Forty Mile: Traditional Hunting Methods
For the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, caribou is much more than an important food source. Some uses for caribou hides include clothing, shelters, dog harnesses and pack bags. This winter shelter was made from a framework of poles covered with caribou hides.
Tappan Adney, The Klondike Stampede (UBC Press, 1994), p. 453.
You grab the caribou by an antler and pull its head up. You have to watch its front legs. It tried to kick you with its legs, and it could bust your chest in or kick out your guts. But you stand to one side and hold the head away from you, driving your knife into the side of its chest.
Charlie Isaac, as related by his father, Chief Isaac
Elder Mary McLeod explained how that people from Forty Mile and Dawson areas hunted together in the fall. They met at a long caribou fence in the mountains near Chicken, Alaska, southwest of Forty Mile. While awaiting the animals, they repaired the fence. Caribou were driven into this structure where they would be trapped by snares set into the fence then shot with bows and arrows or stabbed with spears. Other times, the caribou were driven into a ring of people, where the disoriented animals were easy prey for arrows.
After the hunt, women cut up the meat on site. Following a feast of fresh meat to celebrate the successful hunt, the rest of the catch was either dried or, in late fall, frozen. Extra meat could be cached on scaffolds out of reach of animals. Frozen sections of meat were also stored right on the ground, covered with hides, then secured with rocks until the meat was needed.
Once the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in began using rifles, the hunt changed. Hunting became more of an individual rather than a group activity. From the early 1900s, market hunting was an important income source. Every year, tonnes of meat were sold to Dawson butchers. Chief Isaac protested many times about how non-native hunters were over-hunting the herd making it harder for First Nations people to earn a living.