Story Ideas

Join an Inuit guide to hunt big game in NWT.

Take part in an ancient tradition and experience the landscape and culture through the eyes of a local.

11 February 2015

Suggested tweet: Join an Inuit guide on a traditional hunt for big game in NWT @spectacularNWT #explorecanada

When the closest grocery store is 2,000 km (1,243 mi) away, you’re going to eat local. For Canada’s Inuit, hunting was always a matter of survival, but also a way of life. Hunting fed the body and the spirit.

Today, Inuit still prefer the “country food” they hunt over store-bought food shipped in from the south. Moreover, they still value the spiritual connection to the land that hunting provides.

The Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories identify so closely with the animals they hunt that some of their communities are named for them. Aklavik, for instance, means “the place where one gets grizzly bear,” while Tuktoyaktuk means “looks like a caribou.”

Joining an Inuvialuit hunter-guide allows travellers to experience the landscape and culture through his eyes, plus take part in a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

John Lucas Sr., owner of Banks Island Tundra Tours, has been hunting for more than 50 years. “I was taught by my dad when I was pretty young,” he says from his home in Sachs Harbour. Each year between February and the end of April, he takes clients hunting for muskox and polar bear.

Of all of the big game in Canada’s Arctic, it’s the polar bear—what Inuit call Nanuk—that’s most prized. They eat the meat and use its luxurious long fur for clothing. Today, the hunt is closely regulated and only a certain number of bears can be killed each year. Non-Inuit must go with a licensed guide.

Since hunting is no longer for survival, the journey is the destination. If you’ve never heard the raucous cries of sled dogs as they pull you across the tundra, or felt your nostrils tingle as you inhale minus 40-degree air, or slept in a tent with the wind howling outside, it’s an unforgettable experience.

With Lucas as your guide, you’ll be out on the land for about two weeks. He’ll provide a down-filled, fur-trimmed parka and pants to keep you warm. You’ll travel by dog-team; he’ll stand on back and drive the seven huskies while you sit in the sled, covered by blankets. With no trees you can see for miles.

En route to each night’s camp you’ll stop for Lucas to hunt ptarmigan or caribou. “You got to feed them a lot of calories,” he says of his clients. “You use a lot out in the cold.” At the ocean’s edge Lucas also hunts for seals: hearty food for his hard-working dogs.

Polar bears are hunting for seals, too, and this is where they find them. “Most of the time they’re following the open water,” says Lucas. “If they see you they’re going to jump in the water.”

And if hunters aren’t careful, they could end up there, too. “You got to know about the ice,” warns Lucas. “You might go through thin ice.”

Or if it’s windy, you might find yourself drifting offshore on an ice floe. “A few times it’s happened up here,” he says matter-of-factly. “They had to get airplanes to get them out of there.”

As for Nanuk, “Polar bears are very smart,” says this experienced hunter. “Sometimes we’re lucky, sometimes we’re not.”

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