Deer was an important source of food and raw materials for many Indigenous Peoples. For some cultures, deer meat was a central component of the diet; for others it supplemented the diet. Here, by deer, we mean primarily white-tailed deer and/or mule but the ethnographic literature does not always clearly distinguish between these two species and other deer relatives, such as North American elk, caribou and occasionally moose [47, 48]. For example, the Chipewyan  and Kutchin (Gwich’in)  used the words “deer and/or caribou”. Thus some of the ethnographic literature reviewed here may extend beyond white-tailed deer and mule deer to other deer relatives.
Some cultures took full advantage of the availability of deer: the Kyuquot were traditional marine mammal hunters, but they also hunted deer . Some Mackenzie cultures regarded deer and salmon as equally important . Access to guns increased the West Coast cultures’ interest in hunting land animals like deer [54, 55]. Deer was one of the principal animals consumed by prehistoric West Coast Peoples [56, 57]. In the boreal forest, deer were vital for the Chipewyan . The Western Abenaki, Anishinabeg (Anishinabek), Sanpoil, Coast Salish and Similkameen had access to ample deer in their territories [15, 52, 61-63]. Cultures that lived inland such as the Dene relied more on deer than their coastal neighbors who often depended on fish [52, 54]. On Vancouver and the Charlotte Islands, deer was only available on the southern points while cultures of the British Columbia interior had ample access to deer . Deer was a common traditional food of the Nuxalk, known as scwpanilh . To the Tlingit it was known as goaka?n .
Other cultures were less keen to seek deer: Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) preferred marine food sources and the Stalo favored mountain goat and black bear despite availability of deer [25, 42]. The Coeur d’Alene hunted deer to a large extent; however when horses became available their focus changed to bison .
Deer was available throughout the year; however cultures tended to hunt during seasons when other food sources were no longer available or when the quality of the deer meat and hide was at its best [17, 33, 37, 67-69]. For example, the Flathead and Plains Cree hunted deer when bison season ended, the Kutenai (Kootenai) hunted when bison and antelope were scarce, and the Shuswap hunted after the salmon run had ended in fall [70-73]. The time of year determined the quality and fatness of the animals: the doe was fattest in spring near calving time and the buck was fattest in fall after the summer feeding season . The Tlingit preferred to hunt in winter for the thick quality of the hide . The People of Port Simpson avoided hunting deer in May because they found the venison had a bitter taste during mating season . The Iroquois, Shawnee and Southern Okanagan hunted mainly in fall [33, 37, 76]. The Katzie actively hunted deer in summer to accumulate winter stores of dried meat . Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) are reported to have caught deer anytime of the year; although deer hunting permits were required, few villagers obtained them .
Some seasons were easier to hunt than others. The Nuxalk, Lower Kutenai, Kyuquot and Huron hunted deer in fall and winter when the snow made tracking easier [16, 51, 77, 78]. The Mi’kmaq, Middle Columbia Salish, Eastern Abenaki, Maliseet, Southern Chippewa (Anishinabek), People of Port Simpson and Nootka mostly hunted deer in winter on snowshoes [33, 54, 59, 68, 79-82]. The Thompson, who relied on deer for sustenance, followed the grazing patterns of the herds each season: the deer moved north in spring and south in fall crossing the same valleys, mountains and rivers .
Some cultures were reported to have experienced changes in deer populations. Deer numbers declined in the Thompson (N'laka'pamux) area at the turn of the nineteenth century, encouraging the increase in North American elk; however when North American elk herds dwindled, deer made a reappearance in the region . In the past there was an abundance of deer in the Sioux territory . The People of Port Simpson (Tsimshian) attribute the decline of deer populations to an augmentation of logging practices and an increase in the wolf population .
A wide range of hunting strategies were used to hunt deer, including communal drives, spring traps, blinds, deadfalls, snares, nooses, animal calls, decoys, tracking and stalking [5, 28, 30, 33, 38, 47, 54, 83-88].
Deer were herded in communal drives into enclosures, fences, water, nets, canyons or off cliffs and between mountains into ambushes of men waiting with weapons [72, 80, 89, 90]. Hunters drove deer into nets that entangled deer antlers, trapping them long enough for the men to club or spear the animals [39, 88, 91]. Dogs were frequently used to run animals down, keep them at bay until men arrived, and herd them into designated areas where hunters waited with arrows and spears [5, 25, 28, 33, 36, 80, 86, 90, 92-97]. Lillooet trained a puppy to be a good hunting dog by placing a fresh deer stomach over its head .
Communal hunts involved a large group of men with a leader occasionally aided by women and children all working together to funnel the animals into a desired location [2, 13, 16, 28, 33, 72, 90, 98]. The Southern Okanagan hunted in small groups in winter and participated in large collective drives in fall . The Southern Okanagan hunt leader was believed to possess mystical powers; he made all decisions regarding the hunt and took care of all preparations [33, 90]. Shuswap driving techniques included the building of enclosures in the water or leading from the water onto a bank and the driving of animals up to clearings on mountain tops . Micmac (Mi’kmaq) used fire in winter to drive deer . The Huron collective hunts included hundreds of men who walked in a line making noise forcing the animals to rush at them or run into the water, they also constructed small surrounds and imitated wolves to compel the deer into them . Crow hunters rode in groups on horseback with guns; however traditionally they drove herds off of a cliff or into a corral . Lower Kutenai invited the Upper Kutenai to join their hunting parties. A leader would choose the day, lead his men to a specific location and give them directions. Generally the younger men and boys drove the deer toward seasoned hunters waiting with bow and arrow . Mohawk (Iroquois) hunting parties included up to one hundred men who worked together to drive deer into a corral . One communal hunt could provide enough meat for the entire season . Large group hunts had greater chances of success and the best hunters received a larger share of the fat and hide . The Coast Salish drove deer that ventured near the village into the water where they were easily speared . Traditionally women did not participate in deer hunting; however when hunting trips were long men sometimes brought their wives to make camp, tend to the fire, and prepare meals . Although large communal hunting trips were common, men often went on individual or small group hunts to kill a few deer when it was not the main subsistence activity .
The Canadian Sioux tracked deer closely, and circled around them until the animals appeared to search for a place to rest, at which time they were approached from downwind to make a kill . When a group of deer or North American elk was found, Nootka hunters followed them until a skilled hunter removed all his clothes and pursued the deer naked on his snowshoes, then waited for someone to bring him his clothing . Similarly, the Plains Ojibwa (Chippewa) tracked deer until the animals became tired, attacking when they rested .
A unique method practiced by some was night hunting in canoes on lakes with a light or torch: one man held up a light to locate deer that had stopped at the water’s edge for a drink – the deer’s eyes would reflect the light allowing a second man to locate the animal and shoot [5, 91, 103]. Ambushes at salt licks and watering holes were also common [28, 70].
Bow and arrow was often used to hunt deer but was quickly replaced by the rifle when it became available [28, 33, 39, 54, 61, 85, 92, 96, 97, 100, 104-106]. The Nuxalk made bows that were designed to shoot horizontally, hooting arrows with shell arrowheads and bird feathers added to the shaft . Lillooet hunters made arrows with saskatoon berry wood, sinew, arrowheads, three grouse feathers, and cottonwood bud glue. The bows were made from Rocky Mountain maple and sinew . The Kwakiutl made bows from yew wood and arrowheads from stone, bone, or copper . The Katzie produced arrows with removable heads, detaching from the shaft when they hit a target .
Traps, nets and snares were often set along deer trails and common places frequented by the animals [3, 36, 38]. For example, the Coast Salish set traps on nearby trails  and the Thompson used snares . Snowfalls, consisting of holes dug in the snow, lined with sharp sticks, and baited with urine or salt to attract the deer, were also used to catch deer .
Some cultures found other ways to lure deer. Some men hunted alone using a specially made whistle, or grunting to call the animals [59, 71, 90, 107]. Men disguised themselves with deerskins and wore antlers to lure deer close enough to spear [1, 5, 33, 73].
It was believed that the Coast Salish employed slash and burn techniques to rejuvenate the brush of areas where deer fed to attract more to the area and keep them from migrating to find other food sources .
Hunters were often purified before they went on a deer hunting trip . They often sang and prayed in sweat houses to mentally prepare for the hunt and remove all body odors so that deer could not pick up their scent [26, 33]. In addition to bathing and cleansing in sweathouses, the Southern Okanagan were expected to drink potions, hang glands on their leggings and abstain from sex . The Middle Columbia River Salish were expected to enter the sweathouse twice a day for ten days to thoroughly cleanse themselves and remove body odor before a major hunting trip, as well as to abstain from sex .
Hunters often sent others to the site of the kill to pack and process the meat . The hunter removed and washed the organs, but it was usually the women who skinned and cut the meat that the men brought back on their backs . When many animals were killed, the hunters skinned and cut the meat before transporting to camp [33, 109]. Traditionally, the animal was cut into nine pieces and everything was used including the brains, marrow, liver, pancreas, kidney and eyes [33, 110]. The front legs were cut, followed by the back legs, the sinew was then removed, a cut was made along the backside, and along the ribs; the head was cut off last, the hind was hung, and the meat was sliced the following day . Venison was almost always partitioned between all hunters in a party or all members of the community [33, 70]. A hunter who did not share his catch was not regarded well. For some communities it was customary for the hunter to wait until the meat was portioned before eating it himself; however if he was suffering from starvation he could eat some meat to regain his strength .
Cooking practices included boiling, roasting, baking and drying. The Coast Salish ate steamed, boiled, or roasted deer meat [3, 91, 111]. Chunks of venison were covered with water and hot stones were added until the water was brought to a boil and the meat was cooked. Vegetables and seasonings could be added to make a stew. Roasted meat was prepared on a spit and cooked over a fire. Baked meat was wrapped in seaweed put on top of hot coals in a pit and covered for many hours. It took up to ten hours to bake a whole deer in this manner [3, 33]. The Middle Columbian Salish used earth ovens to bake . The Lillooet ate fresh, dried or smoked meat and roasted the heads . The people of Nootka Sound ate roasted deer meat and Nootka preferred to eat fresh meat instead of dried [84, 112]. The Kyuquot preferred roasted meat as well . Dried meat was eaten when fresh food was not available, especially in winter and spring whereas roasted meat was eaten in summer and fall when most hunting took place [5, 37]. The Iroquois roasted and dried meat but more often boiled it twice, reserving the broth, to which corn was added making a thick soup, and the meat was subsequently fried in animal fat .
Excess deer meat could be frozen in winter and dried or smoked at any time of the year to prepare for winter provisions [2, 33, 70, 114]. The majority of venison was acquired in winter and meat was half dried, stored and then completely dried in spring under the sun. When the meat was obtained at other times of the year it was dried immediately, packaged and stored . Meat was dried by cutting it into thick long slices hung on a rack and smoked for over a week until it became hard . If meat was dried outdoors, smoky fires were constructed near the meat to repel flies. On rainy or cloudy days, the meat was dried indoors [3, 33, 108]. To dry venison the meat was also dry roasted over an almost smokeless fire while being turned as it cooked for a day . Venison was often smoked over heather fires . Sun dried meat was sliced thinner while smoked meat was thicker . Dried meat was stored in a cool place for long periods of time . During the drying process meat was turned over and could be sliced into smaller pieces and trampled between deerskin before being stored. These small pieces of dried and flattened meat were called papapuze. Dried meat was usually boiled in water and made into a soup or roasted and was eaten as pemmican by mixing pounded dried meat with fat or tallow [33, 70, 108, 111]. Dried meat was also crushed between two boards or birch bark to make pemmican which was stored in deer hide bags . Freezers facilitated the preservation of meat for the modern Kyuquot in the winter .
Preparation of many deer parts has been documented. Tallow was rendered by boiling deer bones/fat and collecting that which floated to the top. The hot tallow was poured over food to seal the boxes storing food for a later date [110, 111, 116]. Intestines and bladders were turned out and dried or used to store fat and blood. The intestines were hung until the contents stored within were emptied. The marrow was eaten, and the blood was drunk raw, mixed with berries, used to thicken soup, or boiled with meat [33, 51, 70, 111, 115]. Deer liver was a delicacy for the Tlingit and was eaten raw by some First Nations peoples. The Okanagan boiled the chopped head and reserved the brains for tanning hides [33, 40]. The Moachat (Nuu-chah-nulth), however, did not eat deer head and ridiculed those who did . Women were prohibited from eating deer blood and kidneys . The fat was commonly consumed and used a seasoning, providing an excellent source of calories .
It was commonplace for Nootka to hold a feast for neighbors when a deer was harvested . Similarly, the Kutenai women and children skinned and prepared the meat for a feast after a successful communal hunt . Lillooet feasts were centered around deer .
Uses other than food
Cultures used parts of the deer for a variety of purposes [5, 13, 24, 114]. The hide was scraped of hair, washed and stretched. When it was dry, it was smoked, soaked in a warm brain-water mixture, scraped, stretched and smoked again before being ready to be made into garments . Cultures used the hide to make sandals, moccasins, dresses, shirts, loin cloths, leggings, buoys, bags, coverings and packaging to protect meat until it was consumed [2, 38, 69, 70, 116]. The Southern Chippewa made the majority of their clothing with deer skin . Sinew, bones antlers, hooves, and teeth were used to make various conventional objects including instruments, rattles, harpoon points, arrowheads, thread, and fish hooks [5, 38, 70, 114]. Scrapers to remove excess flesh and hair were made out of deer ribs; antlers were used to make digging sticks. Shin bones were made into awls for making baskets . Tanning skins was a women’s task [69, 80]. Brains were traditionally used in the hide tanning process [70, 92]. Deer tallow could be used to make ointments . The Kalispel used deer meat and seared hooves as bait in deadfalls to catch valuable fur bearing animals . When game was scarce, tobacco and ammunition was used to trade for venison .
Beliefs and taboos
The Plains Cree tanned most deer hides and hung the heads in a tree or shrub . When a few deer were killed and the loads could not all be transported back to camp, the carcasses were put in a covered stone pit facing east to prevent ghosts from stealing the meat. Coast Salish women were forbidden from stepping over deer meat, and the men had to look away when uncovering it. All bones had to be thrown into the water, and the viscera not consumed were buried so the dogs would not eat it. If these practices were not followed, they believed that misfortune would befall the hunter . The Middle Columbian Salish brought the deer carcass into the house from the back to lay it on a bed of ferns for display before the ceremonial cutting. After each incision a prayer of thanks was said, and then the meat was shared evenly with everyone in the group .
The Squamish were required to hunt deer in a way that showed respect for the animals; otherwise, they believed that they would not be able to kill more animals. A hunter could not tell anyone he was planning on hunting, and could never tell anyone where he had been. He was obliged to cover the antlers of dead deer with white down if he were to leave them overnight so that ghosts would not steal the meat. A hunter also was obligated to share all the meat and not eat any until he returned to his family, otherwise the deer’s spirit would think he was greedy and would not permit him to kill any more deer . The Coast Salish had strict codes of behavior for the wives of hunters while they were on hunting trips: abstain from cooking, brush hair, build fires, remain quiet, rest, and act like a deer by chewing on something . The Southern Okanagan had taboos against women eating deer ribs on a hunt unless they were dry, as well as eating any organs until the hunt was over. Women could not enter the part of the house where a slain deer lay, or travel farther than the men. If she did this her husband was required to spend three days in the sweathouse . The Comox, Slaiämun, Klahuse, Sechelt and West Sanetch were forbidden from stepping over deer meat, and this rule was more seriously obeyed by the women. The Slaiämun, Klahuse and West Sanetch were to keep meat covered at all times. The Pentlatch and Squamish buried or hid all deer bones. The West Sanetch were not permitted to eat deer meat and fish at the same meal . The Abitibi hung the skull and antlers of deer in trees to promote their numbers and hunting success . The Salish believed that one hunter could not touch another’s kill with his mouth and eat it without permission of the man who had killed it, or illness would overcome the man who ate any part of the animal .
The mule deer represented an important source of food and raw materials for the Lillooet, Kalispel, Shuswap, Red Earth Cree and Mid-Columbia Indians [119, 124-129]. Mule deer supplemented the diets of the Bella Coola (Nuxalk) and Tahltan [130, 131]. Although the deer was hunted throughout the year, the optimal time was fall or winter [119, 125]. Bows and arrows, spears and clubs were used [119, 125, 128]. Hunting strategies included the use of specialized dogs; surprising the animals at salt licks or watering holes; driving herds into enclosures, lakes, ambushes, or off cliffs sometimes with the use of fire, dogs and the help of women; and the use of decoys or deer costumes to lure them [119, 124, 125, 128]. The animal was skinned on site, the meat was packed and the liver was eaten immediately . Most meat was generally eaten smoked or dried .
A coastal form of mule deer, referred to as black-tailed deer, was called is-sikotuye by the Blood people [10, 72]. Black-tailed deer was one of the most common of large animals in western British Columbia that was hunted by the Kalapuya, mid-Columbia Indians, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Salish, Lillooet and Plains Ojibwa/Bungi (Chippewa) [1, 19, 44, 124-126, 129, 132-134]. Also known as the coast deer, black-tailed deer was the most important land mammal for the Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island who hunted it throughout the year with arrows and trapped it in deadfalls. The Muchalat and Opetchesaht tribes of Nootka ran deer into deep snow and killed them with yew lances . Black-tailed deer was also a favorite of the Lower Lillooet . Nootka hunted it to a limited extent: they preferred the taste of North American elk meat . Evidence that the Locarno Beach, Strait of Georgia, Queen Charlotte Strait and West Coast cultures consumed black-tailed deer was found at archeological sites; however the importance of this animal varied between cultures .
When black-tailed deer were caught, the entire animal was used: flesh, skin, sinew, bone, and antler [126, 129]. Traps and nets were often set on deer trails, and night torch hunting at waterholes was commonly used [44, 132, 133]. Animals were also stalked and killed by specially trained hunters with arrows, spears and clubs . In addition, hunting parties drove herds into corrals and bodies of water [124, 133]. Communal drives were large events and game was shared between all members. Dogs were used to chase deer in the forest, or into the water where they could be shot or killed easily. Traditional arrows detached from the shaft, and became obsolete when guns were introduced [44, 132]. The best hunting season generally started in fall and ended when the rut began . Men often ate the raw liver immediately, skinned the animal and packed the meat . Excess meat was steamed and dried for winter. The hide was used for a variety of purposes, spring deer bones were cracked and boiled to make a cosmetic product, and lower leg bones were used for arrowheads and spear points . Nootka called black-tailed deer ahtoosh or moouch . It is reported that black-tailed deer were numerous on the west coast in the past, but have been replaced, in several areas, by white-tailed deer [127, 130].
Another mule deer subspecies, the Sitka deer, was one of the most important mammals for Southeast Alaskans. Although the population varied from year to year it was an easily acquired resource that provided sustenance and raw materials . Sitka deer remains were found on Admiralty Island suggesting it was once a resource used by the Tlingit as well . Sitka deer meat was boiled, roasted, smoked or dried. Heart, liver and intestines were delicacies and smoked deer meat was preserved in oil by Southeast Alaskans .
White-tailed deer was one of the most significant animals hunted by the Spokane, Western Woods Cree, Anishnabeg (Anishinabek), Kalispel and Owasco (an ancestor to the Iroquois) [61, 119, 139-141]. It was also hunted by the Kalapuya, Mid-Columbia Indians, People of Port Simpson (Tsimshian) and Plains Ojibwa/Bungi (Chippewa) [1, 59, 124, 134]. Kutenai (Kootenai) hunted white-tailed deer, but they were not always available [2, 72]. Deer were hunted throughout the year, however fall and winter seasons were most common. White-tailed deer increased in numbers when boreal caribou herds and mule deer began to decline making it an important resource for the Micmac (Mi’kmaq) and Red Earth Cree [124, 127, 142].
Hunting strategies varied according to culture, number of hunters, distance from camp, time of year, and size of group pursued [119, 140]. Bow and arrow was the primary weapon used, with traps set up where deer typically frequented or decoys and calls used to lure animals [61, 119, 140]. Hunting dogs were commonly trained to herd deer into water or over cliffs . Fall communal hunting involved constructing permanent tree stands and low stonewalls to drive the animals into targeted locations .
White-tailed deer hunting rituals included sweating, cleaning weapons and planning strategies. Men who dreamed of successful hunts were said to have deer power and were aided by all hunters to prepare for a drive, by placing burnt moccasins and feathers in the entrance of a corral to prevent the deer from escaping. The Anishnabeg believed in connections between themselves and their prey; permission from the deer spirits was required prior to a hunt and was acquired by participating in offering rituals, fasting, and prayer [61, 119, 140]. The Blood people called white-tailed deer waving tail (auwah-tuye) .
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