Hunting

Providing meat for their families was primarily the job of men, although women sometimes hunted small animals. Hunting methods, based on extensive knowledge of the habits of game animals, included shooting with a bow and arrow or gun and setting various kinds of traps. Hunters had different arrows for different kinds of game: small ones for birds, rabbits and other small animals, and larger ones for deer, bears, wolves and foxes. Deer and moose were hunted at night with lights. Deer calls that imitated the cry of fawns also attracted the deer to the hunter. Native peoples with access to the prairie region of the upper Mississippi River hunted buffalo in the summer or fall by the surround method. A large group of people would drive a herd into an enclosure where the animals could be killed. By the early 19th century, some groups, such as the Dakota, hunted the buffalo on horseback. Meat from hunts always was widely shared. Hunters used a deadfall on large animals, such as bears, wolves and foxes. A timber supported by an upright was set to fall when an animal took bait. Men made snares for rabbits. They trapped deer by concealing a stake behind some brush along a deer trail. The deer would jump over the brush and become impaled. When beaver traveled on land, they were caught when they fell into grass-covered holes dug by hunters. Men trapped for beaver, otter, and muskrat. The meat was eaten and the pelts usually were traded.

Native people believed that successful hunting always involved proper relations with the animal spirits that controlled the animals. Boys fasted many times to obtain a spirit helper to aid in hunting. Hunters held ceremonies to show respect to the animal spirits before going on a hunt, and hunters carried charms that symbolized their bond with their spirit helper. Often, men who had reputations for having especially powerful spirit helpers led deer and buffalo hunts. Today many Native people still hunt for subsistence, and tribal or other game wardens monitor hunting.

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