The Porter Creek Secondary School bison hunt changed from a snowmobile hunt to a bicycle hunt due to lack of snow in March.

The planning had been done for the 13 participants, six students, six adults (staff and parents) and Hunter Education Coordinator, Jim Welsh. The Porter Creek Secondary School group was part of the Hunter Education’s (HEED program) annual support for the school bison hunt projects, now in year 17. Over the years, many young people, with the support of adults, have been able to participate in an ethical hunt under the guidance of those experienced in the hunt and winter camping/outdoor activity.

Originally planned as a snowmobile adventure, nature created a challenge by making sure all the snow had melted and disappeared by mid-March. The group was more than up to the challenge and they all came up with fat bikes to go hunting instead. They trucked to the camp area south of Braeburn on the Mayo Road. The camp itself was a typical bison hunt camp, with wall tents for sleeping and kitchen, equipped with woodstoves stoked with local firewood.

The hunt itself was done on the bicycles, checking out various trails, roads and viewpoints. Luckily three bison were spotted at the very top of one of the many bald, grassy hills on the east side of the highway north of Braeburn. Undertaking a 13-person stalk on a usually wary animal has its challenges but that’s part of the school hunts. The group discussed options and made a plan for the stalk, which would take them around south of the bison to access a frozen pond where they thought the bison might be headed. The hills in this area are quite steep, but the group made silent progress and got to the pond. Alas, no bison.

Switching to Plan B, they quietly worked their way back towards the hilltop where the bison had originally been spotted. Their stealth was rewarded—there was the bison, seemingly unaware of the group.

The pre-selected shooter found a steady position for the 100-yard shot and she killed the bison with a .300 Winchester Magnum. The animal was a male, about five years old, with a weight estimated at 1,200 pounds.

So now the work begins. It was about 6 p.m. when the bison was killed. Of course, there is always a moment of joy, thankfulness, reverence and congratulations.

Field dressing a wood bison is a big job though and school bison hunts are learning experiences for most of the people present at the scene. All the students that want to participate are encouraged to do so and taught the proper field dressing techniques. Some choose to learn by watching. Food carried in the backpacks was eaten as needed.

The group was on foot and all had backpacks. The animal was gutted, dressed and cut into pieces that could be packed off the hill. As it was getting dark, the meat was spread out on the hide to cool overnight.

It was near midnight and the dark sky was full of northern lights for the trek down the hill and back to camp for the evening. Among the many valuable lessons learned that day was why it’s always a good idea to carry a headlamp, even while on a day hunt.

The following morning, the group returned to the kill site and packed everything down to the highway. Next step is planning a bison feast where the participants can reminisce about a connection to the land and the bounty it can provide.