – a text book shot. I heard the whack as the bullet hit the animal and I waited for this majestic beast to succumb to being hit with that particular missile. I was somewhat taken back when he just stood there. I chambered another round and followed the previous procedure. Again I heard the distinctive sound of the bullet meeting and penetrating flesh, but once again this prehistoric animal just stood there. I was somewhat at a loss and looked over my shoulder at Bobby and Quentin who were observing this from a further 200 yards to the rear. I put another one into him and then when he still would not give up, I arose and walked in his direction. He tried to stagger away and I was able to finish the job with one more well placed shot. I was amazed at the amount of physical punishment these animals could absorb. Well, after returning to get the quads, pictures, field preparation and loading the meat and hide on the quads, we made our way back to base camp.
After a super dinner and a good night’s sleep, we packed up camp and made the long trip back to Cambridge Bay. Bobby is extremely well versed on the land and never once did I ever feel uneasy. This man had learned well from his father Clarence and is credited with saving lost people out on the land. We departed and the long drive and flight home began. If anyone is interested in hunting these trophies, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and arrangements can be made.
As I like to lament “Another animal off the Bucket List.”