The large, docile musk-oxen have no natural enemies and it is therefore easy to get comparatively close to them. But you must treat them with respect because they are very strong and they have powerful horns that you do not want to get in the way of.
Kangerlussuaq is Greenland’s biggest airport and at the same time a fantastic place to visit. You can easily walk to the ice cap or take a trip by bike, car, bus or helicopter.
One of the things that make Kangerlussuaq such a unique destination is its rich wildlife. Nature is easily accessible and you can get close to Arctic hares, ptarmigan, reindeer, Arctic fox and not least, the musk-oxen.
Changeover day. Air Greenland’s S61 helicopter delivers one group of hunters and takes another group back.
On this late summer’s day, the passengers on board Air Greenland’s Airbus from Copenhagen include five experienced hunters. They had looked for a new destination with game they had not experienced before and the choice fell on Greenland.
The trip from the airport to the camp does not take long with the S61 helicopter. We fly at low altitude over the very hilly terrain and we see musk-oxen and reindeer in several places. Otherwise, the landscape is characterized by many lakes and yellow-green plains with low scrub and tundra. The enthusiasm of the hunters knows no bounds. As we approach, they sit with their cameras, taking everything in.
We can see a big lake in the distance with the camp situated on the beach. We land about 100 metres from the camp where the owner of Major Hunting, Tobias Gredal, and his wife Stine bid us welcome.
The facilities at the camp are good. There is electricity, plenty of space in the tents, a well-equipped kitchen and a shower with hot water. The power comes from solar panels, which collect the sun’s energy during the day in car batteries.
Before darkness falls, the hunters will have an opportunity to test the rifles there at the camp so they can find their favourite rifle for the coming week.
First day of hunting
The sun is already up when we awaken. It is cool but the sun warms the tents quickly and there is not a breath of wind. Breakfast is eaten quickly since everyone is eager to get going.
With light backpacks, we sail off in three lighters. The mountains around us are reflected in the shining water, so it is hard to see what is up and what is down in the landscape. When we reach our destination, the lighters are pulled up on land, so they don’t drift away during the day.
We walk together up through the low vegetation with a scout on each side to signal when an animal is sighted. We walk a good distance before that happens. As we stand on a ridge, three reindeer suddenly run past very close to us. They are young bulls and under a usual hunt they would have been very attractive, because the meat is good. They have no interest for trophy hunters, because they are not fully grown animals with nice antlers.
We travel further inland before we spot some brown and woolly specks in the distance. They move slowly and we are sure they are musk-oxen. We check the wind direction and lay a plan for how we can get close to the animals without them discovering us. Musk-oxen don’t see very well, but they have a sharp sense of smell, so it is important that we have the wind against us and don’t make a sound, as we slowly approach.
It turns out that they are far from being the only animals. In several places around us, smaller herds of musk-oxen are grazing. They are in small family groups, typically consisting of a bull, a cow and some calves.
A fully-grown male with nice horns is on his own and it is therefore him we focus on. In the end, it is only Tobias and the hunter who has been chosen to shoot first that continue hunting the beast.
They crawl through the grass towards their prey. They stop when the musk-ox has its focus in our direction. About 100 metres from the animal, the hunter ducks behind a rock and lets his adrenaline level drop a notch before he takes aim.
He fires a single shot that pierces the ox’s shoulder blade and heart. The next shot punctures the animal’s lung and a third shot is fired because it is still standing, faltering. Everyone is delighted and all the hunters cheer.
Everyone inspects the trophy. It is a nice bull. There is great respect for this enormous animal that was tough enough to stay standing, despite three mortal wounds. It takes four of us to turn the animal over and pose it for the obligatory trophy photos. These photos are important to hunters, because they show the size of the animal they have shot.
Not everyone has the opportunity to get close to a musk-ox, so it is something to be proud of. For trophy hunters, it is a combination of experiencing nature in all its magnificence and being able to show the results of the hunt in the form of pictures and antlers.
Sometimes it was possible to get very close to the musk-oxen.
The heavy head of the musk-ox is removed and put into a carrying sling. After the animal has been skinned, two of the guides remain to cut up the rest while Tobias and one guide follow the hunters to the next animals. No meat is left behind and the guides spend some time cutting all the meat from the bones and packing it into carrying slings so it can be taken to the boats and sailed back to camp.
The next musk-ox that is sighted is in a small herd that is moving and as the wind is not ideal, we circle around the herd.
The shot is taken at 80 meters. The herd sets off at a run, fortunately not in our direction, leaving the chosen bull behind. After a few seconds it gives up and drops.
While the trophy hunters chatter eagerly, the guides start cutting up the ox. It is a lot of heavy, hard work loosening the animal’s skin in one piece and then carrying the whole hide before preparing it for the tannery. The hide alone is very heavy. On top of this, there is the weight of the head with its huge forehead and horns. In return, it will be a truly wonderful sight to see, when the animal has been mounted hung on the wall.
The camp has two people who do the cooking and make everything function. The trophy hunters have therefore plenty of time to relax and enjoy socializing, or to go for walks or go hunting for smaller animals such as Arctic hares, ptarmigan and Arctic foxes.
Meat, meat and more meat
When the guides are back at the camp, most of their time is spent preparing the hides for the taxidermist and cutting up all the meat that has been brought home. After the meat has been cut into nice slices it is put into brine consisting of preservative, salt and spices for a few hours. The pieces of meat are then laid out on wire netting for 1-2 says and dried so they become the most delicious dried meat à la beef jerky, which can be enjoyed as a protein-rich snack.
Some of the meat is made into sausages which are smoked in the smoker. The best of the meat is set aside for cooking.
Since the area is extensive, hunting took place in every direction. Every day, there were great outdoor experiences with the Greenlandic wildlife. The challenge was to find the best trophy animal, because there was plenty of game. On reindeer hunting days, it was a greater challenge to find the game and get within shooting range, because reindeer are much more attentive.
Some of the hunters and a couple of guides took an afternoon off from hunting and sailed up one of the nearby rivers on a fishing trip where they caught some nice big Arctic charr, as a good alternative to the many nice meals with meat.
It was a group of tired and very satisfied hunters who set off for home a week later and not a few of them said they would like to go hunting in Greenland again.
Tobias and the other guides were also very tired after spending time in the fells, but they are already looking forward to next year, with new hunters who have booked a trophy hunt in Greenland.
The ice cap towers up in the background of Kangerlussuaq’s beautiful landscape.