However, to return to the Caribou and the main object of this narrative, during my winter travels I was fortunate to see thousands upon thousands of those graceful animals.
Once in particular I witnessed the purposeful migration of Caribou. This was when returning in December, short of food and short of sled-dogs, from the region of the Barren Lands, where no Caribou had been seen. Indeed, not one animal was encountered north of the locality I speak of, a point about sixty miles north of Reindeer Lake. Here one morning, after camping overnight on the edge of a small lake that only had a range of view of about a mile, from daylight until I struck camp about 11 a.m., I witnessed countless herds of Caribou crossing the lake in a south-easterly direction-one herd following another, company on company, regiment on regiment: and they were still passing when I left. It would be impossible to estimate them. One could not tell where the column began nor where it ended, nor if similar columns were passing behind us to the north or beyond vision in the south. I attempted to count some herds as they crossed ; one numbered close on one hundred before it disappeared into the forest and I could count no further. Many were bands of between twenty and forty. All appeared intent on travelling, and were, as far as one could see, all does and fawns. The Indians assert that the does and fawns are now moving north again (December 20), and say that this is about their usual time for doing so. However, the migration I witnessed was going south-east, as I have said, though I cannot deny that if the wind veered to the north they would almost certainly swing in that direction. I have come to the conclusion that they always travel up-wind, and that they only gain distance in whatever determined direction they are travelling by going forward more rapidly in a favourable head-wind, and returned more slowly on an adverse head-wind. It appears to me something like incoming tide on the seashore ; waves washing forward and drawing back, but ever reaching further and further up the beach to the distance they are set to gain. I believe the strongest motive the animals have in travelling up-wind is a very simple one, that of comfort and warmth (as a seabird riding the waves), since the wind then blows the way the hair lies on the animals. A further motive is that in thus travelling they are assured that their keen scent will warn them if they are approaching danger.
Caribou I also conclude are rather an elusive quantity. They may be here to-day and gone to-morrow, and not an animal may be seen in a certain locality for a week or two weeks. Then one day you may find they have returned-or is it a fresh lot arrived ? In December there were no tracks or signs of Caribou north of latitude 59°. Southwards, between latitudes 58° and 59°, the great herds above mentioned were encountered. Yet when I got into Du Brochet Post again (a little south of latitude 58°) the Indians complained of the Caribou being very scarce, and all were anxious about meat. In January I travelled south on the great sea-like area of ice-bound Reindeer Lake. At that time Caribou were plentiful on the lake except toward the south end, where there were few, and the people at the Hudson Bay Post then had very little meat. Possibly Caribou came down after I left, for I believed the bucks to be still working south.
However, the Indians tell me that when the Caribou fail to pass their neighbourhood as they have been accustomed to doing, they are sometimes forced to travel and camp in a favoured locality so that they may kill their winter store of meat and not starve.
Whenever I had the opportunity I closely questioned Indians regarding the numbers of the Barren-ground Caribou, and every individual was agreed that in the neighbourhood of Reindeer Lake and in the territory north of it, those animals were more plentiful in 1914 than in former days. There is one factor which perhaps accounts largely for this increase of Caribou, and that is that the Chipewyan Indians who inhabit the territory directly south of the Eskimo country, and who are called in their own language " The Caribou Eaters," are fast dying out, victims of interbreeding and consumption. It is sad, but woefully true. Philip Merasty, an old halfbreed, 61 years of age, who, when a child, came with his people from Ile a la Crosse to camp at the north end of Reindeer Lake, whence plentiful Caribou meat had drawn them, told me that when he came there were then three hundred Chipewyans in the Du Brochet territory, and in 1914 they numbered less than one hundred. If one estimates the Caribou kill, per male Indian per winter, at about forty animals (which is a common average in my experience, though it exceeds by double the number Thompson Seton estimates in his book The Arctic Prairies) and takes the adult male population as about one third of the whole population, one arrives at substantial figures which show, in a broad sense, how much less destruction is taking place among the Caribou at the present time owing to the decrease in Indian population. I arrive at figures in this way : If in 1864 100 Chipewyans killed 40 Caribou per head the total kill was4,000 Caribou,and if in 1914 34 Chipewyans killed 40 Caribou per head, the total kill was 1,360. Therefore, at a broad estimate, 2,640 fewer were killed in that area in 1914 than fifty years ago; and each year the conditions are improving-for the Caribou. Moreover, the territory I speak of is at present far beyond the reach of the white hunter, and is likely to remain so at least for another century, so that there is no incoming race to counterbalance the outgoing Indian.
When first encountered the Caribou were feeding on withered marsh-hay, growing sometimes with tufts still above the snow, along the edges of the countless land-locked lakes ; and on moss of a pale greenish-white colour which grows on sandy hills, or more luxuriantly in low-lying muskegs. Later they fed on similar food, but had to dig through the snow for it-as I have previously described. In bad snowstorms the Indians say the Caribou yard together after the manner of frightened sheep, and that a man can walk in among them at such times ; but this I have not witnessed. The Caribou invariably feed up-wind, as I have said, and travel overland through the woods from lake to lake along chosen paths long established. It is common about noon, when the animals are resting after their morning feed, to find Caribou out in the centre of a lake, lying down or grouped about resting in the sunlight, while the watchful old leader scans the open snows on all sides, and sniffs the drifting wind.