Nunavut Features Some Of The Most Exotic And Highly Prized Big Game Animals On Earth

Big game hunting is a part of Nunavut’s tourism industry, for good reason. Nunavut features some of the most exotic and highly prized big game animals on Earth, including extremely dangerous polar bears, numerous herds of muskoxen, abundant barren-ground caribou, a sustainable harvest of walrus, plus the healthiest and least threatened population of wolves in the world. In addition, there are plenty of small game animals, such as arctic hares, ground squirrels and ptarmigan. Detailed knowledge of native wildlife species and proper survival techniques in the arctic, combined with the incredible patience, tracking skill, physical strength, stamina and courage required to become an effective hunter-provider are fundamental values in traditional Inuit culture.

The Inuktitut word for wildlife is ‘nirjutit.’ The root word, ‘nirjut’ means ‘game animal.’

Visitors wishing to hunt in Nunavut are required by law to use licensed outfitters. Mandatory hunting licenses and tags must be acquired before embarking on the hunt. Hunting seasons and quotas are strictly enforced by Nunavut Wildlife Officers.

Hunting Permits

A Hunting License is required by anyone wishing to hunt in Nunavut!

These required licenses are available from the Government of Nunavut (GN) Department of Environment (wildlife office). For more information about the proper procedures for obtaining a Nunavut Hunting License, call the GN Department of Environment at one of the following three locations:

Nunavut Sport Hunting Species

Polar Bear | inuktitut-polar-bear | nanuq

The polar bear (ursus maritimus) is the world’s largest carnivore species found on land, as big as the omnivorous kodiak, but more powerful. ‘Nanuq’ — the Inuktitut word for polar bear — is an extremely dangerous, very patient and highly intelligent predator. An adult male polar bear can grow to three metres (10 ft.) in height when standing up and reach 720 kilograms (1,590 lb.) in body weight. Polar bears are excellent swimmers in the frigid Nunavut waters, travelling great distances across the sea ice to hunt seals along the floe edge. They are attracted to any potential food source, including the smells of campers cooking meals in remote locations. Polar bear hunting takes place from the Nunavut communities of Arctic Bay, Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet, Clyde River, Coral Harbour, Grise Fiord, Hall Beach, Igloolik, Kimmirut, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq, Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Resolute, Taloyoak and Whale Cove.

Muskox | inuktitut-muskox | umingmak

Muskoxen (ovibos moschatus) are magnificent animals from the Pleistocene Ice Age. Noted for their long curved horns, thick coat and the musky odour of the males in their mid-August rut, they are more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen. Their ancestors migrated into Nunavut 150,000 years ago, alongside the now-extinct mammoth. Approximately 60,000 muskoxen, usually living in herds of 10-20 animals, can be found thriving in several parts of Nunavut. The wool of the muskox — called ‘qiviut’ in Inuktitut — is highly prized for its softness, length and insulating quality. Muskox hunting trips take place near the communities of Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Grise Fiord, Kugluktuk and Resolute.

Caribou | inuktitut-caribou | tuktu

The most important terrestrial big game animal to the Inuit is the caribou — called ‘tuktu’ in Inuktitut — which has been hunted for food, clothing, shelter and tools by humans ever since the Stone Age. Several herds, totalling more than 750,000 caribou range across all three regions of Nunavut. The barren-ground caribou subspecies (rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) is the most popular land animal to be hunted in the territory and the migration patterns of these herds are well known to local Inuit hunters and guides. Nunavut communities such as Arviat, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Chesterfield Inlet, Coral Harbour, Gjoa Haven, Kimmirut, Kugluktuk, Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Resoluteand Whale Cove can all provide for reliable caribou hunting excursions.

Walrus | inuktitut-walrus | aiviq

The walrus (odobenus rosmarus) is a large flippered marine mammal recognized by its prominent tusks of ivory, whiskers and great bulk. An adult walrus can reach four metres (13 ft.) in length and 2,000 kilograms (4,400 lb.) in weight. While cumbersome on land, these amazing creatures are truly graceful under the water. Walrus tusks — which are elongated canine teeth used for poking holes in the sea ice, for hauling themselves onto the frozen surface and for the violent dominance battles between rival bulls — can reach a length of one metre (3 ft. 3 in.) each. A tasty Inuit dish is aged walrus meat — ‘igunaq’ in Inuktitut — a treat which elders say tastes like cheese. Hunting expeditions for walrus can be arranged in the communities of Cape Dorset, Coral Harbour, Hall Beach and Igloolik.

Wolf | inuktitut-wolf | amaruq

The arctic wolf (canis lupus arctos) — ‘amaruq’ in Inuktitut — also called polar wolf or white wolf, is a subspecies of the gray wolf that has inhabited Nunavut for over two million years. This extraordinary canine is the only subspecies of wolf that can be found over the whole of its original range. It is also the only wolf in the world that is not threatened — largely because they rarely encounter humans. Travelling and hunting in packs of two to twenty, they roam large ranges of up to 2,600 square kilometres (1,000 square miles) in pursuit of caribou, muskoxen, arctic hares, seals, lemmings and ptarmigan. Extremely intelligent and very difficult to hunt, arctic wolves can be tracked in the northern, central and western parts of Nunavut with expert Inuit guides operating from the communities of Arviat, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Grise Fiord, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, Rankin Inlet, Resolute and Taloyoak.

Ground Squirrel | inuktitut-ground-squirrel | siksik

The arctic ground squirrel (spermophilus parryi) — known as ‘siksik’ in Inuktitut — is the largest and most northern dwelling ground squirrel species. This subfamily of tundra marmot lives in arctic sand dunes and silt slopes that are free of permafrost. The ‘siksik’ grows to an average weight of 800 grams (two pounds). It is found on the mainland in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions of Nunavut to the west of Hudson Bay near the communities of Arviat, Baker Lake, Chesterfield Inlet, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Taloyoak and Whale Cove.

Hare | inuktitut-hare | ukaliq

The arctic hare (lepus arcticus) — ‘ukaliq’ in Inuktitut — is found in all parts of Nunavut. Sometimes called a polar rabbit, it is actually a species of hare, with longer ears, that stands taller and survives in colder climate than rabbits do. With a beautiful, soft thick coat, it grows to five and a half kilos (12 lb.) in weight and 70 centimetres (28 in.) in length. Usually they are seen wandering alone, but sometimes in very cold weather they can be found in groups of several dozen huddled together for warmth. The arctic hare moves quickly — up to 64 kph (40 mph) — to escape its natural predators, which include ermine, arctic foxes and arctic wolves. If alternative game animals such as ptarmigan, seals and caribou are readily available, Inuit hunters will often leave the arctic hare alone in order to encourage the local population of wolves and foxes.

Ptarmigan | inuktitut-ptarmigan | aqiggiq

The ptarmigan (lagopus muta) — called ‘aqiggiq’ in Inuktitut — is a medium sized game bird of the grouse family. It is the official territorial bird of Nunavut. Small flocks of this low-flying bird are often spotted travelling at speed just a foot or two off the ground. When they stop, they are so confident of their excellent camouflage they sometimes do not move at all when hunters approach them. Skilled Inuit men, women and children can often kill them by throwing stones at their small heads — as accurately as any major league baseball pitcher! The ptarmigan is usually treated as a snack food on Inuit hunting and fishing expeditions, often eaten raw as soon as it is killed. They are found in all three regions of Nunavut.

The Inuktitut word for wildlife is ‘nirjutit.
’ The root word, ‘nirjut’ in Inuktitut syllabics) means ‘game animal.’

Nunavut Hunting Locations

There are excellent hunting spots to be found within close range of every community in Nunavut. Just like their ancestors did, most Inuit families rely heavily upon the sustainable food resources of animals that are harvested nearby. Hunting seasons and quotas are rigorously enforced by Nunavut Wildlife Officers and mandatory tags are often only issued by a lottery system run by the local Hunting and Trapping Organization (HTO).

The best hunting locations in Nunavut are shown in the new Nunavut Hunting Directory.

To learn more about hunting rules and regulations in Nunavut, visit the Government of Nunavut’s information on Environment and Wildlife.

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