Tuntuq: Deer

Tuntuq piturnirtaartut.: Deer always tastes good.

Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) are a popular and important subsistence resource for Kodiak Islanders. Once found only in northern coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, the animal’s range now includes Yakutat Bay, Prince William Sound and the Kodiak region. Sitka deer were first introduced to Kodiak in 1924, with the release of 14 animals on Long Island. An additional nine deer were released on Kodiak Island in 1934. From these small herds, a large population grew and spread throughout the archipelago.

Sitka deer are small and stocky with a short face.Adults range from 80 to 120 pounds in the fall. They eat leafy green shrub vegetation in summer and evergreen forbs, woody shrubs and lichens in the winter.

On Kodiak, deer hunting season begins in August and runs into early winter. Hunting is most common in the fall, particularly in November and December. At this time of year, snow forces the animals out of the mountains into lower elevation. Deer can even be found on beaches, where they are hunted by boat.

Subsistence studies indicate that the deer are Kodiak’s third most important wild food, after salmon and sea mammals, and the most important terrestrial resource. Deer are harvested in all communities, although reliance on these animals is greatest in rural villages. Here, Alutiiq families harvest an average of three to five deer per year, obtaining several hundred pounds of meat.

Alutiiqs make deer meat into steaks, roasts, burgers and stews, and deer antlers are gaining popularity as a raw material. Artists fashion deer antler into jewelry, as well as handles for ulu knives and woven baskets.

The Alutiiq Word of the Week is produced by the Alutiiq Museum with support from the Kodiak Area Native Association, the National Science Foundation, and Sun’ami Inc.

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