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. 


Related news

Decades-long plan to protect caribou in Nunavut nearing completion

An online article and associated radio broadcast about the near-completion on the Nunavut Land Use Plan, and its implications for caribou conservation.
13 October 2021 | CBC radio

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

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

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10 September 2020 | Nunatsiaq News

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

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26 August 2020 | Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

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

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Parties celebrate caribou management accord

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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

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8 July 2019 | CBC

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."

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: web

Managing huntingRange managementClimate changeHuman disturbanceHunting

Population Estimate of the Dolphin and Union Caribou herd (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus x pearyi) Coastal Survey, October 2018 and Demographic Indicators

This 49 page (in English) report contains executive summaries in Inuktitut (both syllabics and western orthography). It shows that the Dophin and Union herd has declined to an estimated 4,105 in 2018, down from 17,000 in 2015. The Dophin and Union herd is unique, being neither barren-ground nor Peary caribou. It migrates between Victoria Island and the mainland. 
Government of Nunavut (2020)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf

Dolphin and UnionClimate changeHunting

Barren-ground Caribou Survey Results FAQ

A 6-page document on the barren-ground caribou surveys conducted by the Government of the Northwest Territories in 2018.
Government of the Northwest Territories (2018)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf


Innu Nation threatening future of George River caribou

A news release from the Nunatsiavut Government talking about the strained relations with the neighboring Innu over hunting of the George River herd.
Nunatsiavut Government (2018)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf

George RiverHunting

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)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: video

Beverly and QaminirjuaqManaging huntingHunting

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)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: video

Beverly and QaminirjuaqManaging huntingHunting

Caribou Sex Identification Card - Carte postale : Identification du caribou

A poster showing how to tell the difference between male and female caribou.  
Government of the Northwest Territories (2017)

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Format: pdf


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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Format: video

Beverly and QaminirjuaqManaging huntingPeopleHunting

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)

Usage: Non-commercial with attribution
Format: pdf

Barren-groundManaging huntingHunting

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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Format: pdf

Barren-groundManaging huntingHunting

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)

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)

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)