Managing hunting

Due in part to the declines amongst most Arctic caribou populations, and in part because many of the caribou are located closest to primarily Indigenous communities, there is a limited amount of hunting by non-Indigenous people.


Non-Indigenous people resident within some areas can still hunt a limited number of caribou. Some hunting is sport hunting, where hunters from outside the region pay outfitters to take them on a hunt. Today, this accounts for a relatively small number of kills where it is permitted. For many herds, there is no sport hunting allowed. 

Indigenous peoples have harvest rights, but recognizing the dire situation of some of the herds some Indigenous governments and organizations have put in place both voluntary and enforced harvest restrictions. For instance, in 2015 the Wek'èezhìı Renewable Resources Board (WRRB) in the Northwest Territories placed a moratorium on hunting the Bathurst Caribou Herd. This is enforced through the Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Management Zone. In Nunavik (Northern Quebec) local leadership has put in place a prohibition on harvesting female caribou during the calving period. Where hunting does take place, estimating the size of the Indigenous subsistence harvest is an ongoing problem for managers, as reporting is voluntary. Despite efforts being undertaken by management boards, harvest information is still patchy.Hunting regulations for caribou populations tend to follow a pattern that recognizes the importance of caribou to Indigenous peoples, and their rights to hunt as defined in land claim agreements and legal judgements. For instance, the Beverly and Qaminirjuaq Caribou Management Board has priority of use categories that it follows when making harvest recommendations for the herds:

  1. traditional users - for domestic use
  2. resident users - for domestic use
  3. traditional or resident users - when guiding non-resident hunters
  4. local use - for commercial purposes
  5. export use - for commercial purposes

Regulations about how and when to hunt caribou can sometimes conflict with Indigenous codes of conduct. For instance, many Indigenous peoples who hunt caribou believe that the animal hunted gives itself to the hunter. To not accept the gift would be disrespectful and could lead to difficulties with later hunts.  Regulations that encourage the hunting of bulls over cows may also conflict with Indigenous knowledge. Science suggests that a reduction in the number of cows harvested from a herd can help the population increase through increased birth rates. Regulations that prohibit targeting cows at certain times of year put hunters following traditional codes in a dilemma. Some elders say that it is not a good idea to harvest mature bulls, as they are the leaders in the herd, and that removing larger bulls will weaken the strength of the herd.

Related news

Caribou are vanishing at an alarming rate. Is it too late to save them?

A magazine-length article giving an overview of some of the challenges facing caribou in Canada, and the impacts of caribou decline. It includes both barren-ground and woodland caribou.
7 September 2021 | Canadian Geographic

Colville Lake challenging caribou decision in court

A news story about the Northwest Territories community of Colville Lake (Behdzi Ahda First Nation) asking the NWT Supreme Court to rule on the application of the tag and quota system for caribou hunting. The community had developed its own conservation plan for hunting the Bluenose East herd, a plan that was approved by the Sahtu renewable Resources Board. The Territorial Minister of Environment and Natural Resources over-ruled the Board's decision citing the herd's continuing low numbers.
7 June 2021 | CBC north

Don’t waste caribou, Kivalliq HTO tells hunters

A spokesperson for the local Hunters and Trappers Organization in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut urges people to not waste parts of the caribou they hunt. The story speaks of anecdotal evidence that people are leaving less sought-after parts of the caribou behind. 
7 May 2021 | Nunatsiaq News (Nunavut)

ENR seeking information on wasted caribou in Aklavik

A news story about finding wasted caribou meat near Aklavik, NWT. Stories from earleir this year taked about wasted caribou meat in the Yellowknife region.
3 May 2021 | Cabin Radio (NWT)

Dene governments in N.W.T. launch ice road caribou harvest monitoring

An online news story about Indigenous governments monitoring caribou hunting along the ice road north of Yellowknife. Both the Tli'cho government and Yellowknives Dene have set up monitoring stations in the area, adding to the checks by the government of the Northwest Territories. The Indigenous-run checkpoints are not enforcing rules, just watching hunters and caribou.
19 April 2021 | APTN

Ulukhaktok asked not to hunt caribou until July 15

The Hunters and Trappers Association in the Victoria Island community of Ulukhaktok (NWT) has asked people to voluntarily hold off on hunting the Dolphin and Union caribou herd until calving is over this year. The unique herd migrates across the sea ice between the mainland and Victoria Island. At last count, the herd was down to about 4,000 animals. 
13 April 2021 | Cabin Radio (NWT)

Listen: Monitoring the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road for illegal caribou harvesting

A multimedia page, including an 11 minute sound file focusing on the problems with illegal hunting on the ice road north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
13 April 2021 | CKLB (NWT)

monitoring caribou on the winter road

This is an online story and 4'23" video talking about the efforts to monitor caribou hunting in the area north of Yellowknofe. Recent concerns about bad hunting practices, including meat wastage are mentioned.
2 April 2021 | Cabin radio (NWT)

Caribou pay when Dene laws are broken

An opinion column that talks about the importance of traditional Indigenous hunting practices for caribou conservation. The author lists some of the traditional hunting laws, and the responsibility of communities to enforce those laws.
29 March 2021 | Northern news service

Premier says government won’t regulate online caribou meat sales

The government of Nunavut says it cannot regulate the online sales of caribou meat after concerns were raised by local politicians about the impact of such sales on the  Qamanirjuaq herd. The government says it cannot interfere because of the terms of the Nunavut land claim, so the issue should be taken to the land claims organization, Nunavut Tunggavik Incorporated (NTI). NTI says the volume of sales and the impact on caribou numbers are uncertain, so it is "premature to propose restrictions".
22 March 2021 | Nunatsiaq News

No disrespect – but the Bathurst caribou situation is grim

This opinion piece talks about the impact of hunting from a winter road on the Bathurst caribou herd. The author suggests that the road, used to resupply diamond mines north of Yellowknife, should be closed to the public
17 March 2021 | NWT News/north

Illegal hunting of caribou herds along winter roads running rampant

A news story about an increase in caribou hunting infractions in the Northwest Territories. There are particular concerns about meat wastage and bad hunting practices along the access roads to the diamond mines northeast of Yellowknife. NWT officials say "they are currently investigating the illegal harvest of over 50 caribou so far this winter, compared to less than 10 at this point last year." 
10 March 2021 | CBC North

Innu caribou hunt sparks debate over territorial and hunting rights in Quebec

A 2:32 video story about an Innu hunt of the the Leaf River Caribou herd in northern Quebec. Other First Nations question the right of the Innu to hunt caribou in this region, although they don't seem to question the sustainability of the hunt.
18 February 2021 | APTN

The delicate art of stabilizing Yukon’s Fortymile caribou herd

A feature-length article on the new management plan for the Fortymile caribou herd in Yukon. The article talks about the role of hunting in managing the herd size, and the comanagement plans for the herd split between the Yukon government and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
21 December 2020 | The Narwhal

Kitikmeot caribou herd survey complete; interim hunting limit decision still under review

This nes story talk about a new survey being done on the Dolphin and Union Caribou herd. it also mentions that a proposed harvest limit on the herd is still not confirmed.
15 December 2020 | Nunavut News

Agreement signed for Fortymile caribou herd management plan

A story about the signing of an agreement between the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and the Yukon government on a management plan for the Fortymile caribou herd. The herd has been increasing, and management includes an allowable harvest. According to Yukon's Environment Minister, the management plan has three main goals, "promote a robust, sustainable population that will maximize the herd’s use of habitats within historical Yukon ranges; provide a phased approach to implementing harvest, given the long history of no-harvest of this herd; and increase knowledge and use of the herd through education and engagement."
15 December 2020 | yukon news

Community plans to lead caribou conservation in Sahtú region

This news story is about a decision by the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board (Northwest Territories) to approve a community-led approach to managing caribou. The communities of Colville Lake and Délı̨nę have already developed plans. Once the community plans are fully approved, a "total allowable harvest" quota system administered by the Renewable Resources Board will be lifted, although it can be reimposed if the Board thinks it necessary.
18 November 2020 | CKLB Radio

Hunting restrictions imposed after another Nunavut caribou herd dwindles

This news story talks about hunting restrictions being placed on the Dolphin and Union herd in Nunavut. The unique herd that migrates between the Victoria island and the mainland saw its population drop to about 4,000 in the last (2018) survey. The new quota allows people from local communities to take 42 caribou. Last year, just one community took as many as 200.
12 November 2020 | cbc north

Nunavut premier hears discontent over caribou quotas and meat sales at NTI meeting

News story from a meeting of the Nunavut land claim organization, Nunavut Tunggavik Incorporated. It cover discussions over quotas for caribou herds, and about the sustainability of selling of caribou meat between regions in Nunavut. Nunavut's premier points out that the right to sell or barter wild food is written into the Nunavut claim, so it is not something his government can regulate. 
21 October 2020 | Nunatsiaq news

Nunavut government limits hunting of Dolphin and Union caribou

The Nunavut government has restricted hunting of the Dolphin and Union herd to 42 animals this year, due to steep declines in the herd's size. The herd is classified as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
10 September 2020 | Nunatsiaq News

First Nation raises alarm after Yukon opens caribou hunt without herd management plan

A news story about a disagreement over opening up harvest of the Forty Mile herd (shared between Alaska and Yukon). The Yukon government has opened up a limited hunt of the herd. A local First Nation (Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in) that uses the herd doesn't believe it should be open to hunting until a management plan is in place.
26 August 2020 | Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

Nunavik pushes for its right to manage and harvest region’s caribou

The organization that represents Inuit in Nunavik (Northern Quebec) is working on an Inuit-led management plan for caribou in the region. They are concerned that the province does not recognize the priority of Inuit in hunting the caribou, and that federal government conservation planning does not distingush between the three herds in Nunavik. The herds in question (George River, Leaf River and Torngat Mountain) are all classified as Eastern Migratory Caribou.
21 July 2020 | Nunatsiaq News

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in organizes community hunt of Fortymile caribou to bridge generation gap

Members of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation (Yukon) are hunting caribou in the Fortymile herd for the first time in twenty years. The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in had voluntarily stopped hunting the caribou herd after its numbers dropped to a low of 6,500. The herd, that migrates between Yukon and Alaska is now estimated at 84,000.
13 July 2020 | CBC

Strategy to help NWT’s beleaguered caribou is released

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10 July 2020 | cabin radio

Inuit government renews call to respect ban on George River caribou harvest in Atlantic Canada

A 2020 news story about Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador Inuit region) beneficiaries and restrictions on caribou hunting.
28 January 2020 | RCI

Arctic Canada: Nunavut government asks to lower caribou hunt, which could impact local communities

A 2020 news story about the impacts of proposed changes to the total allowable harvest for Bluenose-East and Bathurst caribou herds. The story focuses on the Nunavut community of Kugluktuk.
13 January 2020 | CBC

Nunavut government asks to lower caribou hunt on Bluenose East herd, ban Bathurst harvest

A 2020 news story about the Nunavut government proposal to lower hunting quotas on the Bluenose-East herd, and eliminate the quota for the Bathurst herd. The story talks about community hardships that would result from the quota changes, and potential increased pressure on the Dolphin and Union herd.
13 January 2020 | CBC

First Nation bans Indigenous harvest of declining caribou herd in northern Quebec

The Cree Nation Government has voted in favour of a ban on Cree hunters harvesting caribou from the George River herd, whose numbers have seen a decline of 99 per cent since 2001.
8 January 2020 | Radio Canada International

Parties celebrate caribou management accord

Five Indigenous governments with a cultural connection to the Porcupine caribou have signed off on a new approach to manage the harvest if the herd gets into trouble.
28 August 2019 | Whitehorse Daily Star

Let them pass: PCMB recommends hunters stop harvesting Porcupine caribou during migration

Hunters are being urged to lay off harvesting Porcupine caribou so that the herd can make it to its traditional winter range.
7 August 2019 | Yukon News

Nunavut government appeals decision to halt case against Igloolik hunter

The Government of Nunavut says that the territory’s chief justice “erred” when he let an Igloolik hunter off the hook for illegally harvesting a caribou during the 2015 Baffin Island caribou ban.
30 July 2019 | Nunatsiaq News

Tradition versus technology: Northerners debate use of drones in caribou hunting

New N.W.T. wildlife regulations in effect since July 1 defer decision on drone use
8 July 2019 | CBC

Nunavut’s biggest caribou herd still faces downward trend, warns report

A 2019 news story on the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds that talks about the difficulty of tracking hunting numbers especially due to online sales of caribou meat. It is also critical of increased mineral exploration.
10 January 2019 | Nunatsiaq News

Population monitoring: Leaf River migratory caribou herd

The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) has released updated population information on the Leaf River migratory caribou herd. As of November 2018, the data show that the population is still declining.
13 December 2018 | CNW Quebec

Another Nunavut caribou herd faces decline

A 2016 news story about the Nunavut Government’s concern about Internet-driven sales of caribou meat.
4 March 2016 | Nunatsiaq News

Related resources


This 11 page document is the agreement by the NWT management authorities responsible for the northern population of mountain caribou (woodland caribou in northern mountain habitat) to add the caribou as "a species of Special Concern" under the NWT Species at Risk Act. The report says that Indigenous knowledge indicates that the population is in decline and that "...northern mountain caribou have the potential to become Threatened if the effects of climate change continue within their habitat and localized threats are not managed effectively."

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advisory committee for cooperation on wildlife management

This is the site for the Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management. It was established to exchange information, help develop cooperation and consensus, and make recommendations regarding wildlife and wildlife habitat issues that cross land claim and treaty boundaries in the Northwest Territories. The committee includes the Wildlife Management Advisory Council (NWT), Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board), Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board, Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board, and Tuktut Nogait National Park Management Board. The ACCWM covers three caribou herds, the Bluenose east and west herds, and Cape Bathurst.


This 70-page recovery strategy for barren-gound caribou in the Northwest Territories lays out plans to help the eight herds covered by the strategy. The strategy was required by the NWT Species at Risk Act after the barren-ground caribou were listed as "threatened" in 2018. The governments and co-management boards that developed the strategy have until April 9, 2021 to agree on the implementation of the recovery strategy. 
Conference of Management Authorities (2020)

Interview on Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management

Ever wonder how different jurisdictions cooperate on caribou management? Here's one example. An interview with Jody Pellissey, Executive Director of the Wekʼèezhìi Renewable Resources Board about the Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management (ACCWM). It was created to share information and coordinate wildlife management between wildlife management boards in the NWT and Nunavut, with a particular focus on the management of transboundary caribou herds.

“We’re Made Criminals Just to Eat off the Land”: Colonial Wildlife Management and Repercussions on Inuit Well-Being

This academic article looks at management of the Mealy Mountain Herd of woodland caribou in Nunatsiavut (Labrador), and the impacts of the management on Inuit in the nearby community of Rigolet. While the herd is not not covered by this site, the article raises issues of the exclusion of local people from meaningful input into management of the herd that have echoes across the northern caribou range. It concludes, "...the multi-generational and enduring negative effects of exclusionary and discriminatory Western management policies, enacted with little to no Indigenous involvement or consideration, is clear in this research, and illustrates not only the limitations of many western approaches to wildlife management, but the need for rectification and redress."

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Barren-ground Caribou Co-Management in the NWT

A 21-page booklet explaining the different responsibilities and authroities for managing all of the barren-ground caribou herds in the NWT. It includes information on responsibilities for herds that cross borders.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2019)

Recovery strategy for Barren-Ground caribou

This 62-page 2019 draft recovery strategy for barren-ground caribou in the NWT was produced by the group of wildlife boards and governments responsible for the conservation and recovery of species at risk in the NWT.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2019)

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Statutory Report on Wildlife to the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut

A 2018 report to the Nunavut Legislative on the state of wildlife in the territory. It includes a table (pp. 77-78) that lists “estimated demand for caribou, by herd, and the estimated level of capacity of that species to meet the demand.” The table shows that in many cases, demand exceeds capacity.
Government of Nunavut (2018)

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Managing hunting

The Importance of Respectful Harvest

This 12 minute video is part one of the "You can make a difference" video produced by the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (2017)

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Management Plan for Peary Caribou in Nunavut

A 2017 lengthy Nunavut government submission to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board on a management plan for Peary Caribou in Nunavut. The plan was to run from 2014-2020. It divides the caribou in Nunavut into nine different management units, and makes recommendations on harvest for each unit, and some other management actions that cover the whole population. Also includes a lot of feedback from community sources as it includes a consultation report.

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Cumulative Effects

This 10-minute video is part three of the "You can make a difference" video produced by the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (2017)

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A long time ago in the future: caribou and the people of Ungava

This document is the 2017 Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table strategy, devised by the several indigenous governments and organizations that share the herds. It has five action plans, listed in order of priority: 1) Indigenous Sharing Agreement; 2) Research and Monitoring Plan; 3) Habitat Management and Environmental Impact Plan; 4) Stewardship,Engagement, and Communication Plan; and, 5) Social and Economic Plan
NunatuKavut Community Council (2017)

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The Importance of Harvest Reporting

This 8-minute video is part two of the "You can make a difference" video produced by the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board  
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (2017)

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General Approach to Harvest Modeling for Barren-ground Caribou Herds in the NWT and Recommendations on Harvest Based on Risk Status

A 39-page academic paper from 2016 designed to help assess the impact of hunting on barren-ground caribou herds, based on the population size and trend of a given herd.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2016)

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COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), Barren-ground population in Canada - 2016

The 2016 assessment report on barren-ground caribou prepared by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC). It is a long, thorough and quite technical overview. It resulted in the Canadian populations of barren-ground caribou being designated “threatened” under the federal government system
Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) (2016)

Sample Sizes of Collared Barren-ground Caribou to Estimate Herd Size in Winter and Fall Management Areas to Allow Assesment of Harvest Risk

A 2016 academic paper that analyzes how many caribou it is necessary to collar to reliably define proportions of each herd in harvest areas in fall and winter. It concludes that at least 20 collars are required per herd.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2016)

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Technical Report on Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East Caribou Herds

A 90-page 2016 report presenting scientific knowledge and status of the Cape Bathurst, BluenoseWest and Bluenose-East caribou herds and gaps in knowledge.  One of two companion documents to "Taking Care of Caribou: The Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West and Bluenose-East Caribou Herds Management Plan"
Government of the Northwest Territories (2016)

We have been Living with the Caribou all our Lives: a report on information recorded during community meetings

A 196-page report from 2014 from The Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management (a collection of wildlife management/renewable resources boards from the NWT and Nunavut). This report details community input to a management plan for the Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, and Bluenose-East herds
Advisory Committee for Cooperation on Wildlife Management (2014)

Engaging Bluenose Caribou Communities

This lengthy 2014 report contain notes from all the community meetings that fed into the management plan for three herds (Bluenose-East and West and Cape Bathurst). It is the result of consultation sessions in 17 communities in the NWT and Nunavut. It contains much Indigneous knowledge about the caribou, but the report cautions that it “...should not be seen as a complete record of the traditional and community knowledge that exists about these caribou.”
Wekʼèezhìi Renewable Resources Board (WRRB) (2014)

Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Plan 2013-2022

A 117-page plan published in 2014, that lays out management for the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq herds. There are also shorter summary versions of this plan available on the management board's website.
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (2013)

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Working together for Baffin Island Caribou

A brief 2013 workshop report which examines the causes and impacts of the decline of caribou on Baffin Island, and suggests some management measures.
Government of Nunavut (2013)

Three Decades of Caribou Recovery Programs in Yukon: A Paradigm Shift in Wildlife Management

A relatively brief paper published by the Yukon government in 2009, it summarizes the experience of the managing five different Yukon herds (mostly non-migratory). It suggests that both harvest management and wolf management have been effective methods, and emphasises that managing impacts on herds, such as development and harvest impacts are preferable to costly recovery programs
Yukon Department of Environment (2009)

Tuktu- 10- The Caribou Hunt

A 1968 National Film Board of Canada production, this 14 minute film shows traditional caribou hunting techniques of the Netsilik Inuit
National Film Board (1968)

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Hunting caribou in the fall

A 4':05" video on traditional knowledge of Inuit regarding hunting caribou in the fall. In Inuktitut with English subtitles.
Government of Nunavut

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Managing hunting

Bathurst Caribou Range Plan - Response

A response by Canadian Arctic Resources Committee to the Bathurst Herd Range Plan
Canadian Arctic Resources Committee (CARC)

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