Some 12-year-olds dream of a trip to Disneyland. For Hannah Welsh, her dream was to lead her family’s annual hunt and catch her first moose.
This year, that’s exactly what the young Yukoner has done.
“I learned that I could finally shoot with my eyes open,” Welsh said.
Hunting trips are nothing new to the Welsh. She was still in childbirth the first time she went out with her family and has been hunting every year since.
“The great thing about hunting is that you have to take on a tough challenge together,” she said. “You are really bonded and connected with the people you are with, and in my case, that’s my family.”
It has become a tradition for Hannah and her family to go on an annual moose hunt, but this is her first time leading the hunt.
Yukoners must be at least 12 years old before they can apply for a Big Game License.
Knowing that she would reach that mark this year, Hannah approached her father in January to ask if she could lead this year’s family hunt.
“Our family has always spent a lot of time on earth and we really appreciate this time spent together,” said his father, Jim.
“It was really cool that Hannah came to ask us and it really showed us how much she appreciates the experience and our family being together.”
She really focused, she worked hard, and she practiced all the things that hunters are supposed to do.– Jim Welsh, Hannah’s father
Big game hunting is hard work in the Yukon wilderness.
The days are long, the weather unpredictable, and there are lots of grizzly bears.
None of this deterred the young hunter.
The hard work begins
The first step in preparing to lead the hunt was to make sure she could shoot well enough.
This led to weekly trips to the shooting range.
“We practiced shooting at different distances and at different speeds,” said Hannah. “I also took a hunting education course to find out where the vital zone is between women and men and what is legal and what is not.”
Hannah’s dedication was not lost on her father, who works as the Hunter Education Coordinator for the Government of Yukon.
“She really focused, she worked hard, and she practiced all the things hunters are supposed to do,” Jim said. “She did a lot more prep than I think a lot of adults and seasoned hunters do.”
This preparation included learning to respect not only the animal but also the earth.
“It’s a great thing to take an animal’s life and you want to do it right,” Jim said.
As any hunter will tell you, getting an animal is not a guarantee.
For Hannah, it looked like she might come home from her first moose hunt empty-handed.
It was the fifth day of the trip and after more than 50 kilometers of hiking, the family had decided it would be their last day.
Then their luck changed.
“I saw the moose cross the lake and I was pretty excited,” said Hannah.
“All of a sudden we’re running around the campground picking up all of our stuff,” Hannah said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen my dad run … we ran about a mile down the beach.”
Soon it was time for Hannah to apply her months of training.
“We had to make sure we had a good standing wide shot,” said Hannah. “If you don’t, you hurt the animal and that would suck.”
After a successful moose call from dad and a final cleaning of her glasses, Hannah focused and took the picture.
“My dad said he heard the sound of a heart stroke in both lungs. I shot two more times and then the moose fell,” Hannah said.
“It was a mixture of emotions, but I think the feeling I felt the most was sympathy for this animal, because it was alive too.”
After thanking the animal, Hannah and her father took care of the dressing of the land.
It also turned out to be a challenge, as in the excitement of the moment, they discovered that their ax was back at camp.
“Dad had to take his t-shirt off in the pouring rain in the dark and crawl inside the moose and get all the guts out of it,” Hannah said.
“This is how much everyone loves their kids,” Jim said. “It was a cold, hard night, but Hannah deserved it, and Hannah dived with me.”
Upon returning home, the heart and liver were donated to Yukon First Nations Elders and a portion of the moose was donated to Hannah’s aunt.
“He’s a really important and special person in my life,” Hannah said.
Hannah is already getting ready for next year’s family hunt – this time hoping to catch a sheep.