The Post-Journal

Area Men To Go On Musk Ox Hunt In Northern Canada

At a time when most local residents wish a long, cold winter would end, a Jamestown area man and a hunting companion from North East, Pa., are readying to leave on a trip that will take them to a far more inhospitable climate north of the Arctic Circle.

Larry E. “Jake” Ensign of Trask Road and Robert S. Miller of North East are traveling to Victoria Island, where they will hunt musk ox.

Moreover, they plan to stalk the hardy animals with bows and arrows.

They will leave Buffalo International Airport on March 16, headed for Minneapolis-St. Paul, Edmonton, Alberta, Yellowknife in Canada’s northwest Territories where they will spend the night, before an early next day flight to Kugluktuk (formerly Copper Mine), arriving the morning of March 17.

After debarking from their final plane leg of the trip, the pair will travel from between 200 and 300 miles by snowmobile to Victoria Island, which Ensign said has a large population of musk ox.

Actually, they’ll be traveling aboard an amituk, a rough-riding wooden sled towed by the snow machine.

Ensign said there are two species of musk ox – the Barren Ground and the Greenland – with the pair to seek the latter as the smaller species where the bulls can reach weights of 700 to 750 pounds.

Each of the hunters will have an Inuit guide.

They said snowmobiles are not permitted closer than two miles from the herd so the final stalk will be made on foot in temperatures expected to be in the mid 40s – below zero that is – before the wind chill factor is applied.

“There isn’t a bit of your body exposed,” Miller said. “Everything is covered.”

He explained that unprotected body parts can be exposed only for 45 seconds before freezing.

“But we will actually sleep right on the ground in a tent,” Miller said, “and we will sleep on musk ox furs.”

He said the musk ox can be a dangerous animal if feeling threatened, “These musk oxen will charge,” he said, “especially when you get in their personal space. There’s nothing to hide behind.”

Miller said the wolf and grizzly bear, and possibly an occasional polar bear, are the musk ox’s only natural predators.

Ensign said the far north animals are “dressed” against the biting cold in a hair under layer known as qiviut – eight times warmer than cashmere wool.

Miller spent 17 days and traveled about 1,300 miles in the arctic in 1999 spotting 16 polar bears and taking the last one at 42 yards with a bow and arrow.

During that time frame, travel was by sled dogs and snowmobile, with the hunters surviving on “a lot of raw frozen meat and fish,” but enjoying the luxury of a warm lunch. “There was nothing that wasn’t frozen in your tent,” the North East resident said.

“Because I was there (in the far north before), Jake asked me for information about my trip,” Miller said, “and asked if I had ever hunted musk ox. I said “no” but I would be glad to join him on such a hunt to prepare him for a polar bear hunt,”

From then on, it was just a matter of arranging the many details involved.

The two men are no strangers to bow hunting, with Ensign using up to a 104-pound pull in prior hunts and taking an 84-poind pull weapon with him for the arctic hunt.

Miller has used up to a 95-pound pull bow on Cape Buffalo in Africa and water buffalo in Australia, each weighing about a ton, while planning to pack a 75-pound pull for the upcoming arctic outing.

Ensign has been on a number of bow hunting trips taking such game as elk, caribou, mountain lion, pronghorn antelope and whitetail deer.

Miller has taken similar species along with three world class animals.

The North East resident said his mountain lion take ranked second in the world, while his gemsbok, taken in 1977 on the first of two bow hunting trips to Africa, also ranked second in the world at the time.

When not out hunting, Ensign presides as co-owner of The Medicine Shoppe, 8 E. Fifth St., Jamestown, while Miller is chairman/president of Better Baked Foods, headquartered in North East and with three plants in as many states producing about 150 million pounds of frozen food yearly.

At Ensign’s place of business a lifesize replica of a musk ox, made by friend, Tom Bergstue, stands atop a snowbank near the edge of the parking area as a target.

What will the hunters do on return from their arctic adventure? “We’re gonna eat musk ox and invite our friends in, “Miller said.

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We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.