Québec-Labrador Caribou: The Final Season

Unless something changes, the final season of sport hunting caribou in Québec is done. Québec’s Ministry of Forests, Fauna and Parks (MFFP) announced the closure unexpectedly in late Dec. 2016, citing pressure from First Nations stakeholders. We covered the issue in-depth in our Feb. issue (see Articles 3972 and 3973). In Aug., we shared a letter from MFFP addressed to those questioning the closure decision and indicating that offtake by First Nations peoples, namely parties to the James Bay Treaty, could not be limited until the province closed the sport hunt (Article 4105). Aboriginal rights to the caribou certainly complicates the picture, but we continue to express the belief that caribou are better managed as a valuable trophy species than as bushmeat. Hopefully all of the parties involved will eventually reach rational management decisions.

We have heard that outfitters in Québec are negotiating with the First Nations and are more hopeful of a resolution than they were previously. We will continue to follow the situation closely. In the meantime, a few reports from the 2017 season in Zone 23 have reached our offices. Although regulations allowed hunters to purchase two caribou tags, tag numbers were reduced to the point that outfitters generally offered hunts for one caribou only. Yet hunters wanting one more crack at a Québec-Labrador caribou went afield anyway.

Subscriber Herb Atkinson hunted with Kevin Mattice’s High North Outfitting in Sept. In Report 10974, Atkinson writes, “I was anxious to take this hunt ahead of the closure. A cold spell had sent the caribou south early, and warm weather actually had some moving back toward the north. The sporadic migration made them harder to find, but I took an excellent bull on the last morning of the last day of hunting. All eight hunters in camp got their caribou. Some took smaller bulls since they were afraid it would be their only chance, but one hunter took a potential B&C bull on the first day.

“I cannot say enough good things about the quality of the camp, guides, equipment and food. Everything was exactly the way a hunter would want. The guides were particularly caring and helpful to a couple of the older hunters in camp. Mattice is among the best-organized outfitters I’ve hunted with, and I highly recommend hunting with him if it becomes possible again.”

Levi Madden (10976) bowhunted with Alain Tardiff’s Leaf River Lodge later in Sept. Madden also reported animals moving back north. “We didn’t see the ‘migration’ normally associated with caribou hunting. Bulls were actually traveling from south to north most of the week to reunite with the cow herds. We saw nothing but bulls until the last day, including some incredible trophies. I shot my bull the first day with the fear of the movement falling off, and I’m glad I did.

“My guide was Mario Carpentier. He was the head guide at the camp I hunted, and I cannot boast about him enough. He is experienced and professional and really knew his area well. Leaf River is a first-rate outfit with everything spot on. It’s a shame that Québec is closing the caribou, and I really hope they open it again so more hunters get a chance to experience this hunt.”

We also received a phone call from subscriber Ron Bush, who hunted with Ungava Adventures. “Unfortunately, the migration did not come far enough south, and I only saw six caribou during my hunt,” he told Editor-in-Chief Barbara Crown. “Other groups did not do so well, either, taking small bulls and some cows. We did not have the flexibility to move camps. One of the guys I was with had hunted with Sammy Cantafio (who retired and sold the business) and said that it’s no longer the same operation. On the plus side, we did enjoy great fishing for brook trout and fantastic ptarmigan shooting.”

We’d like to hear from anyone else who hunted caribou in Québec this final season. If you are one of those hunters, let us know how your trip went.

As this issue was going to press, we received word of a development involving Québec caribou that is likely not good news for the future of sport hunting—or, we believe, for the recovery of caribou herds in Québec.

On Oct. 17, a coalition of seven indigenous First Nations from Québec signed what they are calling a Caribou Management Strategy. The only information we currently have is from a report by APTN News Canada, http://aptnnews.ca/2017/10/17/first- nations-sign-historic-plan-to-save-caribou. Although no details on this strategy were released, the plan apparently includes calling for a halt to all sport hunting for caribou.

Even as we prepared this issue for press, there had been some hope that a very limited caribou sport hunting season could be reinstated as a means of financing caribou research and conservation. Representatives for Québec caribou outfitters have been in negotiations with both Québec wildlife officials and the First Nations stakeholders in caribou country to make this happen. This new agreement seems to dash these hopes, instead putting the fate of Québec’s caribou entirely in the hands of subsistence users in northern communities.

We will, of course, continue to follow these developments and will bring you any news as it develops. But for now, it appears even more certain that sport caribou hunting in Québec will be closed for the foreseeable future.