Reindeer Hunting

Once again I have failed to be as diligent with my blog posts as I was in the very beginning… I do not know why, but sometimes I have this overwhelming desire to document everything, and then other times it is the furthest thing from my mind!

(From 25-25 August 2012)


By far, the highlight of August after returning from the Sarfaq Ittuk ferry trip was going reindeer hunting with my host family the weekend of 25-26 August!  The five of us (Pia, Ulrik, Aviaja, Kasik, and I) left on that Saturday afternoon and sailed north for a few hours into Godthåbsfjord to a place called Ilulialik Fjord.  It is a nice place to hunt for reindeer, but getting there can pose technical difficulties.  First, the sea floor is a mudflat essentially, so the water is grey and very cloudy.  Many peoples’ boat radars cannot detect the depth due to the thick water, so sailing there could open the risk of running aground.  Second, the area is highly affected by tidal change, so it is important to study the tide schedule or else you may find your boat on high ground when you return to it!  Finally, because the sea floor is mud and not rock, you must use a second anchor as backup.  All of these conditions work in the favor of the hunters because it means the area will not be completely crowded by others.

We arrived to Ilulialik Fjord around dinnertime on Saturday evening and anchored at a spot just at the mouth of the fjord.  It was so wide open and peaceful with only the sound of a few nearby roaring waterfalls cutting the silence.

While Pia and Aviaja started preparing dinner on the stove on board, Ulrik and I rowed the dingy ashore to give Kasik a small evening walk.  Dinner was warm chili over rice – the perfect boat camping food!  We slept on the boat that night, and turned in early in anticipating of waking early to sail the rest of the way into the fjord.

On Sunday morning we awoke early and took the dinghy the remainder of the way into the fjord.  It was low tide which was nice because the deeper water in between the muddy shores made a very clear “yellow brick road” to follow!

When we got almost to shore, we could see another boat and campsite, which meant there were other hunters there.  But they were on the right side of a wide stream and not likely to cross the water, so we decided we would stay on the left side of the stream.  Below is a picture of the stream that ends by spilling into the water as a waterfall.

I really do not have much concept of how much time or distance we spent before we saw the first animal – perhaps two or three hours?  We were almost to a point where we said if we did not see anything, we would just turn back and pick blueberries instead.

But then, we saw an animal!  It was a fair distance ahead, but still we walked toward it.  This hunting trip was for Pia – she was aiming to shoot her first reindeer, so we were not going to leave having seen an animal and not at least trying to get it!  Aviaja, Kasik, and I stayed back a ways while Pia and Ulrik went ahead quietly, so we did not actually see Pia take her shot, but we heard it!

Pia made a successful shot – a female – and then when they saw a little one running afterward, Ulrik shot it, too.  It would be irresponsible to not shoot the calf because without its mother, it would not survive.  It is also considered irresponsible to not follow after an animal that you have shot but not killed, only wounded.  At one point, Ulrik handed me binoculars and told me to keep a look out for other reindeer in the area.  So I went to the top of a small hill and when I looked into the binoculars, I saw many reindeer, and one in particular was heading directly for us!  I kept telling Ulrik it was coming closer, and closer, and closer, and finally he got up and shot it, too.  So that made our count 2 adult females and 1 calf.







So after some celebration for Pia’s first reindeer…

… we got to the task of breaking down the animals.  You remove the head, the skin, the inside organs (expect for the liver – you keep that one to make pate (leverpostej)) , and any limbs that have little to no meat on them.

Then when the animal has been reduced to the viable and valuable parts (skeleton with meat on it), you fold it up in a way that makes it as compact as possible – i.e. the legs tuck into the ribcage – and then strap it to a carrying frame backpack to carry back to the boat.

Pia and Ulrik carried the adult, and I carried the small calf.  Since the calf was small enough, it did not need to be folded into a backpack; instead I just carried it around my shoulders.  Actually, I had wanted very much to carry a hunted animal like this! I had seen many other Greenlanders’ pictures on Facebook like this, and I wanted one like it, too! To me, it just looks really badass! The only thing that could have made it more badass was for me to shoot the animal myself 😉

So, after we strapped and hoisted the animals to our backs, we made the walk back to the boat.  Pia and Ulrik’s animals were pretty sizeable, so we took frequent breaks to drink water and refuel.

We had to take two dinghy trips back to the boat this time because of the extra weight of the animals.  So Ulrik took Pia, Aviaja, and Kasik back to the boat first, while I waited on shore with the animals.  Then Ulrik came back for me.  It was a little bit funny looking – the animals packed tightly into backpacks and riding in the dinghy.  Almost like fellow passengers!

It ended up being quite a long day.  By the time we sailed back to Nuuk, unpacked, cleaned things up a bit, and showered it was close to 11 PM.  But it was a fantastic two days, and it was really great to see what everyone in Nuuk talks about come late summer when hunting season begins!

I will just briefly describe the follow up actions of hunting over the three days or so after a hunt.  When we got home, we immediately hung the animals – Ulrik says the meat tastes better if you do this.


Then, over the next couple of days, it is important to keep a close eye on the meat and look for any spots that do not look fresh.  While you walk back to your boat or campsite, the meat is exposed for some time before the outer layer dries and flies can land on it.  There is usually a clear indicator that an area of the meat has gone bad based on color and smell.  If this occurs, then you just cut out the bad meat.  Fortunately, we only had to cut away a small portion.

After a few days, the meat has hung long enough and is ready to be used or packed for storage.  This is also the time when you completely clean the meat of grasses and such that stick to it during butchering and carrying phase.  Pia and Ulrik have their own meat grinder, so we ground all of the tougher and sinewy meat and bagged it in 400 g portions and then bagged the muscle meats, as well.  They also kept one entire leg in tact to smoke.