User:BullRangifer/Reindeer hunting in Greenland

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A large male Reindeer.

Reindeer hunting in Greenland is of great importance to Inuit and sporting hunters, both residents and tourists. Reindeer (Caribou) are an important source of meat, and harvesting them has always played an important role in the history, culture, and traditions of the Inuits and Greenland. It is a multifaceted phenomenon and its "whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

As an important renewable natural resource the welfare of reindeer must be safeguarded. They are a highly preferred source of meat, and controlled hunting – as an important part of the Inuit culture and a component of modern wildlife management – is essential for the well-being and mutual interests of both Inuits and reindeer.


In Greenland more reindeer are harvested than any other big game land mammal species. Reindeer meat is an important staple in most households, and the populace waits with great anticipation for the yearly hunting season to begin. It is an opportunity to stock up the kitchen pantry and freezer with meat for the coming season and to enjoy the adventure of the hunt.

Reindeer hunting by humans has a very long history.[1] Wild reindeer have been hunted as a source of food, clothing, shelter, and tools by the Inuit; the indigenous peoples that populate the Arctic and colder regions. Methods that they have employed include crossbow, bow and arrow, snares, driving, trapping pits, driving them into lakes and spearing them from kayaks, and now using hunting firearms. The entire reindeer, including fur, skin, antlers, and bones have been used. Their meat, viscera, and even stomach contents, have all been utilized as food, both raw, dried, smoked, and cooked. Now they are primarily hunted by residents and tourists for their meat, but mature animals with large antlers may also be the objects of trophy hunting.

Game harvesting conditions can be extreme, so one should be cautious and never underestimate the forces of nature. Greenland is large and long, with widely differing customs, regulations, and weather patterns, depending on the region and season. It is important to familiarize oneself with the local conditions, laws, and regulations before entering the wilderness. The sensitive wilderness nature should be enjoyed, respected, and protected, and one should "leave nothing but footprints" when leaving it.

Inuit identity: hunting and reindeer[edit]

Important status of the hunting experience[edit]

Reindeer hunting has a special status in the hearts of the populace. Shooting a musk ox provides four times as much meat as a reindeer, but "Greenlanders would much rather have caribou or reindeer meat than musk ox meat," says Josefine Nymand.[2]

"But the experience is just as important [as the meat]," points out Peter Nielsen, Head of Office at the Ministry of Environment and Nature. "It is simply the most wonderful part of the year. The trips in for the caribou hunt in the beautiful autumn weather have a great social and physical meaning for people's wellbeing. It has many functions."[2]

The Greenland Home Rule Government states:

"Hunting is the heart and soul of Greenlandic culture.... Hunting is also very important from a cultural perspective. In a society such as Greenland, which for centuries was based on subsistence hunting (until about fifty years ago), hunting is still of great cultural importance. Irrespective of the fact that most live like wage-earners in a modern industrial society, many Greenlanders identity is still deeply rooted in the hunting."[3]

Inuits clearly express their identity in the 21st century:

"The Inuit culture is the most pure hunting culture in existence. Having adapted to the extreme living conditions in the High Arctic of the North American continent for at least 4.000 years, Inuit are not even hunters-gatherers, Inuit are hunters pure and simple." (Henriette Rasmussen, Minister of Culture, Education and Research, Greenland Home Rule Government. Speech 'Sustainable Greenland', 2005.)[4]

Inuit welfare and hunting culture[edit]

The long history of mutual dependence between humans and reindeer necessitates continuing efforts to safeguard their relationship and the welfare of both parties. Reindeer hunting – which is also commonplace in many other parts of the world – is considered so vital to certain groups that there is an attempt[5][6][7] being made to get it placed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.[8]

An Inuit family (1917)

The identity of Inuits is closely tied to their geography, history and their attitudes toward hunting – "For Inuit, ecology, hunting and culture are synonymous."[9] – and their identity as hunters is under attack. Those attacks are "... viewed in the Arctic as a direct assault on culture, identity as well as sustainable use,"[10] and Inuits are reacting:

"... for the Inuit, animal-rights campaigns are just the latest in a long litany of religious, industry, and government policies imposed by outsiders – policies which ignore Inuit values and realities, and threaten the survival of one of the world's last remaining aboriginal hunting cultures."[11]

Therefore the circumpolar peoples and their organizations are actively engaged in attempts to protect their welfare, identity, interests, and culture, including their hunting culture. The "Kuujjuaq Declaration"[12] addressed perceived attacks on their autonomy and rights, and recommended that the Inuit Circumpolar Conference "undertake a comprehensive study on how best to address global forces, such as the 'animal rights' and other destructive movements that aim to destroy Inuit sustainable use of living resources, and to report back to the next General Assembly on its findings."[13] The International Arctic Science Committee shares these viewpoints and therefore one of its objectives is to study the "sustainable use of living resources of high value to Arctic residents."[14]

Reindeer welfare, sustainability, and quotas[edit]

Research scientists are aware of these objectives. They constantly monitor the welfare, living conditions, and health of reindeer, and they make recommendations and set quotas designed to ensure that game resources are protected, managed, and maintained.[15][16][17] Many factors, some of them difficult to measure or predict, are analyzed including natural cycles, parasites, disease, short-term weather conditions (extra hard winter or very warm summer), and long-term climatic changes. Hunting is far from the only factor affecting reindeer welfare, but it is one area that can be managed to some degree.

Since reindeer in southwestern Greenland have no naturally occurring non-human predators,[18] harvesting quotas are established to help regulate the number of reindeer in an area and prevent over-grazing and death from starvation. The effort of pawing down through the snow to their favorite food (a lichen known as reindeer moss) during the winter can cost them too many calories in expended energy to find enough food to survive, causing them to lose strength and die.[19][20][21] Without human intervention, mass starvation of reindeer would be a recurring problem.

Harvesting recommendations are also based on other prognostic factors, among them reindeer population density estimates, total population in various regions, and availability of adequate food sources.[22] Since these can vary radically over time for each region, the recommendations and quotas are constantly adapted to the local needs,[17] sometimes quite radically. Greenland's reindeer population has historically fluctuated widely. For example, it numbered around 100,000 in the early 1970s and then dropped to 9,000 in 1993.[23] Regulations reflected these changes and harvesting was suspended from the summer of 1993 until the autumn of 1995, whereupon hunting was once again allowed.[24][2] In 2006 the numbers were estimated to be more than 100,000.[25]


See: Reindeer category for more information.


Reindeer (or Caribou)[26] (also called tuttu by the Greenlandic Inuits[27] and rensdyr or rener by Danes) are the only deer species in which both sexes have antlers. Greenland animals can vary considerably in size, with females weighing up to 90 kg (198 lb) and the males 150 kg (331 lb). Other species of reindeer can be larger or smaller. In Greenland both sexes may be hunted. Although they have antlers, they do not normally use them against humans, even when backed into a corner. Their only defense against humans is to pull away or flee, often uphill. Males use their antlers when sparring against each other, and reindeer may use them as a last resort to defend themselves against predators such as wolves[28] (although wolves present no threat in southwestern Greenland).[18]

The wild reindeer is a shy animal and it reacts very quickly to sudden sounds or movements as well as the smell of strangers.[29] In spite of this, reindeer can also be curious.[30] Inexperienced animals may even approach quite closely to a hunter and curiously observe while the hunter is field dressing a downed animal. They have good hearing and a good sense of smell, but have poor eyesight. They may react to a hunter's movements, but not necessarily to his form if he doesn't move. Under the right conditions, a stealthy hunter may be able to approach surprisingly close to a reindeer, even when he is in full sight of the animal. Many animals are shot at relatively close range (10-50 meters).

Three subspecies in Greenland[edit]

Three[24] subspecies of reindeer live in western Greenland:

The most common variety of reindeer in Greenland is the native wild Barren-ground Caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus), which is a medium sized race of reindeer and is also found in Canada.

The feral semi-domestic reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), brought from Norway in 1952, are larger and were first introduced at a game reserve in the Kapisillit region of Godthåb's fjord. They were herded by Sami herders,[31] with controlled harvesting and meat preparation in a now-abandoned slaughter house at Itinnera.[32][33] "Later animals from Kapisillit were released at several more locations to establish feral populations, which might support a hunting harvest. There is evidence for genetic mixing of native caribou and feral reindeer at some of the locations where reindeer were released."[16][34]

A third type of reindeer that may possibly[24] belong to the Peary Caribou subspecies (Rangifer tarandus pearyi), are smaller and fewer in number, and live in northwestern Greenland.[35]

Reindeer hunting[edit]

Practical details[edit]

See: Hunting category for more information.

Two main types of hunters are involved in harvesting reindeer: licensed commercial hunters and private resident sporting hunters, with tourists, trophy hunters, and research scientists harvesting a few more animals.

Transportation to and from hunting areas is nearly always done by boat. The rest of the transportation is by foot. If the hunting area is far inland, it may involve carrying equipment to a lake, and then transporting it across the lake to a campsite using a smaller type of boat, such as a rowboat, canoe (including collapsible models), or a rubber inflatable boat. Some lakes have boats permanently left (or hidden in the bushes) near the shores, and they are sometimes used by hunters (not necessarily the owners) who frequent the area.

In 2007 the only hunting weapons allowed for reindeer harvesting were bolt action, non-automatic rifles, using .222 Remington caliber cartridges or larger. A good, large rifle scope is important, as shots at longer distances may be necessary, and visibility may be poor because of snowfall, fog, or limited lighting levels. Folding or fixed-blade hunting knives are necessary for many purposes. Binoculars with large objective diameter are used to spot prey at great distances, sometimes in waning light.

Rifles (both bolt action and semi-automatic) of other calibers, shotguns, and other types of weapons may be used for other game such as ptarmigan, arctic hares, and arctic foxes.

Harvesting is governed by regulations[36] and requires licensing and/or permits and reporting of results. Permits and information should be obtained from the local municipality.

In 2006 the open season extended from August 10 - September 15. Winter hunting is an option for those specially licensed as commercial hunters.

Hunting methods[edit]

There are several methods that can be used (often in combination) for harvesting reindeer:

  • Scouting: A variety of tasks and techniques for finding reindeer to hunt.
  • Stalking: Walking stealthily, often in pursuit of identified reindeer.
  • Still hunting: The practice of walking stealthily in search of animals.
  • Tracking: Interpreting and following physical evidence in the pursuit of reindeer.
  • Blind or Stand hunting: Waiting where reindeer are likely to travel.
  • Camouflage hunting: Concealing oneself visually to blend in with the environment, for example using a white anorak in snowy weather.
  • Drive hunting: Flushing reindeer toward other hunters.
  • Glassing: The use of optical instruments (such as binoculars) to locate animals more easily.
  • Asking: Ask an experienced reindeer hunter for advice.

Note: Loose dogs and dog driving are not allowed.

Game preparation and transport[edit]

Modern folding knives

Once downed, a reindeer should be quickly field dressed by removing the viscera. The skin and viscera are often discarded and left for consumption by foxes, ravens, and other birds. The meat should then be kept cool to minimize spoilage and should also be protected from flies by the use of mesh game bags.[37] The cool climate means that the meat can be kept out in the open longer than in warmer climates, therefore a hunting expedition can last several days without a serious loss of meat quality. Once home again, the meat can be hung and aged for a few days before further processing.[38]

Carrying a reindeer over a long distance in mountainous terrain can be difficult. (More than five kilometers is not uncommon.) If it is very large, one may only be able to transport one half at a time. In Greenland reindeer meat is commonly carried over the shoulders,[21] possibly tied to a backpack frame or carried on the back with support from a headband (the method preferred by Inuits). Unskinned game may also be dragged[39] on snow, or allowed to slide down steep, snow-covered hillsides.


See: Camping category and Firearms category for more information.
Large internal-frame backpack

Basic camping equipment checklist: (*)

(*) Note: List should be adapted to personal needs and type of hunt.

(Format inspired by Colin Fletcher's "The Complete Walker".)

Be prepared: a word of caution[edit]

See: Survival skills category for more information.

Greenland is quite unusual in many ways, and a reindeer hunt can not only engage one's most primitive hunter/provider instincts, it can also press one's limits in many ways related to survival. A reindeer hunt can be a short afternoon outing without much equipment, or a week-long affair with all the equipment that such an endeavor requires. New hunters may experience a form of "culture shock"[40] the first time they enter the wilderness, and may require mental "acclimatization" when returning to civilization. It may feel like a fleeting period of mental confusion, similar to the sea legs experienced by boaters.

Reindeer harvesting can be done in groups or alone, but being alone can be a risky affair, so safety precautions should be taken. If any members of the hunting party hunt alone, the other members should know approximately where the others are located, and emergency signals (using gunshots, whistles, flares, radios, etc.) to each other should be agreed upon in advance. All should be back in camp before a certain time in the evening, unless specific arrangements have been made.

While reindeer harvesting is usually a pleasant experience and the following problems may never be encountered, it can also be exhausting and one should seek to avoid injuries and protect oneself from hazards.

Good hygeine and adequate hydration can limit infections, diarrhea, and gastroenteritis. A small first aid kit should be carried when away from one's campsite or boat, and one should be prepared for various hazards of outdoor activities. The terrain can be hilly, mountainous, uneven, stony, with hidden crevices or holes. It may also be marshy, muddy, and wet. It may be necessary to cross streams and rivers, and slippery rocks present a hazard. If there is snow and ice, there can be cornices, crevasses, and avalanches, although snow can make it easier to spot and track reindeer.

See: Weather hazards category for more information.

While the weather during the autumn hunting season can be pleasant, warm, and mild, it can change very quickly. Be prepared for fog, rain, and wind. Occasionally the situation can quickly approach a worst case scenario, so one should also be prepared for things like katabatic winds, storms, snow, hail, sleet, freezing rain, blizzards, and polar cyclones, even in the late summer. Lack of preparation can have fatal consequences. Remain oriented at all times. Use a compass and landmarks, but don't depend exclusively on landmarks, as they will disappear in bad weather and darkness.

Using a compass in Greenland involves accounting for a very radical[41] magnetic variation. Failure to calculate correctly can send one in the opposite direction one believes and anticipates, leading to complete loss of bearings. Getting lost in bad weather can waste precious time, forcing one to overnight in very wet, cold, and unpleasant conditions. Hypothermia can further complicate matters and decrease one's ability to think clearly, causing one to lose one's bearings even more. A fight for survival may then ensue. Deaths are relatively rare, but they do happen.

Even during the best of conditions, one should not bite off more than one can chew or take any chances, especially if alone. Distances can be very deceiving in the clean Greenlandic air. One must also get back to one's campsite with one's prey, so one should gauge the distance, one's own condition, and the weight of the prey with care. What seemed like a short distance when one was fresh and unencumbered in the morning, may turn into an exhausting and protracted nightmare on the way back. To avoid knee problems, one should walk downhill by traversing in a zigzag fashion, rather than going directly downhill. Fortunately one can often use existing human or reindeer trails when moving around in the hills.

Many potential problems can be avoided or mitigated by using common sense, exercising caution, and using the "buddy system" rather than hunting alone.

Many personal fringe benefits[edit]

A reindeer hunt in Greenland involves far more than just "reindeer", "hunting", and "Greenland". Knud Rasmussen, Greenlandic polar explorer and anthropologist, has written:

" ... there is no country in the world where a traveller meets with such a luxuriant variety of experiences as in Greenland."[42]

Greenland is one of the least spoiled regions of the world. The air and water are fresh, clean, and clear, the wilderness has an immense quality of stillness and peace, and the scenery is often breathtakingly beautiful. At night one may enjoy the spectacular Northern lights dancing over the sky.

One can expect to experience many interesting things on a hunt, not the least of which is seeing various types of animals; collecting and eating berries; the physical, mental, and emotional health benefits gained from interacting with nature; exercising acutely sharpened senses while stalking; and the social fellowship among hunting companions.

Typical landscape

Other interests that can be combined with a reindeer hunt are photography, hiking, fishing, birdwatching, rock hounding, rock climbing, paragliding, skiing, archeology, and fossil collecting. Opportunities for hunting Ptarmigan, Arctic hare, Arctic fox, and water fowl may well occur.

One may encounter a number of mammals and birds such as muskoxen, ravens, Snow Buntings, majestic White-tailed Sea Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Gyr Falcons, Snowy Owls, and Great Cormorants.

Several varieties of fresh and saltwater fish may be caught, among them trout, Arctic char, salmon, cod, Rose fish, Seawolf, Sculpin, Greenland halibut, and Halibut. It is very common to use the boating trip to also catch fish.

Various fruits and plants may be eaten or collected, among them crowberries, delicious bilberries (a type of blueberry), mountain cranberries, Alpine Bearberries, angelica, and Juniper berry.

Beautiful fields of yellow dandelions and other wildflowers are common, with white cottongrass growing in many moist places, and damp moss often creating large, soft, hummock formations.


A reindeer hunt in Greenland combines nature, exercise, companionship, adventure, survival, and instinct into an experience that provides a glimpse into (and starting point for understanding) what is very basic in the Inuit soul and identity — the hunt.[3][4] Hunting reindeer in Greenland brings this all together, showing that the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts."


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Description of history record on this site. - Reindeer hunting as world heritage
  2. ^ a b c Caribou and musk oxen are meat and adventure. - The Danish-Greenlandic Environmental Cooperation
  3. ^ a b Hunting in Greenland. - Greenland Home Rule Government
  4. ^ a b Cunera Buijs. Clothing; Images, Agency and Identities in East Greenland. - National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands.
  5. ^ Reindeer hunting as world heritage: A ten thousand year-long heritage. - Reindeer hunting as world heritage
  6. ^ About the project. - Reindeer hunting as world heritage
  7. ^ Børge Brende to chair the World Heritage. - Reindeer hunting as world heritage
  8. ^ UNESCO's World Heritage List. - UNESCO
  9. ^ Wenzel G. "Animal Rights, Human Rights: Ecology, Economy and Ideology in the Canadian Arctic" (1991).
  10. ^ Ethics and morality. - Dept. of Economic Development and Transportation, Nunavut Territory
  11. ^ Alan Herscovici. Forgotten Story: The impact of "animal-rights" campaigns on the Inuit. - National Council for Science and the Environment
  12. ^ The Kuujjuaq Declaration. - Inuit Circumpolar Conference
  13. ^ Kuujjuaq Declaration: Proceedings of ICC's 9th General Assembly, 11 - 16 August 2002. Inuit Circumpolar Conference (Canada)
  14. ^ Objectives of International Arctic Science Committee. - ProClim: Forum for Climate and Global Change; Forum of the Swiss Academy of Sciences
  15. ^ Scientists elsewhere do the same thing: "To guarantee rational use of this population and meet interests of both Taimyr and Evenki Autonomous Areas, federal bodies are responsible for fixing science-substantiated quotas for wild reindeer hunting." [1]
  16. ^ a b Christine Cuyler. Appendix B: Greenland Caribou / Reindeer. - Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
  17. ^ a b L. Christine Cuyler & Lars Witting. Caribou harvest advice 2006. - Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
  18. ^ a b "The primary distribution, 74 percent of total abundance, is in West Greenland (61°-69°N), which may by roughly identified as the southern half of Greenland’s west coast. No wolves (Canis lupus) or other potential predators (non-human) have existed in West Greenland for at least the last few hundred years." - Christine Cuyler. Appendix B: Greenland Caribou / Reindeer. - Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
  19. ^ Bror Saitton. Sammendrag av foredrag ved NORs 12. nordiske forskningskonferanse om rein og reindrift. - Nordic Council for Reindeer Husbandry Research (NOR)
  20. ^ Overpopulation of reindeer in Greenland, 2005. - UPI, Dec. 9, 2005.
  21. ^ a b Reindeer hunting in Greenland. - PITU, no. 1, September 2002, pp. 15-16. Grønlands Naturinstitut (Nature Institute of Greenland).
  22. ^ Interesting demo programs for estimating populations. Porcupine Caribou Population Model: Demo Versions. - Taiga Net, operated by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Society
  23. ^ Baldursson S. Living Terrestrial Resources of the Arctic and Their Use. - Snorri Baldursson, Assistant Director General, Icelandic Institute of Natural History, University of the Arctic
  24. ^ a b c Grønlandske fugle, havpattedyr og landpattedyr - en status over vigtige ressourcer 1. oktober 1998. Teknisk rapport nr. 16, oktober 1998. Pinngortitaleriffik, Grønlands Naturinstitut Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "rapport_16" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  25. ^ The propagation of reindeer in Greenland. - Greenland Tourism and Business Council
  26. ^ Identity card for Rangifer (Reindeer/Caribou). One species, 9 sub-species (three of which are in Greenland).
  27. ^ Jerry McCarthy. Greenlandic word list. Reindeer are called tuttu (pl tuttut) by Greenland Inuits.
  28. ^ Dawes, Elander, EricsonThe Wolf (Canis lupus) in Greenland: A Historical Review and Present Status. Peter R. Dawes, Magnus Elander and Mats Ericson. Arctic, vol. 39, no. 2 (June 1986) p. 119-132
  29. ^ The Greenlandic reindeer. - Greenland Tourism and Business Council
  30. ^ Jeremy Schmidt. Reindeer round-up - life of nomads who herd reindeer in Mongolia. - Ranger Rick, March, 1995
  31. ^ Fakta om Grønland (facts about Greenland) Erhverv og næringsliv: Fiskeri, fangst og jagt. - Nordens Institut i Grønland
  32. ^ Images from Itinnera: Renavlsstation nær bygden Kapisillit. - Arktiske Billeder: Siulleq
  33. ^ Ole Holbech. Itinnera images, 1976
  34. ^ Jepsen B.I.; Siegismund H.R.; Fredholm M. Population genetics of the native caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) and the semi-domestic reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) in Southwestern Greenland: Evidence of introgression. - Conservation Genetics, Volume 3, Number 4, 2002, pp. 401-409(9)
  35. ^ Greffard MC. Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) - McGill University, December 2000
  36. ^ Lars Bjørknæs. Grønlands lovsamling 2006. - Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 18 af 18. juli 1995 om fredning af og jagt på rensdyr.]
  37. ^ Willy Zimmer. The tough stuff. - Casper Star-Tribune, September 23, 2004, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  38. ^ E. Dan Klepper. Hang'em High. - Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, November 2005
  39. ^ Marty Prokop. How to Field Dress a Deer
  40. ^ Colin Fletcher, in The Complete Walker
  41. ^ The magnetic variation between the North Pole and Nuuk is 37.2 ° W (Sep 1992)[2]
  42. ^ Knud Rasmussen quote (from The People of the Polar North, 1908)
  43. ^ Commons:Picture of the Year/2006
  • Muus, B., F. Salomonsen and C. Vibe, 1990. Grønlands fauna (Fisk, Fugle, Pattedyr). Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag A/S København, 464 p. (in Danish).
  • Dr. Christine Cuyler - Research scientist, reindeer expert, extensive list of publications
  • Peoples of the Reindeer. - Michel Bouchard, University of the Arctic

External links[edit]


To do[edit]

Categories to be activated later[edit]