There is no doubt that hunting methods have changed markedly with the introduction of modern hunting technologies.
Rifles, snowmobiles and planes, and aerial surveillance techniques have enabled hunters to more easily find and kill caribou. The exact impact of hunting is unknown, as across most of the north there are no reliable numbers on how many are taken. However, it is clear from both scientific and Indigenous knowledge sources that reducing hunting pressure plays a part in helping herds recover.
When we talk about hunting, for the most part, we are not talking about sport hunting but subsistence hunting. In some areas, sport hunting has been closed completely, such as hunting on the Leaf River herd in Nunavik (northern Quebec), and barren-ground caribou in the Northwest Territories. In Nunavut, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is considering limits on sport hunting for particular herds.
In Nunavut, concerns were raised after the caribou population on Baffin Island plummeted. A workshop report from 2013 noted that, “As the human population on Baffin Island increases (approx. 60% of all Nunavummiut), the demand for country food and basic needs level of harvest may be exceeding the sustainable replacement needs of the wild caribou population.” Demand can go far beyond any given region. There are now sales over the Internet, and caribou meat is shipped to a variety of places. As caribou populations decline, hunting often does not decline at the same rate, and so it can accelerate the decline of caribou herds.
A lack of respect for caribou is consistently raised as an issue by Indigenous knowledge sources from peoples across northern Canada. The lack of respect is shown by actions that do not follow traditional codes of behaviour in dealing with caribou. That respect can include preparations for the hunt, the way the hunt is managed, the way the meat is shared, the preparation of items made from the caribou, and the disposal of any leftover parts such as bones. The lack of respect is cited by several elders as a factor in the decline of local abundance of caribou.
One of the caribou management boards has put together some common elements of respectful practice in harvesting caribou:
- Respecting your neighbour’s traditional hunting lands.
- Sighting in your rifle and taking careful shots.
- Shooting bulls instead of cows, when possible, during periods when caribou herds are declining or small.
- Recovering your kill and all wounded animals.
- Handling and storing caribou meat and parts carefully.
- Leaving the land and waters clean and tidy.
- Making use of ALL parts of caribou.
Population Estimate of the Dolphin and Union Caribou herd (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus x pearyi) Coastal Survey, October 2018 and Demographic Indicators
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