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Caribou were seen crossing the Ingraham Trail last year as early as Oct. 19, but warm weather has kept them north thus far this winter. - photo courtesy of Environment and Natural Resources

Too wet for caribou

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 11/05) - Yellowknife hunters looking to fill their freezers with caribou meat may have to wait a little longer this winter.

According to Raymond Bourget, senior wildlife officer with the department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Bathurst caribou herd - the main group that comes near Yellowknife every winter - appeared to be on their way last week, but suddenly made a U-turn at Gordon Lake and headed back into the Barrens.

"We have so much open water that they may have just decided to move farther north where it's easier to get around," said Bourget.

"With the warm weather there really is no incentive to come down."

He said most of the lakes off the Ingraham Trail - the main staging area for the caribou hunt - are still free of ice. Temperatures for the last month have hovered around zero C.

Wes Siemens, chief pilot of Air Tindi, said he hasn't flown lately, but has heard that some caribou were seen recently near Tibbitt Lake at the end of the Ingraham Trail.

"But I haven't had the pilots tell me there are thousands around," he said.

Siemens said Americans flying to hunting camps in the Barrens in September had a hard time locating caribou. He said the camps told him they were slow coming down from their calving grounds near the Arctic coast. "I think they were a few weeks later than normal because it's been so warm," said Siemens.

It was a different story last year. The lakes froze early, and caribou were observed on the Ingraham Trail by Oct. 19. For several weeks, hunters and wildlife watchers alike crowded the trail in search of them.

Many animals were bagged on the trail's legal kill zone past Powder Point, about 40 km from Yellowknife.

The caribou's ready availability to hunters on the road last year was a concern for Bourget's department, but he said most were well-behaved.

"The caribou were close so there were a lot of people hunting," said Bourget.

"There was some wastage but the amount of wastage when you consider how much hunting was going on, it wasn't a rampant problem."

Bourget said when the caribou do come, hunters should be aware that it's illegal to waste meat, including necks and ribs. Hunters should also avoid butchering animals over ice, but drag them to shore and clean them there.