Hearne's expedition hunts some musk-ox and he describes their habits and the taste of their flesh. They avoid eating lean animals, and one day they kill 1,770 animals demonstrating how easy it is to hunt them.
July 7, 1771
A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772
On the seventh, we had a fresh breeze at North West, with some flying showers of small rain, and at the same time a constant warm sunshine, which soon dissolved the greatest part of the new-fallen snow. Early in the morning we crawled out of our holes, which were on the North side of the Stony Mountains, and walked about eighteen or twenty miles to the North West by West. In our way we crossed part of a large lake on the ice, which was then far from being broken up. This lake I distinguished by the name of Buffalo, or Musk-Ox Lake, from the number of those animals that we found grazing on the margin of it; many of which the Indians killed, but finding them lean, only took some of the bulls' hides for shoe-soals. At night the bad weather returned, with a strong gale of wind at North East, and very cold rain and sleet.
This was the first time we had seen any of the musk-oxen since we left the Factory. It has been observed that we saw a great number of them in my first unsuccessful attempt, before I had got an hundred miles from the Factory; and indeed I once perceived the tracks of two of those animals within nine miles of Prince of Wales's Fort. Great numbers of them also were met with in my second journey to the North: several of which my companions killed, particularly on the seventeenth of July one thousand seven hundred and seventy. They are also found at times in considerable numbers near the sea-coast of Hudson's Bay, all the way from Knapp's Bay to Wager Water, but are most plentiful within the Arctic Circle. In those high latitudes I have frequently seen many herds of them in the course of a day's walk, and some of those herds did not contain less than eighty or an hundred head. The number of bulls is very few in proportion to the cows; for it is rare to see more than two or three full-grown bulls with the largest herd: and from the number of the males that are found dead, the Indians are of opinion that they kill each other in contending for the females. In the rutting season they are so jealous of the cows, that they run at either man or beast who offers to approach them; and have been observed to run and bellow even at ravens, and other large birds, which chanced to light near them. They delight in the most stony and mountainous parts of the barren ground, and are seldom found at any great distance from the woods. Though they are a beast of great magnitude, and apparently of a very unwieldy inactive structure, yet they climb the rocks with great ease and agility, and are nearly as sure-footed as a goat: like it too, they will feed on any thing; though they seem fondest of grass, yet in Winter, when that article cannot be had in sufficient quantity, they will eat moss, or any other herbage they can find, as also the tops of willows and the tender branches of the pine tree. They take the bull in August, and bring forth their young the latter end of May, or beginning of June; and they never have more than one at a time.
The musk-ox, when full grown, is as large as the generality, or at least as the middling size, of English black cattle;[AJ] but their legs, though large, are not so long; nor is their tail longer than that of a bear; and, like the tail of that animal, it always bends downward and inward, so that it is entirely hid by the long hair of the rump and hind quarters: the hunch on their shoulders is not large, being little more in proportion than that of a deer: their hair is in some parts very long, particularly on the belly, sides, and hind quarters; but the longest hair about them, particularly the bulls, is under the throat, extending from the chin to the lower part of the chest, between the fore-legs; it there hangs down like a horse's mane inverted, and is full as long, which makes the animal have a most formidable appearance. It is of the hair from this part that the Esquimaux make their musketto wigs, and not from the tail, as is asserted by Mr. Ellis; their tails, and the hair which is on them, being too short for that purpose. In Winter they are provided with a thick fine wool, or furr, that grows at the root of the long hair, and shields them from the intense cold to which they are exposed during that season; but as the Summer advances, this furr loosens from the skin, and, by frequently rolling themselves on the ground, it works out to the end of the hair, and in time drops off, leaving little for their Summer clothing except the long hair. The season is so short in those high latitudes, that the new fleece begins to appear, almost as soon as the old one drops off; so that by the time the cold becomes severe, they are again provided with a Winter-dress.
The flesh of the musk-ox noways resembles that of the Western buffalo, but is more like that of the moose or elk; and the fat is of a clear white, slightly tinged with a light azure. The calves and young heifers are good eating; but the flesh of the bulls both smells and tastes so strong of musk, as to render it very disagreeable: even the knife that cuts the flesh of an old bull will smell so strong of musk, that nothing but scouring the blade quite bright can remove it, and the handle will retain the scent for a long time. Though no part of a bull is free from this smell, yet the parts of generation, in particular the urethra, are by far the most strongly impregnated. The urine itself must contain the scent in a very great degree; for the sheaths of the bull's penis are corroded with a brown gummy substance, which is nearly as high-scented with musk as that said to be produced by the civet cat; and after having been kept for several years, seems not to lose any of its quality.