The capacity of hunters to shape the fundamental properties of their lifestyle at times when extrinsic factors change the availability of subsistence foods is critical to subsistence cultures. Recent changes in deer hunting on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska illustrate the social-ecological challenges to the resilience of a rural subsistence hunting system and raise the broader question of whether efficient hunting strategies necessarily enhance resilience. During the latter half of the 20th century, indigenous people of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island adapted to changing subsistence opportunities by capitalizing on increased availability of deer due to clearcut logging and the construction of roads. Consequently, deer became a more important source of protein. Four decades later, a decline in logging activity is likely to reduce deer availability due to successional changes in habitat. In the face of this social-ecological change, the resilience of the deer hunting component of subsistence traditions will depend on hunters’ capacity to adapt to irreversible landscape changes by adopting different harvest strategies that may require more effort to maintain sufficient levels of subsistence harvest. For example, hunters may return to pre-road hunting methods or reduce their reliance on deer for meat and re-emphasize marine resources. These ecologically driven changes in social harvesting practices suggest that adaptability protecting the fundamental properties of a subsistence system from one disturbance may increase vulnerability to another. We show that increased efficiency of a subsistence system did not necessarily enhance resilience if system flexibility is reduced.