Harvest With Respect

Harvest With Respect - Caribou

Caribou play a huge role in northern life. They feed and clothe us – and have for centuries. Today, some herds are in serious trouble. You can help. Harvest with respect today, so your kids and grandkids have the choice tomorrow.  

What’s at stake

Indigenous leaders, Elders, and respected harvesters tell us they’re concerned for the future of caribou in the NWT.

Here are some tough numbers we’re facing today:

  • 99%: the amount the Bathurst caribou herd has declined in size since 1986.
  • 143: the number of caribou illegally hunted last year in the North Slave Region.

One part of the problem: illegal and disrespectful harvesting of caribou.

Harvesting with respect is a cornerstone of traditional values and practices, and a choice each hunter can make to do what’s right.

When you harvest with respect, you’re part of the solution.

What does respect mean?

Every community is guided by a set of traditional values, practices and customs when it comes to harvesting caribou.

Talking to Elders and Knowledge-Holders in your community and in life is always a good idea to learn more about these. Here are some common practices from across that NWT that you can use to show respect during your harvest.

Take only what you need

It’s the foundation of all respectful harvesting.
Before you harvest an animal, think: Do I really need that caribou? Does my family? If the answer is no, then don’t harvest it.  

Never waste or wound

Sight in your rifle, take your time, and harvest safely. Take everything from your harvest, including all the meat and hide. Never waste.  Scenes like this are heartbreaking – and it just doesn’t show respect to the animals.

Share what you have

A single caribou can feed a family of four for up to a month.

If you aren’t going to use all the meat you brought home, think about how you can share with people in need who can’t harvest for themselves. Talk to community leaders if you need on advice on people in need that you can share with. 

Talk to Elders, leaders, and respected harvesters

These are knowledge-holders who can share their teachings with you. Listen, take in what they tell you, and put it into practice.

Harvest bulls – leave the cows that produce calves for the future.

Breeding cows are very important for a caribou herd to stay healthy. Cows produce calves. Their calves grow into adults and produce more calves.

For every cow harvested, there will be less calves born in the future.

Don’t chase caribou

We may have powerful sleds at our disposal these days, but that doesn’t mean we should use them to chase caribou down.

Chasing caribou is hard on the animals and is disrespectful.

Elders have said when caribou get scared off, they may not come back. [Source: https://arctic-caribou.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/10-Protocols-AD-Caribou-with-notes.pdf]


Take your time – sight in your rifle, find a good spot, and choose the caribou you are going to harvest carefully.

Added benefit: the meat tastes better if the caribou isn’t scared when you shoot it!

Pass on the teachings

Sharing what you know with youth and new harvesters is how future generations will learn the ways to properly harvest. So, share the respectful harvesting practices. 

Harvest caribou legally

There are laws that help protect and conserve our barren-ground caribou, and it is important to follow them.   These laws are there for a reason, and were developed collaboratively with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations and other co-management partners.

Some of those rules for barren-ground caribou include:

  • Harvest restrictions:
    • In some areas, there are restrictions on the number of caribou that can be harvested by Indigenous harvesters.   This includes the Bluenose-East and Bluenose-West herds.
    • For some herds in significant decline, like the Bathurst, there is no harvest allowed by any harvesters. 
    • For others like the Cape Bathurst herd, there is no harvest allowed on part of the herd range.
    • For NWT resident harvesters, limited numbers of bull-only tags (2) are available for Porcupine caribou in G/BC/01 (except G/WP/01) and I/BC/05, and for Beverly caribou in U/BC/01 (1 tag).
  • Harvesting seasons: Harvesting can only happen during certain time periods.
  • Bull only harvest: In some places, you can only harvest bull (male) caribou.

The rules usually depend on:

  • Where you will be hunting in the NWT, and which herd you are hunting from.
  • What type of hunting licence you have.
  • Whether you have Indigenous harvesting rights in the area you will hunt.
  • Whether restrictions have been put in place for conservation reasons.

If you need assistance to understand the rules, we’re here to help – call your regional office and we can get you the information you need.

You can also check out our summary of hunting and trapping regulations in the NWT – you can find the rules for caribou on pages 32-37.

Help build a movement

You can use your voice to encourage others to harvest with respect. People you care about will listen to you. Here’s how to help:

Learn more about caribou in the NWT