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Outdoors/Adventure

Riding fat-tire bikes while hunting a 1,500-pound bison in the Yukon is just another field trip for these Canadian students

  • Author: Jacob Bogage, The Washington Post
  • Updated: May 18
  • Published May 18

Students and teachers from Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse, Canada. (Photo by Jim Welsh)

School supplies for some classes in the Canadian Yukon include headlamps, sleeping bags, snow boots and hiking boots. It helps to know how to drive a snowmobile or ATV.

Regular classes involve getting out on the land. The area is steeped in First Nations culture, and education about indigenous peoples is a mandatory part of the curriculum.

A bison hunt is a common field trip.

Students and teachers from Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse - Yukon's only city, with 25,000 of the province's 35,000 people - killed a 1,500-pound bison during a hunt on a field trip in March, and feasted on its meat with classmates and parents earlier this month. Three teachers and three government guides led eighth and 10th grade students on a four-day trip into the wilderness filled with camping, hiking, ice fishing and bison-stalking.

"The Yukon is a very unique place in Canada where outdoor education with these type of trips are still happening," Terry Milne, a teacher who helped plan the trip, said in a phone interview. "Part of the importance of hunting trips like this is teaching hunting ethics. Hunting is a huge part of the culture here. You can't grow and farm things up here like you can other places. Hunting is an important part of providing food and living sustainably."

This was Porter Creek's first school-sponsored hunting trip. The excursions are usually organized by the nearby elementary school, teachers said, so older students can partner with younger ones. But when that trip fell through this school year, teachers saw a high school-only trip as a way to combine lessons from multiple classes - geography, history, First Nations education, math and others - into a field trip.

"These skills that kids learn growing up in this environment, they're important," teacher Brad Gustafson said.

The group planned to traverse miles of terrain on snowmobiles while looking for bison, but unseasonably warm weather before the trip melted much of the snow pack. Instead, they rented fat-tire bicycles, a common mode of transportation, and set off, hoping the bikes normally used for recreation could carry them through mountainous passes and over frozen lakes.

By the first morning of the trip, it was clear they worked, and the bikes were quiet enough to allow the group to successfully find a bison nearby. Hunters in recent years have complained the animals have grown too wise to hunters. Though bison are native to Yukon, the provincial government says they were "extirpated" from the region 800 years ago. A herd of 170 was reintroduced to Yukon from Alberta in the 1980s, and the herd has since grown to close to 1,500 animals.

The government encourages locals to hunt bison to maintain a stable population size, and sometimes complains that hunters haven't taken enough of the bovines in a season, according to the CBC.

"They are really difficult to hunt," Milne said. "A lot of the time you're just looking for them. You're hiking, you're using your binoculars and tracking the ground. And then you find them and they're up somewhere you wouldn't expect, and you think, how did a bison get up there?"

But by the end of their first day of hiking, teacher Alexandra Morrison and a government hunting guide spotted the bison they'd been tracking all day as the group trekked back down a mountain on the way to camp.

Morrison, one of the group's two designated shooters, took the animal from 80 yards away. The group hiked to the animal and held a moment of thanks, each person placing their hands on the bison and expressing gratitude.

Then as night fell, they switched on their headlamps and field dressed the animal, bringing the tenderloin back to camp for a midnight snack.

During the recent community feast, dishes included the animal's heart and tongue, along with more traditional cuts of meat.

“It was amazing,” Morrison said. “The northern lights were out. The wolves were howling in the distance. It was the most wonderful, respectful experience.”

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