Hardcore Muskox Hunters Camp For Permits

Mar 3, 2019
Originally published on March 4, 2019 10:17 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Every year, fewer than 200 people get permits to hunt muskox on two Alaska islands on the Bering Sea. Muskox are a cross between ox and deer. The truly hard-core camp out in a parking lot in Bethel for the privilege. From member station KYUK, Anna Rose MacArthur reports.

ANNA ROSE MACARTHUR, BYLINE: The first guy in line this year is Avery Hoffman.

AVERY HOFFMAN: The last time I waited in line, I was in line for about three days.

MACARTHUR: Three days in a gravel parking lot in temperatures just above freezing - he was a senior in high school.

HOFFMAN: My teacher would come and bring me my schoolwork. And he'd come pick it up at the end of the day and bring it back to the school.

MACARTHUR: This time, the teenager first staked out the situation.

HOFFMAN: Over the weekend, I checked it three times a day. I was getting nervous.

MACARTHUR: Once he decided to get in line, he rolled up in his '97 Explorer. Then he taped a piece of paper to the front door of the building and wrote his name at the top. As others got in line, their names followed. He hasn't left the property in 24 hours.

HOFFMAN: My mom just comes and stops by every once in a while and brings me snacks and food and drinks.

MACARTHUR: Avery is Yupik. And in Alaska Native tradition, he plans to share much of the meat from the hunt. In a white Jeep, Adam London is camping out for the first time.

So did you spend the whole night in the parking lot?

ADAM LONDON: Yeah, we did - besides going for a quick potty break and getting some coffee.

MACARTHUR: He's in the jeep with his friend, who flew in from Anchorage. His buddy got his first taste of muskox 20 years ago and loved it. He's applied for a permit online every year since, but no dice. So he flew into Bethel to give it a shot in person.

For locals, the hunt fills freezers with protein and gathers qiviut, the animal's soft fur that's eight times warmer than sheep wool. For non-locals, the hunt is like a subarctic safari where hunters travel to remote islands to hunt a rare, ancient animal. People still talk about a man who flew in last year from New Jersey. He camped out in the parking lot for a week to get his permit. This year, the hunters know that inside the building, only a dozen permits await. And Adam London is keeping an eye on the list of names.

LONDON: So as of, like, 3 a.m., we had seven people that were signed up to get the permits. But I know at least two other people have shown up.

MACARTHUR: Someone who hadn't shown up in a few years is Tim Bee. Across town, he has two heads mounted.

TIM BEE: There's a cow on the left-hand side and a bull on the right-hand.

MACARTHUR: They look like nothing else on the tundra. A bull, or male, stands about 5 feet tall and weighs 800 pounds. Females are smaller. Sharp horns curve around their heads. And their shaggy fur hangs nearly to the ground. And they're delicious.

BEE: I've never had a bad one out of the 24 or 5 that I've gotten.

MACARTHUR: And this year, he'll try for one more. He eats the sweet, fatty meat as sausage, hamburgers, steak, roast and ribs. And he gives the hides to close friends to make neck warmers, gloves and scarves. He's got so many good memories. He says if he were to ever leave Bethel...

BEE: ...These would be the first things I pack up and go.

MACARTHUR: People are able to hunt muskox here because the federal government brought over a herd from Greenland to repopulate them after they'd been over-hunted. They've thrived ever since on Nunivak and Nelson islands, the Bering Sea islands where the permits everyone is waiting for will let them hunt. A few minutes before 8 o'clock, a fishing-game biologist unlocks the building.

He says you can start chasing him inside.

LONDON: Oh, nice.

MACARTHUR: But there's no chasing required. The paper list holds true. Each man who camped leaves with a muskox permit. For NPR News, I'm Anna Rose MacArthur in Bethel, Alaska.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this report, we did not mean to imply that muskox are a crossbreed of oxen and deer. We were trying to make the point that in stature they are close in size to deer.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.