Both male and female caribou have antlers. Last year we saw a large herd cross the road we were traveling on, but had no way of telling which ones were male and which ones were females. Unfortunately, I do not possess a scope or binoculars.

Is it possible to identify the sex of a caribou without a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope?

2 Answers 2


According to an article on caribou sex identification by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Only the white rump without a [black] vulva patch or the presence of a penis sheath should be used for positive identification [of a male caribou].

The article says that both sexes have antlers, and there is significant overlap between young bulls and mature cows in antler characteristics. Antlers are not useful for identifying males.

Nor can you use testicles as a mean of ID-ing a male. Testicles on a bull look like the udder on a cow.

The direction of the urine stream will help. The urine stream from a cow goes backwards; from a bull, forwards.

Whether you need binoculars to spot the penis sheath or the absence of the black vulva spot on the white rump is not absolutely clear from this article. The article advises you to stay 200 or 300 yards away so as not to spook the animals; at this distance, you will need binoculars. But the article assumes that you are hunting.

  • 3
    Great insight and information!
    – Ken Graham
    Jun 26, 2016 at 23:43
  • 3
    That advice is very conservative because Alaskan hunters face dire legal consequences for shooting a female. In most groups, you can safely assume the larger animals with the much bigger antlers are males... You just can't be sure the smaller ones are not immature males. They behave differently too—the big males just have a lot more swagger.
    – Nathan
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:20
  • @Nathan I think your comment should be an answer. I will upvote it if you write it as an answer.
    – ab2
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:49

Mature bull caribou generally are bigger than females, have much bigger antlers, and behave with a lot more confidence and machismo, especially during the rut.

If you watch a group of caribou for a while, even from a distance, it's pretty easy to pick out the mature males.

The advice in the Alaska hunting regulations about determining sex is very conservative because in most cases Alaskan hunters face dire legal consequences for shooting a female. You can't just assume the first caribou you see is male. And caribou with smaller antlers might be legally harvestable immature males.

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