Hunter Tags Pending World-Record Muskox on First Day of Nunavut Hunt

A 57-year-old hunter from Oakdale, California might be the new world record holder for muskox after an August trip to Contwoyto Lake in Nunavut. On Aug. 1, the first day of the hunt, Aron Wark and guide Sam Kapolak walked roughly 20 miles before Wark closed in on a 131-inch muskox. He took an 84-yard shot on the huge, old bull. Then he took another one. 

The requisite 60-day drying period has come and gone, and Boone and Crockett has taken preliminary action to enter the bull in the record books. (An official decision is awaiting confirmation by a panel of B&C judges.) The bull measured 131 4/8 inches, beating previous record-holder Alex Therrien’s bull by exactly 1 inch. Wark has made his taxidermy plans, although it’s unclear where he’ll fit the whole-body mount. But the distance of almost 24 weeks makes the heart grow fonder, and what Wark now remembers most about the hunt has little to do with the act of pulling the trigger.

Wark’s history with big game hunting is marbled with grief. His brother and longtime hunting partner was the first person to kill an elk with no hands, as Wark puts it. He used an early prototype for what would become the sip-and-puff-modified rifle, an accessible option for hunters with quadriplegia, to tag the elk and a mule deer in the same week in 1991. He passed away a month later while sighting in a custom muzzleloader for another deer hunt.

Wark, who had strayed from big game hunting after growing up chasing deer in his home state of Michigan, decided the best way to honor his brother’s memory was by getting back into it. So he started hunting around the West and beyond, chasing mountain lions, mule deer, bears, moose, and elk. Eventually, this journey landed him in the Canadian territory of Nunavut next to a 369-square-mile lake and a defunct gold mine in an area with an annual average temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. (August is a pleasant time to visit, Wark says, despite the clouds of mosquitoes swarming the air in all his photos.) 

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On day one of their hunt, Kapolak and Wark spotted a muskox while waiting for other hunters to fly in from Yellowknife. Or, at least, Kapolak spotted it — the bull was about eight miles away and Wark couldn’t find it. 

“I do not know how Sam sees these things,” Wark says. “To this day, I still probably could not find that muskox. It was laying down and he could see it with inexpensive binos, but I don’t know how he did it. And he kept doing that all week.”

Wark and Kapolak took off across the lake and started climbing to approach the bull. Eventually, Wark noticed that the wind was starting to change. As they closed in on a 150-yard shot, the bull sniffed them out, stood up, and started walking away. Wark set his gun up on a boulder, readying a standing shot. As soon as the muskox turned toward Wark, he pulled the trigger. The bull didn’t flinch and continued walking away, eventually turning broadside at 300 yards. Wark fired again. Nothing.

Wark credits Kapolak and the rest of the crew with a week full of laughter and memories. Photo courtesy of Aron Wark

Wark quickly determined that his once-sighted-in Cooper Model 92 was now off by about 4.5 inches at 100 yards, likely the byproduct of a rough flight or a close brush with a rock during the morning hike. The only thing they could do at that point was look for blood and try tracking the bull again. After a casual 12-mile jaunt through the tundra, they found neither.

Back in the boat with a few packers in tow, Kapolak decided to check a different spot on the other side of the lake, which meant a 45-mile boat ride. The group pulled into a shallow bay and saw a different bull running in the distance. 

“That’s a pretty big bull,” Wark said to Kapolak, who agreed. But Kapolak hesitated to get Wark’s hopes up and didn’t sound too excited. 

The group started walking, and soon Kapolak was a half-mile ahead of Wark, trying to head the bull off. But Wark turned and noticed the bull had dropped down onto a different peninsula that they had boated past earlier. The packers dropped back to start working toward the bull, but Wark kept walking.

“I can’t get Sam’s attention, and I’m trying to catch up to him,” Wark says. “I probably walked another three or four miles like that, if not more. Sam finally turns around and looks at me. So I motion to him and turn around to start walking back toward the bull. Pretty soon, Sam passes me again. He caught up a half-mile on me in I don’t know how many minutes.” 

Wark and Kapolak hopped back in the boat and drove to the shore of the peninsula. A large boulder kept them hidden from sight as they crept closer for an 84-yard shot. Wark set up on the boulder, compensating for the skew of his scope from his first two shots. Before Kapolak could give him the go-ahead, Wark fired a .338 Win-Mag into the bull’s vitals. 

“Sam turns and starts yelling at me that he didn’t get a look at the other side,” Wark laughs, noting that both he and one of the packers had seen both horns. “I assured him that I’d seen it, and that it was good.”

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Wark fired two more shots before the group approached the bull. The idea of a world record barely crossed anyone’s mind, Wark says. There were other, more immediate concerns at camp, like daily lessons on Inuktitut language and three straight nights of grizzly bear visits that the head, cape, and meat all somehow survived. They tried taking the bull’s measurements with a metal tape measure, but Wark wouldn’t receive the official score until October. 

The head and cape remain in Alberta where they await B&C record certification, which Wark estimates will happen in February. The meat went to families in Yellowknife. Wark returned to California at the end of the week, and plans to move to Colorado when the opportunity arises. His daughter and twin sons recently completed hunter’s education, which means hunting will likely become a family affair for Wark once again. 

As for what he’s carrying away from the trip to Nunavut, Wark says its the people, the laughter, and the landscape that made the hunt what it was, not the sum of the 10 measurements from the bull’s two big, old horns — although yes, he’s quite excited about those, too. 

“On the day of the hunt, I’ve never done that much walking in my life. It was a pretty hard day,” he says. “But whether I killed a muskox or not, this was the best trip of my life. I really mean that.”  

The post Hunter Tags Pending World-Record Muskox on First Day of Nunavut Hunt appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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