With their sharp hooves and strong forelegs, they can scrape away the snow to surprising depths to uncover the vegetation, while in summer they can move easily over marshy ground.
When the rich carpet of mosses and lichens springs up after the thaw on the tundra, the woodland reindeer migrate northward, where they can find some relief from the great swarms of mosquitoes which torment all animals in summer on the forest border.
The advent of summer leads to rapid rise in temperature. In the month of May, ice melts in a few hours. In fact, half a day is enough to thaw a river like the Angara and Lena, i.e., to melt away a sheet of about one metre thick. Two days later the grass shoots up.
In the summer season, the reindeer move northward and the Eskimos move southward from the-Arctic coasts. Moving inland they seek the large herds of caribou and reindeer, which feed on the summer growth of mosses, lichens, herbs and small shrubs.
In summer, they hunt for subsistence and in winter for the fur trade. The whole life of the Tungus, Samoyed, Chuckchi, Koryak and Yukaghir is organized to suit reindeer hunting. In May, just when the reindeer, which have been harassed by losquitoes and gadflies, leave the forest for ice-free pastures of the north, they are thin and often covered with sores.
Many a times the herds are attacked by anthrax epidemic. Once this epidemic killed more than one lakh reindeer in the Russian Arctic in August and September, when the beasts return to the forest after having been fattened in summer, the real and major hunt begins.
In summer, although individual hunting with the bow is common, the herding habits of caribou and reindeer encourage group hunting, and the families which have scattered in the spring unite again before moving inland. Summer camps are established near the heads of wide valleys which give easy access to the narrow ravines and uplands.
The herds move northward and they travel as much as three hundred kilometers from their winter pastures. They often take the same route for several years and very little in the time of their movements.
At the beginning of the season, the animals can often be driven on the marshy ground with a thin ice covering where hunters may easily run them down.
But the favourite and most successful of the hunting methods is a drive into a lake or river where spearmen lie ambushed in kayaks (boats) and paddle rapidly into the herd, spearing them as they swim.
In Siberia, in the territory of Yakuts, herds of several thousand animals are often seem moving in columns 50 to 100 kms (30 to 60 miles) long.
Both the Yukaghirs and Yakuts prefer to attack them as they pass across a stream of Lena and Yana Rivers and their tributaries.
As soon as the herd has followed its leader into the water, the hunters shoot forward in boats to delay the crossing, whilst the most skillful, armed with short spears, penetrates into the mass of swimming beasts and slaughter them.
Good Yukaghir hunters have been seen to kill a hundred reindeer in less than half-an-hour. When killed the beasts are pulled up on the banks and cut up. The meat is dried, smoked, or frozen if temperature is suitable, and form a stock of winter food.
Besides caribou smaller game are taken. Wolves and hares are caught in traps and snares, while the large summer flocks of duck and geese are struck down with light spears or taken in whalebone nooses.
Moreover, in the summer season, salmon and trout are the chief catch. In June, shortly after the ice has melted, the mature fish migrate up the rivers to the lake.
The fish often move in such vast shoals that they choke the waters and can be speared wholesale with the ingenious trident spears which grip the impaled fish and draw them out from the water. At other times they are caught in bag nets or trapped behind weirs in the estuaries with the ebb of the tide.