Caribou Hunting in North America

By PJ ReillyApril 29, 2024

The caribou is a symbol of the North American wilderness. Living in some of the most remote regions of the far North, it is an animal that most people who live on the continent will never see in the wild. 

There was a time when massive herds of caribou migrated across the mountains and tundra of the Canadian Arctic and Alaska, and hunters took advantage of affordable hunting packages to flock to the caribou stomping grounds in pursuit. 

The caribou is a fairly large animal – 300-700 pounds on the hoof – that carries an impressive set of antlers. To the typical whitetail hunter, the rack of even a small caribou is still comparably big. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

The days of affordable hunts and massive herds are gone now. You can still hunt caribou, albeit in fewer places and for a lot more money. But for those who can make it happen, a caribou hunt still is as primal and adventurous as ever. 

The Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young Club each recognize five subspecies of caribou – all of which live in North America. Once you get to Europe, the name changes to “reindeer.” 


The Quebec-Labrador caribou is the subspecies that was hunted in great volume from the 1980s through early 2000s. The famous George and Leaf River herds that migrated across northern Quebec and Nunavut once boasted more than 1 million animals. 

For $2,000 in the late 1990s, you could get an outfitted package that included round-trip air transportation from Montreal, two caribou tags, fishing license, lodging and meals and game and trophy care to take meat, hides and antlers back home. 

Recent estimates put the herds at around a combined 200,000 animals. The drastic decline has been blamed on several factors, including climate change and habitat disturbance. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

Recreational hunting has never been blamed, since hunters took relatively few caribou each year. Nonetheless, due to the decline, recreational hunting of this subspecies has been banned since 2018. 

The Pope & Young Club world record Quebec-Labrador velvet caribou measured 387 4/8 inches. It was shot in Quebec in 2016 by Kyle Johnson. The non-velvet record measured 434 inches. It was shot in Quebec in 1984 by Carol Ann Mauch. 


Woodland caribou weigh about the same as the Quebec-Labrador caribou – 300 pounds on average – but their racks tend to be a bit smaller. Although there are pockets of woodland caribou fond in various parts of Canada, the only place where nonresidents can hunt them is in Newfoundland. 

What’s unique about hunting woodland caribou is that, like their name suggests, they are largely found in forested terrain. Other caribou are typically found more in open country in the mountains or on the tundra. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

Because woodland caribou hunting opportunities are limited, the cost to hunt them is salty. Expect to pay anywhere from $15,000-$25,000 to chase this caribou. 

The Pope & Young velvet world record woodland caribou measures 362 1/8 inches. It was shot in 2021 in Newfoundland by Daniel Welker. The non-velvet record, measuring 375 inches, was shot in 2013 in Newfoundland by Jeff Samson. 


The Central Canadian Barren Ground Caribou range, as their name suggests, across the northcentral region of Canada into the high Arctic. They live on the open tundra, primarily in Nunavut and Northwest Territories, while also extending into parts of surrounding territories. 

These caribou are considered medium-sized, with adult weights averaging about 200-350 pounds. The antlers, however, are on the larger side. 

There is still some limited, sporadic hunting of this subspecies, although the heart of their traditional range in Northwest Territories is closed to nonresident hunting. Again, this closure is due to declines in the caribou herds. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

Also again, if you want to hunt these caribou, expect to pay handsomely to do so. Packages in the $20,000 range are about normal. 

Pope & Young recognizes two, archery-killed world record Central Canadian Barren Ground Caribou in its books – velvet and non-velvet. The velvet record was shot in 2005 in Northwest Territories by Rodney Cockeram. It measured 384 4/8 inches. The non-velvet record measured 420 6/8 inches. It was shot in 1994 in Northwest Territories by Al Kuntz. 


The mountain caribou is a variety of woodland caribou that primarily live – and are hunted – in the mountains of the Yukon Territories, western Northwest Territories and northern British Columbia. They are nonmigratory caribou, and so hunting them is a bit more reliable, in terms of knowing where to find them. 

Mountain caribou are considered to be the biggest of all the caribou, both in body and antler size. Big bulls can weigh up to 700 pounds and antlers in the 400-inch range are not terribly uncommon. 

Because of the remote mountainous locations where they live, mountain caribou hunts aren’t cheap. A $20,000 pricetag is pretty common these days. Often times, mountain caribou are hunted in combination with other animals, such as moose, sheep and bears. 

Pope & Young recognizes both velvet and non-velvet world record, mountain caribou. The velvet record was shot in 1990 in Northwest Territories by J. Dean Bodoh. It measured a whopping 432 2/8 inches. The non-velvet record is a bull that measured 416 4/8 inches. It was shot in 2004 in Yukon Territories by Pete Cintorino. 

Caribou Hunting In North America


The barren ground caribou are the most widespread across North America. Migrating huge distances each year, they tend to be the smallest in body, but still have impressive racks, which look even bigger on their heads, given their smaller body size. 

Big bulls usually weigh no more than 300 pounds. Like the other subspecies of caribou, the number of barren ground caribou is in a state of decline. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

Although they are found in many parts of Canada, the most common hunting of barren ground caribou today is done in Alaska and Greenland. Alaska offers what is probably the only budget-friendly hunt for caribou left in North America, since anyone can hunt there on their own. 

In Canada, nonresidents must hunt caribou with a guide. Some areas where caribou live in Alaska are even accessible by road, so access to a plane is not required, although the best hunting grounds still are reached by bush and float planes. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

The science community is uncertain about what the future holds for caribou populations in North America. Biologists know it’s not unusual for these populations to go through periods of peaks and valleys. 

They agree we are in a valley right now, as compared to 20 years ago, but what they don’t know is when – or if – the herds might climb back to a peak. 

Caribou Hunting In North America

Far fewer hunters are chasing caribou in the far North than in the late 1990s and early 2000s, due to reduce opportunities and increased costs. 

But one aspect of caribou hunting remains constant. It’s still a thrilling adventure to chase these white-maned, large-antlered animals in places where few – if any – humans live, so close to the North Pole. 

Compared to the rest of the world, the Arctic is still a wild place. And nothing captures the essence of the Arctic like the sight of a big caribou bull plodding forward across the tundra, with its head low to the ground and its crown of antlers rising high into the air. 

PJ Reilly
P.J. Reilly, Technical Writer at Lancaster Archery Supply, P.J. has been bowhunting for nearly 40 years, and has worked at Lancaster Archery Supply since 2013. He lives in Southeast Pennsylvania with his wife.
Post a Comment
Login To Account

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *