2022 Island Vacation

wjschmaltz

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My wife has been bugging me to go on an island vacation, so I finally gave in this year. It’s been since February 2018 since I took a winter island getaway on Kodiak to hunt goats, so I figured I was due for 2022!

To preface the whole reasoning behind doing this hunt: A few years ago, I was at a hunting banquet talking with a group of guys and one of the guys had completed his North American 29. He was a bona fide middle-class blue-collar dude with a family that did it on a very tight budget and it really set forward a long conversation about hunting lists (grand slam, super slam, super ten, deer slams, etc.). I have no desire to hunt most of the animals on the 29 list, mainly because most require a guide, but I was looking at the Super Ten list and was amazed at how close I was to knocking it out. I was talking to a person at GSCO and asked him if they have any registered Super Tens that have been completely DIY (no guide) and he could not find a single one. So knocking out a super 10 completely DIY become a new goal of mine. Eventually I’d like to take it a step farther and do it all DIY on over-the-counter tags which is very possible.

One of the biggest hurdles of the ten categories for me was the bison/musk ox category because of the extremely low draw odds for a tag that I could hunt DIY (as opposed to guided Canada or Greenland hunt). I have extremely terrible luck with draw hunts so it required me to get very creative. There is one musk ox tag on Nunivak Island in Alaska that can still be hunted without drawing and it’s set up so locals of the area can hunt for meat every year. (They also award bull tags on a draw at about 1% draw odds) They set it up so tags need to be picked up in person midweek right after the holidays to add an extra layer or complexity (and required vacation time) for non locals to get the tags and they offer about 40 tags on the island and 5 tags in the closest large village, Bethel.

Luckily, I have a close friend in Bethel that has been planning on doing this hunt with me for a few years and we were able to finally work it out this year. I flew to Bethel the first Monday of 2022 after work. I packed my Arctic Oven tent and a good down sleeping bag and we set up the tent in the Game and Fish parking lot for two nights of waiting in line for the tag. My good buddy is an outfitter in western AK so he supplied us with all the other quality camping gear we needed. The temps for the trip averaged about -10 to -15 and wind was pretty consistent blowing around 20 mph. With the Mr. Buddy on low, the inside of the tent averaged about 40-50 degrees. If you need to be sold on an Artic Oven tent, get ahold of me. Between me and my friend we own 3 and I can’t praise them enough. They are in their own category when it comes to camping in the cold!

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We spent two nights in the tent sipping whiskey, making steaks, listening to music, and watching movies. It was a great time and on Wednesday morning we walked into the office and got our tags and I was on a flight home by noon.

My same friend used to fly for one of the small airlines out of Bethel and fly the route to the village of Merkoryuk on Nunivak Island. Over the years he made friends with the agent for the village and has maintained that relationship over the years. Our local friend was more than happy to give us rides around town and lend us a couple snowmobiles and sleds to hunt. The alternative would’ve been hiring a transporter for about $5,000.

So we planned it all out to head out to the island the last week of March, which was the last week of the season. Having spent a good amount of time traveling around Alaska and to several islands in the Bering Sea, we were prepared to be weathered in for up to two weeks. We lucked out and it was about 8 degrees, clear, and calm when we left Bethel and Landed in Merkoryuk on March 25[SUP]th[/SUP]. We landed at about 2pm and everyone was amazed by the weather. Our local friend (Albert) said it was the nicest day they’ve had probably since October and said we would leave to hunt in a couple hours while the weather cooperated. It was nice hunting in late March because the sun doesn’t really set on the island until about 10:30 PM.

We ran to the house we were staying at and got things situated, got all dressed up, and gassed up the machines. By about 3pm we were heading off into the tundra to try and find some musk ox. We set out on snowmobiles to the south side of the island where people were seeing large groups of cows. We were about 35 miles into our 40 mile trip to the southern coast and we ran into a very extreme ground blizzard caused by the way the wind is pushed up over the hills on the central portion of the island. Visibility was close to zero so we had to backtrack a bit and start heading to the western coast, which would add an extra 15 miles or so onto our trip.
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Our "motel" - a vacant house owned by the church.
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Luckily for us, about 3 miles into our detour to the west, we looked over and saw a large group of musk ox on the hillside. I know a good amount of people hate the word “harvest” in the hunting sense. But as you can probably imagine, that’s what it became at this point. We walked up to the herd and waited for two cows to separate off and we shot them. There was no place to run and no place to hide. So we started into each animal and within a couple of hours we had game bags filled and we were headed back to town.

Growing up in ND, we always hear people refer to ND as the tundra. But man, once you actually get out on the true tundra, you realize quickly that there is no comparison. We were traveling in a complete white room where there is no dept. The flat white light almost hypnotizes you to sleep only to be quickly brought back by your machine bouncing off one of the thousands of bumps hidden in the flat light. I watched the odometer on my machine and at one point we traveled 12 miles without seeing another living thing. Not a plant sticking out from the snow, a bird, mammal, or human.
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Albert giving us a comprehensive overview of the island history before we flew out.

We made it back to town for some rest and food and by 1pm the next day we were on a plane back to Bethel. Our two week trip was somehow pulled off in about 24 hours. Because such small aircraft are used for passengers, typically people’s meat and hide remain on the island for weeks until a cargo plane is flown in. To sweeten the pot even more for us, a CASA C212 was taking advantage of the weather window and flew in for a load of commercial reindeer meat the same time we were leaving. We were able to sneak our meat and hides onto the plane and it arrived back in Bethel the same time as we did.

By Monday, I had all the meat cut up and in my freezer at home and started on combing the hide for the qiviut. The qiviut that underlays the guard hairs of a musk ox is 8x warmer than wool and 30% softer than cashmere. One of finest fabrics in the world. It took me about 10 hours to comb it all out of the hide – if I decide to sell all the qiviut I got from the animal, that task will pay about $350/hour. The remainder of the hide is soaking for hair removal and will be turned into buck skin clothing.
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The flat, swampy tundra of western AK
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The new gold standard of wild game meat in our house
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Approximately 5 lbs of qiviut

This is clearly the type of hunt that is 99% based around the adventure and the challenges of the landscape. When it comes to the time to kill, it’s not much different than shooting a cow in the pasture. But by doing hunts like this, it really opened my eyes to why guys chase animals on a list. It kind of forces you to experience things and places that you otherwise would never consider or go through the extra pain in the ass to pull off. And I think that’s pretty dang cool. Hope you enjoyed, just figured I would throw a little variety into the posting around here.
 
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JMF

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That's awesome! How is the ox? The meat looks incredibly well marbled.
 

wslayer

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Congratulations and very nice story.
 


wjschmaltz

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That's awesome! How is the ox? The meat looks incredibly well marbled.

We had the heart and some tenderloins and backstraps last week and it was all very good. I thought the marbled backstrap was especially good. So far, it has moved to the top of my list for wild game meat
 

risingsun

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So refreshing to read something positive. Thanks for sharing
 


FishFinder97

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I was hoping to hear how this hunt went. Thanks for sharing, looks like an awesome time.
 

Allen

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Man oh man, it's really tough to like you when I read about how "easily" you're living the dream.

Just nothing short of an incredible experience, and I am just damn jealous...

And those cuts of meat look fantastic! I'll pay the shipping for a couple 12 oz cuts. Heh heh heh...

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p.s. I am pulling for you to be able to get the DIY Super Ten, whatever that entails.

Yeah, I'm just going to live vicariously through you on this one. So...damn...cool.
 

snow1

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Indeed,great read and pic's thanx for sharing...could you itemize species for the super ten.

my younger years living in eagle river AK my first job was striping plane tie downs at merrel field and hunters from around the world only talked about the grand slam critters,back then these grand slam hunts started around $50k with guide if I remember right.

Having "virtigo" in the barron white landscape is a trip,one can fall on his ass standing up as you have zero depth perception.

I never had musk ox but sheep was my fav,those cuts of ox meat look fantastic.

PS,bet it was a challenge dropping the kids off in that parking lot eh? pretty sure you boyz didn't have a warm "shit-n-go" in your camp.
 
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eseamands

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Incredible wordsmithing William. Glad you guys were so successful, no one is more deserving.
 

wjschmaltz

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p.s. I am pulling for you to be able to get the DIY Super Ten, whatever that entails.

Yeah, I'm just going to live vicariously through you on this one. So...damn...cool.

I'm basically down to elk and antelope so I just need to decide when to burn my pile of Wyoming points. Maybe in a few years when the kids are a bit older and it's less stress on my wife to be gone. The big ones that require a guide as an AK nonresident (in case I move) are done so I'm sitting pretty!

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Indeed,great read and pic's thanx for sharing...could you itemize species for the super ten.

my younger years living in eagle river AK my first job was striping plane tie downs at merrel field and hunters from around the world only talked about the grand slam critters,back then these grand slam hunts started around $50k with guide if I remember right.

Having "virtigo" in the barron white landscape is a trip,one can fall on his ass standing up as you have zero depth perception.

I never had musk ox but sheep was my fav,those cuts of ox meat look fantastic.

PS,bet it was a challenge dropping the kids off in that parking lot eh? pretty sure you boyz didn't have a warm "shit-n-go" in your camp.

The Super Ten is one animal from each category:
Deer
Moose
Bear
Sheep
Mtn Lion
Caribou
Bison/Musk Ox
Mtn Goat
Elk
Antelope

The grand slam would be all 4 sheep and I'm not sure, but I would guess it would cost around $150-$200K. Stones alone are up to $60K. Dalls are around $30K. And both Desert and Rocky Mtn big horns are above $50K. That's obviously guided and not if you're a resident where some of the sheep live or if you can draw a tag that doesn't require a guide. Luckily I was able to get my Dall for the cost of a couple tanks of gas. I don't expect to hunt any of the other 3 in my lifetime unless I get lucky and win a raffle or something. I saw in Hunt Alaska magazine a few years ago about people chasing their "Alaska Slam" and I'm not even sure what that would be.

I will probably try to get all 5 deer some day. Just have a coues and columbia left and both of them can be done pretty reasonable and live in neat places.

The Game and Fish office in Bethel is only about 3 people and the guy I was with knew each of them very well from flying them for animals surveys and stuff. So we were able to use the can during business hours and planned dropping the cosby kids off around that!

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Incredible wordsmithing William. Glad you guys were so successful, no one is more deserving.

Those of us that can't draw moose or big horn tags on our first try have to make due ;)
 

snow1

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Thanx wj,

working at merril air field these traveling hunters talked of the Alaska grand slam,if I remember right,grizz,caribou,rain deer,dall sheep,just 5 state critters so things have changed since the early 80's eh?,this was before the oil boyz were busted trophy hunting out of choppers and master guides were required for all out of state big game hunting.

Still kicking myself for not taking flight lesson during my days up there,broke,couldn't afford the $300/day for lesson's back then.
 

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