Arctic. Hunting and fishing




Authors: A.A. Zankovskaya, O.G. Baranova, A.A. Chuvyurov , I.A. Karapetova, V.V. Gorbacheva Album compiler: K.Yu.Solovyeva

Saami’s hunting and fishing

Hunting fur animals (squirrel, sable, glutton, ermine, fox, polar fox etc.) and fishery, along with deer farming, had and important place in the Saami’s traditional trade activities. In the 18th century, most of the Saami belonged to the maritime group, for whom fishery was the primary livelihood. In the 19th and early 20th century, the Saami took salmon in the estuaries of rivers flowing into the sea, and caught cod in the White Sea coastal waters. The Saami did not live in their fishing camps; they just occupied their salmon fishing places in spring and summer, while the minority of the population went migrating across the tundra with their deer.

A.A. Zankovskaya

The Russian population of the White and Barents Sea coasts engaged in sea hunting and fishing was traditionally called the Pomors. Fishery and sea hunting, requiring a long stay at sea from menfolk, promoted the development of a specific maritime calendar, and formation of unique “Pomor” customs and rituals. The Pomors caught salmon, cod, navaga cod, herring, and sea mammals like walrus and seal. Local residents had vast experience in making various fishing and hunting tools, shipbuilding, and special hunting clothes.

O.G. Baranova


Wild reindeer hunting

Wild reindeer hunting was the main source of livelihood for Eurasia’s tundra zone inhabitants from the earliest times. The seasonal migrations of the animals determined the population's mobile way of life. The hunters moved towards the places of maximum concentration of deer herds as the most convenient for mass hunting – inside the mainland in autumn, and towards the sea coast in spring. Seasonal camping grounds were set up at the same places. 

The hunting went on all year round, by various techniques, both individual (using an enticer deer; driven hunting on ice crust, with a gun and a disguising shield), and collective (mass killing of animals at the places of deer crossing water obstacles).

Currently, a large population of wild reindeer and hunting-oriented traditions of the Nganasans and the Enets, descendants of the Neolithic hunters of North Eurasia have only survived in the north of Taimyr, in the Arctic deserts zone.

Taiga hunting

Up to the middle of the 20th century, taiga hunting in several areas had not only a subsistence but also a commercial nature. The hunters went out hunting twice a year, from September till December and from late January till early April, before snow begins to melt. The autumn hunting was in the woods close to home, where they mainly hunted hoofed animals (deer, elks, roes), as well as bears and grouses. As to the winter period, the focus was on fur game.

At the turn of the 18th and 19th century, Komi Zyrians were among the main valuable fur suppliers to European markets. As a rule, they hunted in teams of three to 10 men. A feature of the Komi’s hunting was wide use of passive hunting tools such as crossbows set up on game trails, and all kinds of traps and snares. The original spear koybed was used both as a support when skiing, as a staff, and as a shooting stick when firing a gun. Firearms appeared in the arsenal of Komi hunters as early as in the 17th century. 

Sea hunters

Sea mammal hunting was greatly developed among the Asian Eskimos and Maritime Chukchi who lived on the shores of the Bering Strait, St. Lawrence Bay, and Cape Chaplino.

Whale hunting was collective; the killing of one animal provided the dwellers of three settlements with food and materials for several months. Whales were watched for in narrow passages between ice cakes and stabbed with spears from two sides. As soon as ice disappeared, sea mammal hunters went to sea in leather bidarrahs or kayaks, and hunted with harpoons. In the early 20th century, the hunters began to actively used the American hand-held harpoon gun with an explosive device.

Walruses were hunted from April till October. In spring and late autumn, they were killed on floes, and in summer, when afloat or at haul-outs. For hunting afloat, they used a harpoon with a swing pike, which detached from the shaft into the walrus’s body. A float made of inflated seal skin belt-tied to the pike prevented the wounded animal from drowning.

Smaller pinnipeds – seals, bearded seals, and ringed seals were caught with stake nets in early spring. The catch was fetched from water with a special pear-shaped throw-line with hooks and transferred on small sleds.

Polar bears were also hunted; the hunter stalked the animal hunting after seals on ice. The danger of being left in open sea due to the floe splitting-off made the hunter act very fast: after the shot, he skinned the bear and transported the prey ashore.

Hunters going far to the open sea returned home in any weather. Their natural marks were flying birds, wave height, and wind direction. In foul weather, the hunters’ family members went out to a high coast with lanterns and oil lamps in their hands, also showing them the way.

V.V. Gorbacheva