Because wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are hunted in southern Norway, reindeer may perceive all recreationists as threats. Potential adverse effects of hunting on reindeer behavior may be exacerbated by other forms of recreation because the number of skiers and hikers in areas inhabited by reindeer has also increased. The Norefjell–Reinsjøfjell wild reindeer area is used extensively for recreation and tourism. Reindeer hunting was introduced in the area in 1992, and harvest rate has been stable at about 38% of winter herd size. We recorded behavioral responses of reindeer to a person approaching directly on foot or skis during 1992 and again in 2002–2006. Compared to 1992, flight-initiation distance increased and fewer groups assessed the observer before taking flight during 2002–2006. In winter, when reindeer are usually comparably more vigilant than in other seasons, flight-initiation distance increased from only 60 m to 115 m and escape distance decreased from 400 m to 210 m. Neither alert distance, calf carcass weights (23.6 ± 0.7 [SE] kg to 22.4 ± 0.2 kg), nor reindeer herd size (661 ± 73 to 579 ± 15) changed during the 15 years of our study. Reindeer appeared to habituate to the observer because they initiated flight at shorter distances as the number of approaches on the same day increased. In Norefjell–Reinsjøfjell, encounters with a person on foot or skis did not result in behavioral responses likely to entail substantial energy costs for reindeer; therefore, hunting at current levels appears compatible with other recreational activities.
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Vol. 73 • No. 6