Muskox shot in N.W.T. could break world record

Bush pilot Alex Therrien harvested a muskox near Aylmer Lake in the N.W.T. in September 2020 that could break a world record, according to an organization that maintains records of native North American large game trophies.

If confirmed, the muskox's horns would beat the previous record by over an inch

The muskox's head and hide alone weighed approximately 80 kg, according to hunter Alex Therrien, seen here carrying his trophy back to camp. (Submitted by Alex Therrien)

An upcoming big game event in the United States will determine whether a massive muskox harvested in the N.W.T. breaks a world record. 

Bush pilot Alex Therrien has been hunting and fishing since he was two years old — mostly small game, like rabbits. But his recent trophy was a little bigger than that. According to the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization that maintains records of native North American large game trophies, Therrien's muskox could be a record breaker

In September 2020, Therrien and his fellow bush pilots Trevor Murdoch and Kaleb Kirby went hunting for muskox near Aylmer Lake in the N.W.T. 

"I ended up shooting a bull that I didn't really think was going to be that big, but it ended up being quite large," he said. "The closer I got to it, the more I realized how big it was. And … when it actually got measured, it ended up being the next potential record. That felt surreal."

This "old bull" was part of a herd of between 50 and 60 animals, according to Therrien. (Submitted by Alex Therrien)

Therrien learned to hunt from his grandfather on the east coast, who he says is "super excited" about his grandson's hunting success.

"It's kind of an unreal moment, really," said Therrien. "Everyone's been sending me messages." 

Therrien hadn't expected to harvest such a big animal — but he says he only had a limited frame of reference for how big a muskox might be to begin with. 

"Really, I just didn't know," he said. "I'd seen a couple of skulls, like the one mounted in the Cambridge Bay airport, so I knew this one was quite big compared to what I'd seen before. But then again, I figured I'd only seen cows before."

This muskox, which Therrien estimates was part of a herd of about 50 or 60 animals, weighed well over 181 kilograms — which the three men had to carry over rocks and muskeg back to their planes. 

"We packed out as much as we could, probably each having 100 or 120 pounds [45 to 54 kilograms] on our backs, back to camp," said Therrien. "We left the head and the hide all attached together."

The head and the hide alone weighed approximately 80 kilograms.

The pilots had to get creative to get the muskox back to Yellowknife — Aylmer Lake Lodge, where they had flown in before the hunt, didn't have a long enough runway for their planes to take off with that much extra weight on board. 

"We had to go down to an esker just about ten miles away, hike the meat back up to the esker and fly back over to Yellowknife," said Therrien.

Since that September, Therrien and his friends have enjoyed the results of their hunt — Therrien has had the skull mounted and the hide made into a rug, and three of them have been eating all the muskox burgers, meatballs, meatloaf and lasagna they can cook. 

"You just mix a little bit of pork fat in there, and it ends up tasting all right," said Therrien. "It is a tougher meat, though, because it just ended up being such an old bull."

The previous world record muskoxen — a two-way tie — scored 129 points each in the Boone and Crockett records, based on the size of their horns. If Therrien's provisional measurements are confirmed at the 31st Big Game Awards in Missouri in July 2022, he would beat that record by more than an inch.

Justin Spring, director of big game records for Boone and Crockett, said "you definitely take note" when a hunter surpasses a record that has stood for more than a decade. 

And while taking a world-record muskox is "a pretty cool thing to say that you've accomplished," Spring is particularly interested in what this means for the animals' conservation status. 

"For us, when we see a new world record, it's not necessarily about the hunter's success — it's the fact that there is still big game on the landscape, even in the face of growing populations and climate change and everything along those lines," he said. "That we're still seeing animals of this calibre basically says that conservation has been working."

Because Therrien drew a tag to hunt muskox in the N.W.T. in 2020, he will have to wait three more years until he is eligible to try again.