Genetic and linguistic evidence suggests that, after living in the Subarctic for thousands of years, Northern Athabascans began migrating to the American Southwest around 1,000 years ago. Anthropologists have proposed that this partial out-migration and several associated in situ behavioral changes were the result of a massive volcanic eruption that decimated regional caribou herds. However, regional populations appear to increase around the time of these changes, a demographic shift that may have led to increased territoriality, resource stress, and specialization. Building on existing syntheses of cultural dynamics in the region, analyses of excavated materials, and landscape data from Alaska and Yukon, this research shows that the Athabascan transition represented a gradual shift toward resource specialization in both salmon and caribou with an overall increase in diet breadth, indicating a behavioral transition that is more consistent with gradual demographic change. Further, this behavioral shift was already in motion at the time of the volcanic eruption circa 1150 cal BP and suggests that the ultimate migration from the area was the result of demographic pressures. In sum, this research elaborates on the complex dynamics of resilience and adaptation in hunter-gatherer groups and provides a testable model for explaining past migrations.