12-year-old Yukoner leads family hunt, harvests her first moose
'You really bond and connect with the people you are with, and in my case that's my family'
Some 12-year-olds dream of a trip to Disneyland. For Hannah Welsh, her dream was to lead her family's annual hunt and harvest her first moose.
This year the young Yukoner did just that.
"I learned that I can finally shoot with my eyes open," said Welsh.
Hunting trips are nothing new for Welsh. She was still in diapers the first time she went out with her family and she's been hunting every year since.
"The great thing about hunting is that you get to go through a tough challenge together," she said. "You really bond and connect with the people you are with, and in my case that's my family."
It's become tradition for Hannah and her family to go on an annual moose hunt but this is the first time she has led the hunt.
Yukoners have to be at least 12 years old before they can apply for their big game licence.
Knowing she would hit 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 the land and we really value that time together," said her dad, Jim.
"It was really neat that Hannah came to us to ask and it really showed us how she values the experience and our family being out there together."
She got really focused, she worked hard and she practiced all the things that hunters are supposed to practice.- Jim Welsh, Hannah's Dad
Big game hunting is hard work in the Yukon wilderness.
The days are long, the weather is unpredictable and there are lots of grizzly bears.
None of that deterred the young hunter.
The hard work begins
The first step in preparing to lead the hunt was making sure she could shoot well enough.
That led to weekly trips to the shooting range.
"We practiced shooting from different distances and different speeds," said Hannah. "I also took a hunter education course to learn where the vital zone is between females and males and what's legal and what's not."
Hannah's dedication wasn't lost on her dad, who works as a hunter education coordinator for the Yukon government.
"She got really focused, she worked hard and she practiced all the things that hunters are supposed to practice," said Jim. "She did a lot more preparation than I think a lot of adults and experienced hunters do."
That preparation included learning how to not only respect the animal but also the land.
"It's a big thing to take an animal's life and you want to do it right," said Jim.
As any hunter will tell you, getting an animal is no guarantee.
For Hannah, it looked like she might come home from her first moose hunt empty-handed.
It was day five of the trip and after more than 50 kilometres of hiking, the family had decided it would be their last day.
Then their luck turned.
"I saw the moose across the lake and I was pretty excited," said Hannah.
"All of a sudden we are running around the campground grabbing all of our stuff," said Hannah. "It's the first time I've seen my dad run...we ran about a kilometre down the beach."
Soon, it was Hannah's time to apply her months of training.
"We needed to make sure we got a good standing broad shot," said Hannah. "If you don't, you make the animal suffer and that would really suck."
After a successful moose call from dad and a final cleaning of her scope Hannah zeroed in and took the shot.
"My dad said he heard the noise of a double lung heart shot. I shot two more times and then the moose went down," said Hannah.
"It was a mix of emotions but I think the feeling I felt the most was sympathy for that animal, because it lived too."
After thanking the animal, Hannah and her dad got busy with the field dressing.
That proved a challenge too, because in the excitement of the moment they discovered their axe was back at camp.
"Dad had to take off his t-shirt in the pouring rain in the dark and crawl inside the moose and take all the guts out," said Hannah.
"That's how much anybody loves their children," said Jim. "It was a cold, hard night but Hannah earned it, and Hannah dove in there with me."
Once back home, the heart and liver were donated to some Yukon First Nations elders and part of the moose was given to Hannah's aunt.
"She's a really important and special person in my life," said Hannah.
Hannah is already preparing for next year's family hunt — this time hoping to harvest a sheep.
- A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the name of Hannah Welsh’s mother. Her name is Catherine Welsh, not McCarthy.Sep 27, 2021 11:48 AM CT