Conservation officers are investigating two separate incidents of caribou being shot and abandoned in northern Yukon this month.
At least six caribou have been found in Old Crow and along the Dempster Highway, according to officer Shawn Hughes, but there are unconfirmed reports six more were shot and abandoned near the border with the Northwest Territories.
On the morning of Oct. 9, Old Crow residents reported that a caribou and her calf appeared to have been abandoned near the road to the community’s gravel pit.
The animals were found shot with their guts still intact, Hughes said.
Officers have since received information it’s possible they were simply wounded, got away from hunters and died, he added.
“We’re still working on the details but we’re particularly interested in speaking to people who might have been hunting in that area on that morning,” Hughes said.
It’s hard to tell the difference between an animal that has been shot and deliberately abandoned, and one that was simply wounded and lost, Hughes said.
Sometimes clues present themselves but the best way to determine what really happened is to speak to people.
“At this point we’re just trying to get some names to get the ball rolling,” he said.
On Oct. 15, hunters came across four bull caribou that had been shot and abandoned near kilometre 461 along the Dempster Highway.
The caribou were visible from the road, about 600 metres away, with their antlers sticking out of the snow. They were spread over a distance of 300 metres, Hughes said.
About 2,000 caribou were passing through the area last week when Hughes was there, he estimated.
He presented a few theories about what may have happened.
“It could be an issue that someone ended up with one too many,” he said.
“If you’re shooting into a herd you end up with wounded caribou, and unknown numbers of animals falling down. You can only fit so many in a truck.
“Also, the caribou are in the middle of a rut now, so the large mature bulls are often stinkier and the meat isn’t as good table fare at the moment.”
Hughes said posters have been put up throughout the northern communities to encourage people to speak out, if they know anything.
Wasting meat is a violation of the Yukon Wildlife Act and penalties can range from $100 to tens of thousands, Hughes said, depending on the case.
Joseph Tetlichi, chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, said more has to be done to educate people about proper hunting practices.
That might include going to Old Crow and along the Dempster Highway when the harvest season starts, to speak to hunters in person, he said.
“Everybody that goes out there should be helping each other and showing leadership,” he said.
“There are always a few bad apples in the basket and that gives bad publicity to hunters who have good intentions.”
As it stands, the board has a hunter education package that it distributes to communities, and offers gun safety courses to local hunters and trappers associations.
It’s encouraging hunters to use scopes on their high-powered rifles, to help avoid killing more than one at a time.
“Sometimes you think you’ve got one but the bullet went through and killed another,” he added.
For now, the board is trying to look at the positive side of things.
Tetlichi, who visited the area last week, said he was encouraged by seeing families going out and hunting together.
“I saw young kids skinning caribou with their parents. That’s hunter education and that’s really encouraging,” he said.
The latest numbers from the management board place the herd size at about 197,000 animals – an increase of 28,000 caribou from the last estimate made in 2010.
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