Musk Ox are large, bison-like creatures that live in the arctic tundra and can grow upwards of 900 pounds. These huge animals are a shaggy version of a buffalo, with long brown hair and curved horns extending from a bone “brow band” called a boss. Males, called Bulls, will gather a group of females and fight other competing males to assert their dominance throughout the fall rutting period, and this pronounced bone structure serves to protect their heads during the intense battles.
Musk Ox spend their time feeding on grasses and lichens above the tree line, and are often forced to dig up snow to get to them in the winter. Because of the lack of cover on the frozen wasteland that is the winter tundra, Musk Ox will frequently group into herds of up to 70 individuals to protect themselves from both predators and the harsh weather. They are predominantly preyed upon by wolves and bears, but the large herds are very effective in defending themselves. When threatened, the herd will form a ring of outward facing horns to protect themselves from the attack. When severe weather occurs, the herds simply group together for warmth and to shield themselves from the elements.
Musk Ox can be hunted in parts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. One area that will nearly guarantee you a successful hunt is the Nunavut Territory in Northwest Alaska, as the herds are very rarely hunted and there are good numbers of animals. However, most areas have very high success rates due to low hunting pressure, good numbers, and experienced local guides.
During the spring, musk ox are found throughout the tundra. Here, hunters will cover ground on snowmobiles in search of a herd. Once a herd is spotted, they will sneak up to the animals and determine if there is a shooter bull among them. Luckily, there are often multiple quality bulls in each herd. Once a specific animal is chosen, the hunters will stalk in close and wait for a shot. However, the tendency for herds to clump together can make it difficult to get a clear shot at a single animal. Because of this, hunters are frequently forced to follow the herd, constantly at the ready, until the target bull offers an opportunity. Once an animal is harvested, it is very important to get the meat taken care of before it freezes. If allowed to freeze, the meat will become very rubbery and lose its tenderness. In the fall, musk ox are focused on rutting and are found closer to water sources like lakes and rivers. These hunts do not require as much travel, as animals are typically closer together and in less desolate country. This time of year is perfect for those looking to get in up close and personal with a bow and arrow.
The abundance of long fur on a Musk Ox can lead hunters to believe their vitals are lower than they actually are. When rifle hunting, you should hit them in the shoulder. If bow hunting, rather than aiming for the heart or lower lungs like you might for whitetail and elk, aim just behind the shoulder, as the previous shots often result in low misses.
Both Alaska and Canada require that hunters go through a licensed outfitter when hunting Musk Ox, so a do-it-yourself trip is out of the question. However, local knowledge and expertise go a long way for this type of hunt due to both the harsh nature of the environment and the vastness of the country musk ox occupy.
Musk Ox are an ancient creature that have been around since the Ice Age, and have been hunted by humans for their meat and fur for thousands of years. Having the opportunity to hunt such an animal in an environment that is completely untouched by humans brings the hunter back to what things were like in those primitive times. This type of hunt is also a challenge, as it will test both a hunter’s physical abilities and tolerance for the elements as well as their mental resolve and ability to perform under pressure when a huge, prehistoric creature is in the crosshairs.