Woodland Caribou, Peary Caribou, Barren Ground Caribou

Caribou Hunting Canada. Discover where to hunt Woodland, Peary, or Barren Ground Caribou. Also, learn to identify it and study its' physical description, Range, Habitat, Diet, Food Strategy, Breeding Habits, and Status.

Provinces with Caribou Hunting

Nunavut Resident and Non-Resident
Yukon Resident and Non-Resident
Northwest Territories Resident and Non-Resident
British Columbia Resident and Non-Resident
Saskatchewan Resident Only
Manitoba Resident and Non-Resident
Quebec Resident and Non-Resident
New Foundland - Labrador Resident and Non-Resident

Selecting a Hunting Caliber for Caribou

Vital Shot Placement for Caribou

Shot Placement to Vitals for Caribou

Photo By: Peupleloup Flickr.com 

Modified by: Canada Hunts.ca

Caribou can be hunted at relatively close ranges despite the open tundra that they live in. The caribou has a thin skin and is generally a very easy animal to harvest. As in all cases, shot placement and the comfort level that you have with your rifle are key factors, along with a high-quality hunting round.

In reading caribou forms, the 30-06 seems to be the top choice and bullet mass seems to be in around 120 grains.









Caribou Hooves

Caribou have large concave hooves that are useful tools for survival on the muskeg. These hooves are big enough to support the caribou on snow and to paddle it efficiently through the water.

The hoof's underside is hollowed out like a scoop and used for digging through the snow in search of food.  


Caribou Hooves



  • 3.25" - 4.0" (8.3 - 12.7 cm) Long
  • 4.0" - 6.0" (10.2 - 15.2 cm) wide


  • 3.0" - 4.5" (7.6 -11.4 cm) Long
  • 3.525" - 4.25" (9.2 - 12.1 cm) Wide

Trail Width

  • 10" - 17" (25.4 - 43.2 cm)
Photo By: Camerongilcrest - Flickr  




Caribou Scat

Caribou Scat

Photo By: North Carolina Museum of Science - Flicker


Range - Distribution and Habitat of Caribou

There are more than 2.4 million caribou in Canada. Some dwell in forests, some in mountains, some migrate each year between the boreal forests and tundra of the far north, and others remain on the tundra all year.

The largest and darkest of the caribou subspecies is the woodland caribou. It inhabits the boreal and northern forests of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Where it inhabits the mountainous terrain of western Canada, woodland caribou make seasonal migrations from their winter ranges on forested mountainsides to their summer ranges on the alpine tundra.

In the eastern part of the woodland caribou range, it occupies mature forest, open bogs, low-lying wet area, and frequently flooded areas of land of the boreal forest. Herd migrations can be as little as only a few kilometers, while others herds differ from this pattern and make long seasonal migrations between forested and tundra habitats. Probably two of the most notable herds with these long migrations and facing a drastic population decline are the George River Herd and Leaf River Herds of Quebec and Labrador.

Numbering about 10,000 individuals on the islands of the Canadian arctic archipelago is a small and light-colored caribou called the Peary caribou. This caribou may move among islands if hard ice forces them from their normal feeding grounds and do not normally exhibit any significant migration. 

Caribou of the Artic and Taiga Distribution

Caribou of the Arctic and Taiga Distribution


Forest-dwelling Woodland Caribou Distribution

Forest Dwelling Woodland Caribou Distribution



 Description of Caribou

Caribou Bulls Cows
Life Span 12 years 17 years
Shoulder Height 1.2-1.5 Meters (4-5 ft) 
Overall Length  ‎6 feet (1.8m) nose to tail
Weight 350 – 400 lbs (159 – 182 kg) 175 – 225 lbs (80 – 120 kg)
Weight at Birth 1.81-3.62 kgs
Antlers Males have larger antlers than female Both Cows and Bull have antlers. However, Cows have much smaller antlers with no shovel.
Hearing The caribou like other members of the deer family has directional hearing. Its hears is about the same as a humans but because the ears are directional. It focuses this sense to the direction that it is pointing. Thus, the myth that it has exceptional hearing. (Only when pointed your way.)
Eyes The caribou has ultraviolet vision which aids it in detecting predators (wolves) and their main food source of lihcen.
Dental Formula /
Body Temperature 105 deg. Far. 
Feet Ungulate
Can Travel 60–80 km/h (37–50 mph)
Diet Herbivore
Sexual Maturity 2.5 Years
Breeding Time October
Gestation N/A 228 days
Birthing N/A Late May, early June
# in Litter N/A 1 Calf
Weaning 6 Months
Communication Caribou have scent glands at the base of their ankles that are used when the animal is in danger. It will rear up on its hind legs to release a scent that alerts the other caribou to the danger it is facing.

There are three separate categories of Caribou and reindeer and they all belong to the same group, Rangifer tarandus.

This member of the deer family is unique in that it is the only member in which both males and females sport antlers, It should be noted here that some Woodland caribou cows may not have antlers. The caribou also has very different features that help it contend with the cold harsh climates in which they live.

Features include:

  • Insulation by way of semi-hollow hairs that trap warm air next to the skin.
  • The hairs also act as flotation for when they are swimming.
  • Noses are covered with hair
  • Short tails and small ears to limit heat loss
  • Large crescent shaped hooves that spread out when they walk. This feature helps them navigate soggy muskegs and acts like a snowshoe in deep snow. The hoof also acts like a paddle when swimming. 

In the winter, the caribou’s diet consists almost entirely of lichen. No other large mammal can survive on this food source. This allows caribou to live in a habitat that is unique and separate from other deer species and their predators.


Woodland Caribou

Woodland Caribou
Photo Source: http://www.pc.gc.ca/fra/nature/eep-sar/itm3/eep-sar3caribou.aspx

One subspecies of the caribou is the Woodland caribou. It can be found in Canadas’  boreal forests and mountain regions all the way from Newfoundland to British Columbia. A medium-sized member of the deer family it is brown in color with a white neck. The Woodland caribou is found in herds of to ten to twenty-five individuals. The mating strategy is for the dominant bull to try and gather a large group of females together while keeping other males away. Calves are born in late May or early June by cows that are three years of age or older. After the cows first calf, she will have one calf per year thereafter.

Belonging to the Southern Mountain population, the woodland caribou found in Jasper, Banff, MountRevelstoke, and GlacierNational Parks are quite different from most other woodland caribou because of their use of mountain habitat. Unlike other caribou that migrate, this caribou moves up and down the mountain slopes in response to seasonal changes. Even within this unique southern mountain population, foraging strategy can be split into two different solutions in response to two very different climates. In the ColumbiaMountain range, MountRevelstoke and GlacierNational Parks have heavy snowfalls in the winter. Caribou in this region take advantage of the snow fall by using the added height of the snow to reach lichen growing in the trees. In the Rocky Mountains, Jasper and BanffNational Parks have a much drier climate and do not get as much snow. Here, the caribou searches for ground lichens under the snow. It descends in elevation as snow levels accumulate to forage for lichen.

In comparison to their northern cousins, the forest-dwelling woodland caribou does not migrate as much and live in smaller herds. The woodland caribou inhabits lichen-rich mature forests open areas and alpine tundra. At one time they were over much of Canada, They still persist over much of Canada but now they only exist near the southern boundary of the country.

At one time there were woodland Caribou herds in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick but those disappeared by the 1930s.

The exact status of many of these herds is unknown. However, where data does exist, declines are evident, particularly for the boreal and southern mountain populations. The statement made here is that the woodland caribou is declining primarily because of loss of habitat, degradation of habitat, roads cutting up the landscape, over harvesting of the caribou, fire, and climate change.

These issues are causing the caribou herds to become more isolated and their vulnerability to exposure to predators is increased.

Stable and or increasing woodland populations appear to be in remote areas that have little or no industrial activity. Herds also seem to be in good shape where predator controls have been used.

The woodland caribou range has retracted northward across North America and most populations are now in decline.

Canadian populations of woodland caribou are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA):

  • Endangered (Atlantic-Gaspésie)
  • Threatened (Southern Mountain and Boreal)
  • Special Concern (Northern Mountain)
  • Not at Risk is the Woodland caribou of Newfoundland and Labrador

Woodland caribou in Banff, Jasper, MountRevelstoke and GlacierNational Parks belong to the Threatened Southern Mountain population.

The federal agencies responsible for the recovery of Southern Mountain caribou in Canada under SARA are Environment Canada and Parks Canada.

Cooperation with the affected provinces, wildlife management boards, and aboriginal organizations is required. As well as consulting with landowners, stakeholders and the public for a SARA plan to be developed.

In advance of a recovery strategy, Parks Canada has implemented caribou conservation actions in the Mountain National Parks

Peary Caribou

Peary Caribou

Peary Caribou

WWF - Google+ Public Image

With a maximum life expectancy of  15 years, the smallest subgroup of the Caribou family is the Peary caribou. Their color is almost completely white, a large blunt muzzle, short and broad ears, large feet, and crescent-shaped hooves, and they have smaller antlers.

Bulls reach sexual maturity in their first year while cows reach it in their second year for females. The timing of calving is influenced by the length and the severity of the previous winter and generally occurs in late June. Cows have a gestation period is seven and a half to eight months and give birth to one calf.

Forage for the Peary Caribou consists mostly of lichens, grass and shrubs. Summer diet comprises of mushrooms (when available), grasses, forbs, willows, and sedges while winter diet will be lichens and sedges.

When comparing antlers, the antlers of the young bulls and those of cows are about the same physical size. It is only the older males that sport the larger antlers. The antler growth on bull begins in March and antlers grow quickly starting in May and running into July. Sparked by the change in daylight, the bulls begin rubbing off their velvet in September. By October all the velvet will be gone and a polished look will persist. Older bulls begin dropping their antlers in November, and by February all the bulls have lost their antlers.

Female caribou develop their antlers in the months from June to September, in late October they will shed their velvet and shed the antlers in April or May.

With estimates of 10,000 to 15,000 caribou, the Peary caribou herds of Canada are found on the islands of the Arctic archipelago and rarely on the mainland. There are three populations of Peary caribou in the Arctic:

  • Banks Island population is endangered.
  • High Arctic population is located in the Queen Elizabeth Islands is endangered.
  • Low Arctic population is threatened

Listed on the Endangered List by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), is the Peary Caribou. Several severe winters have been blamed for population drops of 98% on several islands.

In the western half of the Peary Caribous range, two winters that left heavy snow falls along with ice formations on top of the snow have been cited as the cause of a 95% mortality rate on the Peary Caribou population in this region.

Recovery for these herds to previous peak numbers is by some listed as doubtful. They cite the effects of climate change, wildfires, and an increasing human population as some of the reasons. Mining, oil, and gas developments are also listed as major factors.

The harvesting of caribou by humans and natural predation are always mentioned as factors that will affect the population of some caribou herds.

Distribution of Perry Caribou

Barren Ground Caribou 

Barren Ground Caribou
Photo By: Carmen Rivero - Google+ Public Image 

In Canada, about fifty percent of all caribou are of the caribou family Rangifer tarandus greenlandicus. Better known as the barren-ground caribou, it makes its home on the tundra in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories all the way from the Alaskan border to Baffin Island. The well known Porcupine caribou is found in Alaska and the Yukon.

It is the Barren Ground that is known for its massive herds that migrate in herds of several thousand individuals and may travel 1,200 km (750 mi) in a season. This migration is true for the mainland herds but on the islands, they move in groups of no more than 50.

There are eight migratory herds of this species (1.2 million individuals in all) that have seasonal migrations from the tundra to the sparsely treed coniferous forests south of the tundra. An additional 120 000 barren-ground caribou live in smaller herds that spend their whole year on the tundra. Out of that 120,000 half of them live all year on Baffin Island

These herds are:

  • Porcupine herd (estimated at 197,000 in 2013 this is the highest recorded number for this herd)
  • CapeBathurst herd (estimated at 2,260 in 2015 down from 19,300 in 1990s.)
  • Bluenose West herd (estimated at 15,000 in 2015 from 119,000 in 1992)
  • Bluenose East herd (estimated at 35-40,000 in 2015 from 104,000 in 2000)
  • Bathurst herd (estimated at 35-40,000 in 2015 from 104,000 in 2000)
  • Ahiak herd (estimated at 83,300 in 2011 from 200,000 in 1994)
  • Beverly herd (estimated at 124,000 in 2011 from 296,000 in 1994)
  • Qamanirjuaq herd (estimated at 349,000 in 2008 from 496,000 in 1994)

Like lemmings and hares, the caribou does tend to follow cycles of high to low populations. Caribou numbers were low in the mid 1970s. Herd populations soared to record highs in the mid-1990s and dropped again in 2009 to similar numbers that existed in the 1970s. Drier seasons have been suggested as some of the cause of the recent decline with high mortality rates of cows and Calves

With both the males and females sporting antlers, the Barren Ground Caribou is a medium-sized caribou and is smaller and lighter color than its cousin the woodland caribou. During the summer period, its coat caribou is a brown color and fades to a much lighter color in the winter. The neck and rump tends to be a creamy-white color. Cows will weigh around 90 kg (200 lb) while bulls will come in with a weight of around 150 kg (330 lb).

The rut for the barren-ground caribou is usually in the fall while calving occurs primarily late June to early July. Most cows of a herd will normally calf over a two week period with the female giving birth away from the herd on a patch of snow if it can find one. The cow will lick the calf clean and eat the placenta tissues after calving. This process of cleaning is thought to serve two purposes. First is for the cow is to replace nutrients lost from the birthing process and the second benefit is to the calf in that it helps to remove scent that would normally attract a predator.

The caribou main food source is lichen but they will also feed on sedges, grasses, twigs, and mushrooms. Caribou have been observed to eat antlers and seaweed and to lick salt deposits. There is some evidence to suggest that on occasion they also feed on lemmings, Arctic char, and bird eggs.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of Caribou

Caribou Grazing

Caribou GrazongPhoto by: Peupleloup - Flickr

Ground and tree lichens are the primary winter food of caribou, providing a highly digestible and energy-rich food source. The ability of caribou to use lichens as a primary winter food distinguishes them from all other large mammals and has enabled them to survive on harsh northern rangeland. Caribou use their excellent sense of smell to locate lichens under the snow, and they dig the lichens out with their wide hooves. In southern coniferous forests, they are also able to forage on tree lichens.

Although lichens are a good source of energy, they are not a good source of protein (nitrogen). As the snow melts in the spring, caribou are eager to switch to fresh green vegetation, which is rich in nitrogen. Protein rich foods such as mushrooms, grasses, sedges, flowering tundra plants, the twigs and opening leaves of birches, willows, and fruit. Cows that have just given birth are especially in need of protein to replenish their protein reserves and produce high-quality milk for their calves. At this time of year, caribou focus on sedges and newly unfurling leaves of willow and other shrubs. Flowers, plentiful on the tundra, also attract a lot of attention. As summer progresses, and the quality of the green vegetation declines, caribou once again turn to lichens, to fatten themselves up for the breeding season. Although not always available, mushrooms are a rich source of nitrogen and are highly sought after in August and September by the caribou.

Breeding and Reproduction of Caribou

Caribou Calf

Caribou CalfPhoto By: National Park Service - Flickr

Over the year, caribou migrate in order to serve different functions of their life cycle. Barren-ground caribou historically have the most dramatic route with the migration of the herd from the boreal forest to its calving grounds in the spring.

Unquestionably the caribou is most efficient walkers of all hoofed animals in North America. They navigate frozen lakes, rivers, open snow-free uplands, and winding ridges of stratified sand and gravel walking hundreds of kilometers in their journey. Caribou are capable of maintaining a straight course across frozen landscapes so large that the other side cannot be seen.

Starting in March and April, pregnant cows lead the herd from the herds wintering grounds to the calving yards. A journey that can as long as 700 Km away and often an open and rocky area with no shelter from the wind and snow. And it is from its final destination, the calving grounds, that the Caribou herd gets its name. Older bulls, younger bulls, juveniles, and non-pregnant cows follow their lead but do not go all the way to the calving grounds

The exception to this migration is found with the cows of the smaller woodland herds. These cows will calve in isolation either in rugged terrain or on islands of small lakes in order to avoid predation. 

75 to 90 percent of caribou cows will come into heat at the age of three years will the remaining 10 - 25 percent being two-year-old cows. Once bred cows will 90 percent of the time will give birth to one single calf per year. Most of the herds' calves are born during a 10-day period starting in late May or early June. Calving time tends to be later as you travel eastward across the caribou's range. 

The calves are well developed at birth, they are capable of standing and nursing within minutes of birth and they are able to travel within a few hours. Calves are able to graze during their first weeks, but until they are only able to digest milk for the first three weeks. Cows after birthing are in need of protein for themselves and in order to produce quality milk for their newborn calves.

The cows and calves will soon move to areas where fresh-growing feed is becoming abundant then begin their migration back to their winter range. As spring turns into summer, the cows meet up with the bulls that have traveled separately north.

During the summer barren-ground caribou can be harassed by hordes of mosquitoes, warble flies, caribou nostril flies and, black flies. These swarms of insects can be so intense that they may cause the caribou to run for kilometres and only stop when exhausted or when high winds drive away the insects. Running from these hordes of insects takes a great deal of energy from the caribou and may slow their rate of growth by temporarily reducing their search for food. In large herds, another strategy to reduce harassment from insects is to form a large group of caribou. These tight groups can number in the tens of thousands. 

By August and late September, those swarms of insects have died down and the herds of caribou form small groups and can focus on foraging for food. They will feed on mushrooms, lichens, shrubs and grasses as they move towards their wintering grounds at the tree line. It is now that the caribou, especially breeding cows, improve their physical condition and put on some fat before arriving at the pre-rutting (pre-mating) areas. The bulls are in their prime in October and it is now that the rut occurs. Bulls will face off a great deal and fights for possession of breeding cows sometime occur. The rut will last for two to three weeks but it is only a matter of a few days before all the cows are bred. It is also at this time that the cows wean their calves and encourage them to eat food rather than their mothers’ milk. If the calf is too small to be weaned the cow will continue to supply milk into the winter, but this reduces her chances of getting pregnant that autumn. 

In the deer family, antler size means dominance and like the other members of the deer family, the caribou sheds its antlers in the winter. Now comes another adaptation of the caribou. Pregnant cows do not shed their antlers. Only non-pregnant cows and bulls shed antlers. So, when winter conditions are at their worst, it is now that having antlers allows you to fend for the best feeding grounds. This adaptation of retaining antlers allows pregnant females to fend off larger bulls and non-pregnant females in the feeding yards. This form of dominance becomes important when winter conditions are harsh and allows pregnant cows to forage for nutrients first in order to develop their fetus. The pregnant cows will shed their antlers in June after they have calved.


  • http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/walrus-morse-eng.html

  • www.biodivcanada.ca

  • Spieces At Risk Public Registry - Peary Caribou High Arctic population

  • http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=133#description

  • Definition Wikipedia of : Barren-ground_caribou.http://blog.photographies-naturelles.fr/wiki_en-Barren-ground_caribou.html

  • Canadian Biodiversity. https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/ca/ca-nr-05-en.pdf

  • Hinterland Who's Who - http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/caribou.html

  • https://naturecanada.ca/news/blog/deers-of-canada/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caribou

  • http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=caribouhunting.main

  • https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/ri_boreal_caribou_science_0811_eng.pdf

  • http://files.ontario.ca/environment-and-energy/species-at-risk/mnr_sar_ghd_car_en.pdf

  • http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/nature/eep-sar/itm3/eep-sar3caribou.aspx
  • http://www.pcmb.ca/herd

  • http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/node/2979

  • http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/node/2976

  • http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/node/2978

  • http://www.biodivcanada.ca/F84ED404-B33B-4313-BE96-2EE71DA65E46/8218No.10_Northern_Caribou_Feb%202012_E.pdf

  • http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/nature/eep-sar/itm3/eep-sar3caribou.aspx

  • Photo Credits
    • Caribou – Impisle - Flickr
    • Regional Map - biodivcanada.ca
    • Listing information on this website has been collected and presented as accurately as possible.
    • In case of any difference(s) between the information listed about outfitter's / resorts / guides.
    • The outfitter's website should always be taken.
    • This website should not be considered as the final say when it comes to hunting regulations.
    • Always consult the Provincial / Territorial jurisdiction that you are going to when planning your hunt.
    • Images on this site have been collected and used under Creative Commons License or are public domain images. 
    • Recipes are the work of Canada-Hunts.ca. You may reprint and distribute them for personal non commercial use. 
    • Please include Canada-Hunts.ca as your source on all copies.
    • Hunting Optics Blog information was provided by the generosity of Vortex Canada.
    • All work in that blog is their sole property and permission to reuse it should be directed to Vortex of Canada.


If you need more information use the form below and contact us.