Find the best places to hunt Muskox in Canada and discover the Muskoxen's Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Provinces with Muskox Hunting

Nunavut Resident and Non-Resident
North West Territories Resident and Non-Resident

Selecting a Calibre to Hunt Muskox

Vital Shot Placement for Muskox

Vital Shot Placement for MuskoxPhoto From:

To assure the most efficient killing capability and to reduce the chances of wounding loss, a minimum of a 30.06 or larger is recommended. When hunting musk oxen, hunters should be proficient with whatever firearm they use to avoid poor shot placement.

Proper Use good judgment and strive for a clean shot while distance muskoxen hunting. Patience is a necessity because it is common for muskoxen to group up after the disturbance of a shot. This makes identification of the wounded animal for follow up shots very difficult. Take your time, know what lies behind your target, wait for muskoxen to disperse, and allow your first shot to be the best shot for a clean kill.

Shooting Opinions of the best shot placement on muskoxen vary. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends a shot at the broadside center of the shoulder angled slightly forward, so the bullet passes through the heart and lungs and exits through the opposite shoulder. This placement has a high likelihood of resulting in a clean kill. Neck shots are not recommended.

Muskox Hooves


Front Track

  • 4.25" - 5.5" (10.8 -14 cm) long
  • 4.375" - 6" (11.1 - 15.2 cm) wide

Rear Track

  • 3.75" - 4.25" (9.5 -11.4 cm) long
  • 4" - 4.25" (10.2 -11.4 cm) wide

Trail Width

  • 10" - 18" (25.4-45.7 cm)

Photo By: Bering Land Bridge National Preserve – Flicker

Croped by:





Range and Distribution of Muskox - Muskoxen

Muskox Range Map of Canda

Original map of Canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By:


The current world population of muskoxen is estimated at between 80,000 and 125,000, of which 85,000 to 90,000 are in Canada. Of that world’s majority, an estimated 68,788 are living on Banks Island in the North West Territories.

Muskoxen use the low-lying coastal and inland plains or river valleys of the Arctic where they feed on lichen, and roots. Summer time has the musk oxen grazing on fresh growing arctic flowers and grasses. 

Some summer studies of the Muskox in Canada’s High Artic showed that Muskox feeding periods were greater than resting periods. Favoured forage for the Muskoxen were made up of grass like plants in wet meadows and consisted of willow (Salix arctica), grasses, forbs, and the flowers of vascular plants. It was suggested that the abundance and distribution of these sedge-producing meadows may actually control the regional population and distribution of muskoxen.


Muskox/Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus)

Muskox in Defensive Position

Muskox Defensive Herd Formation
Photo By: By West Robin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Living in the Canadian Arctic, the muskox is an Arctic mammal of the family Bovidae and subfamily Caprinae. Muskox or Muskoxen are related to sheep and goats. It is noted for its thick coat and during the rut, males have a strong odour, which contributes to its derived name and that odour is used during the mating season to attract females.

Albino Muskoxen have been recorded, but they are predominately a mixed color consisting of blacks, greys, and browns. The fur on this prehistoric looking mammal consists of two layers. The outer layer consists of long guard hairs that does not shed and appears to almost touch the ground. The second layer is a soft wool inner hair called qiviut (pronouced kiv-ee-ute) that does shed or moult and you will find this hanging on shrubs and vegetation where Muskoxen frequent. This qiviut is sought for its insulating value, softness, and length. With a raw current price of $35.00 per oz. maybe you can collect enough to pay for your hunting trip.

Muskoxen are stocky, long-haired animals with a slight shoulder hump, a large head, and a very short tail that is 3.9 inches (10 cm) long. This mammal because of its head size and its long shaggy hair appears to be a large animal and one would compare it to a bison but it is actually only ½ the bison’s mass with an average weight of only 285 kg (630 lb).

In watching a video of two wolves preying on a Muskox calf that was alone, it was impressive to see that the entire herd would charge the attacking wolves and bring the calf into the center of a defensive circle and face the wolves head on thus protecting the calf from predation. Apparently this defensive behaviour is also practiced for sick and elderly Muskoxen. The formation of this defence could be a straight line, a semi circle, or even a full circle. The formation is determined by bull Muskox during the rutting season, but for the rest of the year it is the cows who determine the formation.

Both male and female Muskoxen have their own rank and file that is based more on the age of the animal. And with rank comes the benefits of the best winter feeding craters, best patches of grass, and the best places to rest.

Bulls reinforce their dominance by several tactics and will assert their position on bulls and cows alike. One tactic is called the “rush and butt”. Here, the dominate bull charges the underling from its side thus warning the subordinate and giving it a chance to move away. Vocal roars, swinging of their head, and pawing the ground is a second tactic and kicking an underling’s foreleg makes a third way. The thing for a subordinate bull to do to change his position in the rank and file is to charge the dominate bull.

Muskox is non-territorial and form herds of 12–24 in the winter, in April or June (calving season) they will form smaller groups of 8–20 for the summer.

Muskoxen will mark their trails with scent from preorbital glands (located about the eye). As mentioned earlier, these herds have periods of feeding and resting. Muskox lies down and ruminates during resting periods. Being a ruminant, they have four stomach chambers that allow them to digest plant material by bringing their food back up, and re-chewing the cud to increase digestion. The first chamber has bacteria where the food undergoes fermentation which breaks down the plant material for absorption. After the food is fermented, the sheep regurgitates it and chews the food again. This second chewing is called rumination. After the second chewing, the food goes through the other three chambers and then to the intestines. From start to finish, it may take 4 days to completely process a meal.

The calves use this resting time to play in groups; play may be as simple as running around the adults that are resting or even more robust play of head butting competitions. This not to say, that adults don’t play as times, as they do exhibit playful activities such as jumping and spinning around in the shallows of river crossings.

The period from November to February is winter for the Muskox and is also a time period of total darkness. The muskox form up into large mixed herds and despite the lack of daylight and the extreme cold temperature of -18°C (-0.4 °F) they continue their periods of feeding and resting like nothing has changed. The only time they will change their pattern is when a harsh storm blankets the area, then they will simply lie down with their backs to the wind and ride it out. If winter conditions get too harsh, that winter, cows will not go into estrus the following summer.

A muskox begins to grow its antlers as a calf at 4 to 5 weeks of age and that growth will not stop until it is about six years old.

Mature Bulls (4 years and older)

A Mature bull will stand about 5 ft high (1.5 m) at the shoulder, be 200 to 250 cm (6.6 to 8.2 ft) in overall length, and weigh 600–800 lbs (273–364 kg). An 800-lb bull dresses out at about 480 (218 kg) lbs and will provide about 275 lbs (125 kg) of actual meat.

Both cows and bulls develop horns, but the horns of a mature Bull (four years and older) will be thicker and have more mass that those of a cow. The bulls develop what is called a boss at the base of each horn; this boss is a thick bone (3.9 inches - 10 cm.) at the base of each horn that is almost right across their entire brow. They will have very little hair in that gap when compared to a cow and the state of their horns will be an indication of their life struggles as some horns will be highly worn, cracked, or even broken off.       

Mature Cows (4 years and older)

A cow Muskox will stand about 4 high (1.1 m) at the shoulder, be 4.4 to 6.6 (135 to 200 cm) in overall length and weigh 400 to 500 lbs (182 to 227 Kg)..

Cows do not grow a thick boss at the base of their horns like a bull does; the base of their horn is small, dark and visible. You will also find that the diameter and mass of their horns is not as great as the bulls. The color of their horns or horn tips is not a good indicator for determining sex and the length of the hook on their horns is difficult to ascertain from a distance.

Immature Bulls (4 years and younger)

Young bulls, especially 2 and 3 year olds, are hard to distinguish from mature cows because their horn boss is not yet developed and they show a lot of hair between the bases of the horns. It takes a good eye to discern that the young bull’s horn is a little heavier and you are looking for the horn to curve down then forward, and the tip to point up and forward.

Muskox Identification

Diet and Foraging strategy of Muskox


Photo By Hannes Grobe), AWI (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In the summer, Muskoxen can be found on the mainland where they will follow river valleys, where as, on the islands they will search out the wet meadow lands that the island offers. In either case, they forage for willow, woody plants, lichen, grasses, and moss the whole time while dodging pesky biting insects which are more of a problem on the mainland than on the islands.

When winter arrives, they still forage in the same territories; however, they will seek out wind swept areas where the snow is less than 7.9 inches (20 cm) deep. Most of the time, this layer of snow can be pawed away in order to expose their food source in what scientists call a crater. But as the winter carries on, constant blowing snow can create a hard crust that you can walk on. If the crusty snow can not be cleared away by pawing the ground the Muskoxen will break through the crust by dropping their chin onto the hard snow, breaking the crust, and then pawing away the chunks of hardened snow to get at the grasses and sedges. Its’ position in the hierarchy of the herd will determine when and if it gets to feed at the crater.

So, if everything is covered with snow from September all the way into June how do the Muskoxen know where their food is? The answer is simple, their sense of smell is so good that they can smell the forage under the snow cover and their eye sight is well developed to allow them to see during the winter’s period of total darkness.

Breeding and Reproduction of Muskox

Muskoxen with Calf


Photo By: Andrew Gray – Flickr

Mating season for the Muskox arrives in late June and early July. It is at this time that females at the age of 2 and males at the age of 5 will begin to participate in the rut. The dominant bull of the herd will drive all other males out and try to establish a breeding herd of 6 or 7 receptive cows (plus that cows’ offspring). The dominant bull will try to prevent cows from leaving his harem but he may at times have to defend his ranking from another bull. Here, the ritual is one of each bull rubbing his preorbital glands on his legs or ground and making a loud roar, then comes a strutting display of their horns, they will back up 65 ft (20 meters), lower their heads, and CHARGE. The decision may not be formalized at this point and head on pushing, horn hooking, and wrestling tactics may decide the outcome. Once the outcome is determined and one bull quits, the looser will go solo or join a bachelor herd of subordinates and elderly bulls. Should the solo bull need the protection of the herd, he will be allowed back!

August is the actual time at which mating occurs and although the foreleg kick is a dominance tactic, during mating season, it is used on estrous cows in order to calm the cow and make her more open to his advances.

Bulls in these harem groups can get quire aggressive and is the bull that makes all the decision for the group during mating season. However, once mating is complete and the cow enters its gestation period, it is the cow that takes charge of the group and decides how far the group will travel that day, where they will feed, and where they will rest. At the end of the summer the larger herds of Muskoxen form back up.

The gestation period for the cow is eight to nine months and it is in April or June that pregnant cows have their calves while with the herd. The calves are able to travel with the herd only a few hours after birth. The herd will move a lot after calving season in order to obtain enough nourishment to produce milk for their calves. Calves will nurse predominately for their first two month’s and there after will take in mother’s milk for a first year occasionally but will also be foraging on grasses and plants. Calves rely of the safety of the herd for traveling in, nursing with their mother, and safety and the bond between itself and its mother diminishes at about two years of age. 

Status of Muskox in Canada

Under the IUCN red list of threatened species, the Muskox is listed as of least concern (2008)

The story is somewhat of a success story for the Muskoxen. The herds of Muskox were just about wiped out as a food source for whalers and explorers along with trapping activities by fur traders. That happened by the early 1900’s and it was in 1917 that the Muskox in Canada became a protected species.

The herds of Muskox have since slowly recovered and hunting (since 1970) is now permitted in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Domestication attempts of Muskoxen have be tried in order to obtain meat, milk, and wool. A domestication failure (not economically viable) of muskox in Kuujjuag Quebec caused the wool farm financiers in 1973 to release their domesticated herds of 54 animals into the wild. By 2003, there were an estimated 1,400 muskox in northern Quebec.

A herd in Alaska was wiped out by 1920 and in 1934, 34 Muskoxen from Greenland were transferred to Alaska and by the year 2000, there were 4,000 muskoxen in Alaska. This success story is important to Canadians because some of that population is now spreading itself into the Yukon Territory.

Predators of the Muskox include Polar Bear, Grizzly Bear, and most notably the arctic wolf. In all cases, it the young, elderly, injured, and weak that is the target for predation

As with all species, parasites, diseases, worn teeth, age, weather conditions, and availability of food are the catch all that takes a toll in the late winter to early spring. For it is at this time that the fat reserves of the animal are at their lowest and then these fore mentioned factors come into play.



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