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Know the West

Meet the caribou hunter of Arctic Village, Alaska

Photos of this winter’s hunt and a community’s subsistence way of life.


Each year, as the Alaskan winter transitions to spring, the Porcupine caribou herd begins its annual migration from south of the Brooks range and in the Yukon Territory, north to the coastal stretches of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2013, roughly 197,000 caribou made the trip, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. When the migrating caribou pass through indigenous villages, subsistence hunters like Charlie Swaney of Arctic Village take caribou for food and other traditional uses. Swaney's 2015 hunt is documented in these photos.

Unlike the high-profile predator hunting in Alaska, Swaney's hunting is quiet and close-to-home. "When the caribou migrate through, they hang out close to town for awhile, resting on the lakes, grazing in the muskeg forests," says photographer Nathaniel Wilder. "Our Gwich'in host would watch the caribou from his living room, through binoculars. He called the living room window 'the Outdoor Channel' as he could watch patterns of the caribou and wolves approaching the herd." If he wants to hunt, he hitches his sled to his snow machine and travels ten minutes down the way to the lake. After field dressing them, he brings his kills home.

Swaney also cuts down trees for the wood stoves that heat Arctic Village's buildings. His work plays a large role in his and the village's survival: Job opportunities are limited, cash is hard to come by and the village has resisted efforts to lease their land to oil and gas companies. Kate Schimel

A previous version referred to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A version of this story appeared in the print magazine.