by Joanne Devenish
I am deeply saddened and disappointed by my recent firsthand observations of some caribou hunting practices north of Rock River up the Dempster Highway on October 14 and 15.
I drove north to observe the caribou migration that has once again graced our northern Dempster Highway - thousands of animals moving south. I was aware that hunting had started but was not prepared for what I saw. The first incidence, 100-150 metres off the highway, was an injured caribou - still standing very precariously and quite obviously hurt, with the hunter standing four to five metres away doing nothing. The hunter made no attempt to shoot the animal or end its distress.
That evening I was back at Eagle Plains Hotel and sat down with a couple of local hunters to discuss what I had seen. I was told immediately that the hunters were likely trying to “conserve bullets” and that this is the way hunting is done in the north. I was also told that two bullets are always kept in reserve for the grizzly bear that may attack them while they are gutting the animal, regardless of whether there are hurt or wounded animals still alive. “Sometimes, we will cut the neck, but it can be dangerous to get close to an animal that is hurt.”
The following day, I again drove up north - passing hunters with as many as eight to 10 animals on the side of the road. I came to a large open area of tundra with hundreds of animals. Racing after the caribou were three skidoos, with animals running in all directions. In my opinion, this was harassment of these animals.
On my return drive, I came across a small herd of 10 caribou running down the highway - one bull and the rest cows and calves. I followed slowly from a distance. They then crossed onto the tundra, except for one animal that was behaving strangely.
I got out of the vehicle, and the animal started moving towards me. I then saw the blood on the front of her neck and heard her terrible rasping breathing, obviously coming from a hole in her windpipe (trachea). There was not a hunter in sight. I watched and listened to this hurt animal and was unable to do anything, as I did not have a rifle. I flagged down the next vehicle I saw - they were hunters and asked them to assist.
I read the article from the Oct. 23 Yukon News, “Porcupine caribou found shot and abandoned,” which offers possible scenarios for why caribou would be shot and abandoned: “Someone ended up with one too many ... 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,” and mature bulls are stinkier now because of the rut and are not good table fare.
These are all very poor excuses for extremely poor hunting practices. Since when is shooting into a herd considered acceptable, with the obvious consequences of wounded and abandoned animals (which is likely what happened to the female I had observed with her trachea shot) or shooting too many that you can’t load onto your truck?
I do not know if the information given to me regarding “conserving bullets” is commonplace, but nevertheless, a rather cruel and antiquated practice when you consider the money spent in putting gas in the tank to get to the hunting grounds. I do not think that children accompanying their parents and watching these scenarios are being exposed to good hunting practices.
We live in a first world country, and in this day and age we should feel obliged to manage wildlife responsibly, where cruelty to our animals should not be tolerated. I urge our hunters to be humane in their hunting practices and to treat the animals bestowed us with respect.
Joanne Devenish lives in Dawson City