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Caribou Hunting in Canada

At first glance, the Canadian caribou looks like an ungainly animal. Looks can be deceiving; this big game deer is perfectly adapted to withstand the environment in which they live. The caribou’s long legs allow it to move through thick snow and its body, stocky and short, allows it to conserve heat. The Canadian caribou is closely related to both domesticated and wild reindeer that live in Eurasia.

The caribou is unique among its peers because not only do males develop antlers, but the females do as well. They are swift runners and during warm, insect ridden months can run long distances to escape from annoying flying insects. They are able to survive harsh winter conditions because they feed on lichens, their primary source of food in the northern rangelands.

Subspecies of the Canadian Caribou

There are four subspecies of caribou that are native to Canada. The woodland caribou, barren-ground found west of the McKenzie River, Peary, and the barren-ground caribou that is found east of the McKenzie River. The Queen’s Island or Dawson’s woodland caribou populations began to die out in the 30s and in 1984 were finally declared extinct.

The Canadian Caribou Population

It is thought that there are more than two million caribou found in Canada. They live in a variety of areas from mountains and forests to the tundra in the far north and some migrate great distances. The darkest and largest is the woodland caribou. They make their home from Labrador and Newfoundland to the Yukon Territory and British Columbia. Their range is typically in the boreal forest or regions of the western Canadian mountain ranges.

Some herds have been known to make long journeys between seasons from forested areas to the tundra. Quebec and Labrador are home to the George River and Leaf River herds which are said to be the largest herds found in North America. The Leaf River herds have approximately 600,000 individuals and the George River herds have approximately 400,000 members.

The Peary caribou is only found in the artic archipelago of Canadian islands. They are light colored and small and don’t migrate much but do travel among the islands. There are only about 10,000 of the Peary Caribou.

About half the Canadian caribou population is barren-ground. From Alaska to Baffin Island is where they spend all or most of the year on the tundra. The more than one million barren-ground caribou gather in eight migrating herds.

Though there are still a large number of Canadian caribou, some of the populations of particular subspecies have been labeled at risk by COSEWIC or the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Importance of Canadian Caribou to the Economy and Culture

It is believed that humans have had a long relationship with Canadian caribou. Findings in the Yukon Territory from archeological digs suggest that the hunting of caribous has been going on for at least 13,000 years. Tribes of aboriginals and the Inuit’s culture were often based on caribou. They could not have survived the harsh conditions of the north without them. Every part of the caribou was used for their survival and they are still an important resource in Canada today.

Labrador, Newfoundland, British Colombia and the Yukon Territory depend upon the hunters that descend on these provinces during caribou hunting season. Not only do hunters bring in important tourism dollars, but many nature lovers and photographers travel to these regions to see the amazing spectacle of migrating caribou herds. These tourists are also important to the economy.

Canadian Caribou Hunting Tips

Because of the long distances required to travel when hunting the Canadian caribou, it is often recommended that hunters arrange their trips with an outfitter. A herd of caribou must first be located and once the hunter has bagged his prey, the antlers and the meat must be brought back.

With an outfitter, it is the guides that will perform most of the hard work such as lugging meat and supplies. Many recommend that for an adventurous and easy way to hunt for Canadian caribou is using horses. Riding a horse, hunters will be able to cover more ground and will not be as physically taxed than if they were walking.

The bush tractor is fast gaining popularity as a mode of transportation when hunting Canadian caribou. They can carry the heavy equipment as well as the meat and trophies when hunters have made their kill. Often a combination of horses and bush tractors are typically used to hunt for caribou in remote regions.

Before any hunting can be done, a herd must be first located. Scouting from high areas in the open using a spotting scope or high powered binoculars allows hunters to survey the area. Once a herd is spotted, hunters get within rifle range and then stalk the movement of the animals. Caribou can be unpredictable so hunters should watch them in order to predict their movements for an hour or more.

When the caribou has bedded down, it is a good time to observe them as they stay this way for a few hours. When they rise to feed, their heads should be pointing in the opposite direction from the hunter who should then find a natural obstruction and move slowly closer. Ideally the hunter will be approximately 300-400 yards away from the caribou before they attempt a shot to kill.

The Canadian caribou is a magnificent animal with a worthy trophy and hunting for these animals is quite different from the methods used to hunt other big game. It involves traveling to where the herds are which can be quite a distance from civilization. It takes patience and perseverance and a bit of skill with a rifle in order to bag this highly prized animal. Hunters that choose the best outfitters will often be the ones that come home with their reward.
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