Wolf Song of Alaska News

Elder Recalls Caribou Hunts of Years Past

Memories: Stalking by snowshoe, shooting "downhill" for success

Randall Howell / The Arctic Sounder / March 8, 2006

Nome -- Elder Jacob Ahwinona's grandparents predicted that the caribou would come back to the Seward Peninsula, probably within their grandson's lifetime.
And Ahwinona is grateful that he has been able to see their prediction come true.

"I got to see the day," Ahwinona said. "They knew what they were talking about."

Ahwinona, who remembers caribou hunting in Western Alaska as a younger man, was "guest elder" at the recent two-day meeting of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group in Anchorage.

Originally from White Mountain, east of Nome, Ahwinona reminded his listeners that he first hunted caribou by sled-dog team and with the guidance of an elder.

"There were no snowmachines," he said. "I had a good dog team" -- a basket sled and 11 dogs.

He recalled camping in the snow, stalking caribou by snowshoe and learning to "shoot downhill." He said the elder, a guide for the group, told them where to hunt, which caribou to shoot and when to shoot it.

Ahwinona and his hunting group came upon 13 caribou near the mouth of a Seward Peninsula river and bagged 11 of them under the "strict" guidance of the elder.

Ahwinona said his parents and grandparents would follow the herds for many years from the Seward Peninsula to Point Hope and then come back. He recalled his parents describing the Point Hope area as a calving ground for the caribou.

"But over the years, the caribou disappeared," he said. "After that, my grandparents said (the caribou) would come back down to the peninsula."

Ahwinona said his grandparents and parents "utilized everything" from the caribou.

"We were brought up to respect the land and subsistence living," he said. "You don't kill unless you are going to eat."

He said it was a time when "we listened" to the elders and you "didn't waste" caribou.

"When you see some caribou left, it hurts you," said Ahwinona, who had heard presentations at the meeting of sport hunters trophy-hunting and leaving or dumping caribou meat.

He also recalled stories his grandparents told of hunting caribou in the days before guns. Ahwinona said the stories detailed times when his mother's father, a fast runner, would drive the caribou into a lagoon.

"Hunters in kayaks on the beach would be waiting with spears and knives," he said. "When the caribou started swimming, they would kill them."

When guns arrived on the peninsula, the caribou hunting got easier, according to Ahwinona.
"They no longer had to drive them into the lagoon," he said, noting that before guns arrived, the hunts often involved the entire village.

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