Hunting the Arctic

Why the frigid,inhospitable North is such a great place for sportsmen Given the choice to hunt any region outside the … Continued

Why the frigid,inhospitable North is such a great place for sportsmen

Given the choice to hunt any region outside the U.S., I’d take the Arctic hands down. Yes, it’s a bleak, dismal land, where the few villages have unpaved streets and simple homes and where airplanes or boats are the only way in or out. Empty fuel drums are everywhere, and snowmobiles and ATVs are parked in front of most houses. There isn’t great variety to the social life, and typically a single grocery store supplies an entire town. Yet the Inuit residents, native to this land, seem happy and content.

My attraction to this country is based on the incredible hardships the Inuits endure. These are survivors, capable of living in places that would kill most of us. Unlike natives of Africa, Australia, the South Pacific and other warm locales, the Inuits must deal with a bitter cold that can quickly suck the life out of anyone who is unprepared.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

My first trip to the Arctic was to Baffin Island, for a caribou hunt with hunting consultant Jerome Knap. He’s an old pal who once wrote outdoor articles for a living but then established Canada North Outfitting, a firm that deals extensively with hunting in the far north. On that trip, our party traveled 80 miles across the Arctic Ocean to the hunting area in 20-foot freighter canoes. Our Inuit guides shot and boiled gulls and geese for lunch, chewed on raw caribou ribs and otherwise amazed us all with their ability to live off the land.

MUSK OX TACTICS

More recently I hunted, again through Jerome’s firm, for musk ox and caribou out of Cambridge Bay, a lonely outpost steeped in the history of the early exploration of the Arctic. I hunted there twice, the first time about seven years ago and again this past fall. Musk ox were the primary quarry, and the traditional time to hunt them is in March and April when they’re in small herds. On those hunts, the typical strategy is to sit in a sled towed by an Inuit guide in a snowmobile. The tough part of this hunt is dealing with the intense cold, which averages 30 to 40 degrees below zero. A law requires that hunters approach no closer than a half mile in the snowmobile–the final stalk must be made on foot.

Jerome told me there was another option, which was to hunt musk ox in August when they’re scattered throughout the tundra. They’re in the rut at this time, and we’d hunt them by boat, on ATV or afoot, whatever the situation required. But what really turned me on to this hunt was the opportunity to live with Inuit families who would be camped with us, catching and spearing arctic char for their winter food supply and shooting caribou as well. I was amazed as I watched the natives spear fish at a falls, easily spotting char in the rushing water that I could not see, even when they pointed them out. After spearing the char they expertly filleted them with an ulu, a knife with a curved blade that’s used everywhere in the north. They’d then hang the raw fillets on a line to dry. Each family had hundreds of fillets hanging outside their tents. One particular family had “adopted” me, and I accompanied them as they shot caribou cows and picked tundra cranberries.

AN EVERYDAY DISASTER

One night, as the wind screamed through the camp, we lay snug and comfortable in our cabin. The next morning we learned that one of the tents had collapsed during the worst of the storm, but the occupants seemed unfazed. They set up the tent the next morning, smiling and chatting, as if the incident were of no consequence. It was just part of living in the north.

I took musk ox on both hunts and was awed at these shaggy animals and their incredibly long and thick fur. I brought a good deal of the meat home, as did the other hunters, and we gave some of it to the villagers, who were happy to receive it. On the first hunt, we cruised along the shore in a boat not far from camp, spotting animals far off in the tundra. It was raining hard, and I stalked within 150 yards of a big bull. Using a Browning A-bolt in 7mm Rem. Mag., I put the animal down with one shot. We quartered and caped it and carried it out on our backs.

This past year, we traveled 35 miles in our boats from camp to Melrose Island, which is about 40 miles long and 15 miles wide. According to the guides, about 400 musk ox live on it. My Inuit guide hoped to find a herd immediately, but we had no luck at first. Late in the afternoon, after plenty of hiking and cruising the shore, we spotted a herd of about 50 bulls, cows and calves far inland. My companion and I took the two biggest bulls, using Remington .300 Ultra Mags, and by the time we got the meat and capes to shore, it was well after dark, so we made camp on the beach. We set up tents, cooked a meal and sat around a fire. Until then I believed that it was impossible to build a fire in the far north because there was no wood, but we gathered some of the green hemp that grows all over the tundra and made a fine blaze. I learned something new, but I always do when I spend time with Inuits. That’s one of the reasons I keep going back.

For information about Jim Zumbo’s books, go to jimzumbo.com.

For more on hunting, go to outdoorlife.com/hunting

Sealife Underwater Camera

Finally, someone has built an affordable camera for sportsmen that’s as tough as the rest of our gear. Sealife’s DC 500 is a 5 megapixel digital camera contained in a plastic housing that is rated waterproof to 200 feet. It comes with a 3X optical zoom. ($500; 800-257-7742; sealife-cameras.com)

Whilesnowmobiles have replaced sled dogs in many areas, hunting musk ox in the farnorth is no pushover as hunters face subzero weather.