When you ask Jim Welsh, the hunter education outreach coordinator, with Conservation Officer Services, about his job and life in the Yukon, you can see just how much he loves it.
Welsh’s current job is to administer the Hunter Education Program for the Yukon, he said, and it’s a way to keep the idea of ethical and informed hunting, on the land, alive and well with each new generation of hunters.
The Yukon’s Hunter Education and Ethics Development (HEED) course (www.yukon.ca/en/hunter-education) is a great, free tool for new hunters to begin their first steps into the world of hunting in the territory.
Welsh added that there are many components to the program. “There is a legal requirement to do the Hunter Education course if you want to hunt, but, also, it’s about giving people all the tools they need to be able to go out on the land.”
The two-part process begins with online course material and then an in-class (or Zoom-style) component where Welsh is on hand to teach people how to be responsible and ethical hunters, which includes hunting laws and regulations, wildlife management, preparation for the outdoors, wildlife identification, field techniques and firearm safety.
“Anything to get people out and do it properly,” he said.
Welsh said his goal is to use the education course to help keep the active number of Yukon hunters stable and to keep interest in the lifestyle up.
“The Yukon is unique in that people move here. So a lot of people don’t have mentors to be able to take on hunting, which is normally passed on from generation to generation,” he said. “And that cycle’s a little broken in the Yukon, and my goal is to make my program that bridge for people.”
After registering for and completing the program, which concludes with an in-class written exam, a new hunter can get their hunting license via a few steps online (www.yukon.ca/en/hunting-licence) or in person at one of the Department of Environment offices.
“Hunting is a big process. It takes a long time to learn all the rules, it’s complicated, and people are secretive about their places—so it’s a hard thing to break into,” Welsh said about the potentially intimidating prospect of taking those first steps into hunting. He added that’s why the course can go a long way into building new communities and groups of hunters who can lean on and learn from each other.
“A good place to start is that we built this program so that lots of new people come in, and we’ve seen communities develop and kind of evolve out of this. And these people get together and they go out together after attending these courses and recognizing that there is this community of people that need to get out together.”
The course runs almost monthly and goes all-year, Welsh said.
In recent years, Welsh has seen a real uptick in the attitudes of young and conservation-minded hunters who care about the land on which they hunt, as much as about the health of the animals they hunt. This ties in with the mantra that all hunters can help keep animal populations healthy and the environment healthy by reporting things they notice that are out of place, from sick animals, to contaminated land, to poaching. The latter is a serious concern and those with information on poaching can call the Turn in Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) line at 1-800-661-0525.
“Right now, people are really engaged. The people that are out there … they want to learn—they want to do it right. And I see that in these courses. Our courses sell out right away. It’s because people are passionate about it and they want to do things the right way.”
What makes the HEED course even more special is that it’s a very unique opportunity right here in the Yukon.
“I think I have the only job like this in the country,” Welsh said.
Since 2005, Welsh has been in his role as a hunter educator, but his first steps towards that career started after taking a moose-hunting course with Larry Leigh, another long-time Yukon hunter and hunter-education coordinator (at the time). When Leigh stepped down and the position opened up, Welsh spent a month preparing for the job interview for the coordinator spot and, in the end, he landed it.
“This has been a great job. I mean, I have a lot of freedom here to be creative and to dive into the community and see what the community needs.”
He added that this is his favourite time of year, as he often receives feedback from new hunters who want to share their successes (and failures) with Welsh and to offer suggestions and seek advice on what they could do for next time.
Welsh first fell in love with the Yukon in the late 90s when he was a fire crew leader, in Dawson City, and felt the pull of the land and the idea of freedom and open spaces.
“I knew this was where I wanted to live. I came to the Yukon and dove in deep.” I spent a lot of time on the land and arranged my life so I could take all of hunting season and be out there doing that.”
Information about upcoming Conservation Officer Services courses can be found on the Yukon Conservation Officer Services Facebook page, yukon.ca/hunter-education (in addition to HEED courses, the site includes other workshops as well). New hunters can join the e-list by emailing [email protected] or by contacting the Department of Environment at 867-667-5652.