A group of Canadian high school students in the Yukon territory learned about respectful bison hunting and harvesting last week on Champagne and Aishihik First Nations land.
The Porter Creek Secondary School students accompanied Jim Welsch, the hunting education coordinator for the Yukon department of Environment, and Elder Harry Smith, who is an experienced hunter and outdoorsmen, on the expedition. the group set out to the Kluane Lake and Kloo Lake region for a six day hunt.
Yukon Fish and Wildlife volunteers trucked out snowmobiles to aid in the program. The students set up camp in the woods and slept in wall tents.
“This is this opportunity to teach kids about their connection with food and the opportunity to be on the land and be present and be moving around,” Welsch said. “We’re some of the last people in the country that have this opportunity to go out and hunt and feed our families on a $10 bison tag.”
In the 1980s, the Yukon government reintroduced 170 endangered bison into the area to try to recover the species. Since then, the herd’s size grew to roughly 1,400 animals, and now the government relies on local hunters to keep the population perfectly in check. Welsh said he wants to teach the kids about conservation, practice, and a connection to the land.
“That’s what we want to show the kids: to take the time to practice a lot, to be competent when they’re there, to minimize suffering,” Welsch said, noting that his group took down a bison on its very first day. “It’s a sad moment, every time. But there’s also this kind of connection happening, and there’s kind of awakening in these kids of what it means to be a consumer, and what it means to eat meat.”
The high school students learn about respecting the animal during the bison hunting trip
In the section on mandatory bison restrictions and harvesting in the Yukon hunting regulations summary, people can only hunt wood bison with a permit. Furthermore, regulations demand gun specifications, no bow hunting, and mandatory reporting of all kills within 10 days. Students do not actually pull the trigger during this program; though they do help process the meat.
“Because we’re traveling with youth, the quality standard for safety is as high as we can make it,” Welsch said, noting that a volunteer hunter actually made the kill. “We were lucky to harvest the bison with the group on the first day. It allowed us to kind of clean the bison up and teach the kids about meat care; and take our time to pay some respect to the animals. It also permitted us to have a couple of days to work on skills on the land.”
Welsch said it was some of the older students’ fourth or fifth successful bison hunt with the school. Therefore, those older students taught some of the younger students how to field dress the animal and care for the hide and meat.
“The most amazing thing about this is how the kids have this natural sense of gratitude towards the animal.”