Brought here in the 1980s and released into the wild a couple of years later, herd growth has been much more successful than planned. The plan was to keep the herd at about 500 animals with an annual hunting season to control the population. Unfortunately the annual hunting harvest quota has never been met and the herd size is now somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500.
The bison’s habitat is extremely high quality, so the herd is healthy and the calf birth and survival rates are very high. Each year, there are more calves born than there are bison killed — by hunting and natural causes — so herd-size continues to expand.
The Yukon herd is one of five healthy, wild herds the Government of Canada planned in order to take wood bison off of the endangered species list.
Because they fall into this category there are extra hunting rules in place for wood bison.
The hunt is by permit only and a bison hunting training course is required. Hunters have also been asked to take as many females as males, to prevent skewing the sex-ratio.
In 1998, the first bison hunting season, five permits were granted, for bulls only. The animals did nothing to avoid approaching hunters. In subsequent years, bison became as wary other species, so hunting them became more challenging.
In recent years, it has not been uncommon for hunters to ride hundreds of kilometres by snowmobile and not even see a fresh track, let alone a bison.
Hunters had to get smarter, too.
The sound of snowmobile engines, which carry a considerable distance, were alarming bison and causing them to move away and stay hidden.
Hunters found success in sitting quietly on a high point and spotting bison hiding in the trees, or above the tree-line in the mountains. Hunters then had to stalk the often-distant bison silently, on foot, paying close attention to wind direction. If the bison started moving, their walking speed usually outpaced the hunters’, and they would be gone when the hunters arrived.
The bison’s walking speed becomes evident when a hunter comes across fresh tracks, dismounts the snowmobile, and follows the tracks on foot. A quiet, lucky hunter may catch up to them or find them bedded down either straight ahead, on the tracks, or off to one side, where they have doubled back to keep an eye on their back-trail.
This is the first of five articles discussing bison. The second will address rifle selection, tips and techniques for the hunt, and meat care in the field.
Part 3, 4 and 5 will deal with cooking tips, recipes and the full utilization of meat that can be delightful if prepared properly.