Highway hunting is making a comeback.
The territory is encouraging it as a way to reduce bison numbers in southwest Yukon.
On Thursday, the territorial government announced the bison hunting season will begin earlier this year and cover a larger area.
The season will open in September, instead of December, along three separate highway corridors: the Alaska Highway to the Slims River; the Aishihik Road, and the North Klondike Highway to Braeburn.
“We’re trying everything we can to discourage bison from spending time on the highway and one of the ways is to provide hunting opportunities,” said Yukon biologist Tom Jung.
Bison have become a problem in areas around Haines Junction and Liard Hot Springs, where they step in front of traffic, said Jung.
In the last two years, at least two bison have been invoved in vehicle collisions, said Haines Junction conservation officer Russell Oborne.
As the days get shorter, there are more chances for the bison to get in the way of traffic, said Jung.
A recent count of bison in the territory pegged the number at 1,100 animals. That’s disconcerting because the impact bison may have on surrounding caribou and moose herds is unknown, said Jung.
“We’re trying to provide more opportunities for hunters to take bison. It’s a way to stabilize the herd.”
The territory is allowing hunters to take 300 animals this season, compared to 150 last year.
Shooting bison from the highway isn’t as unsportsmanlike as it sounds, said Jung.
Bison spook easily, he said. “It’s difficult to hunt bison. Once disturbed, bison don’t stop running.”
And due to a concern over the orphaning of calves, the territory is encouraging hunters not to shoot bison cows with calves nearby.
In previous years the territory asked that only bulls be hunted to prevent cows with calves being killed, but mistakes were made, said Jung.
“We had issues with the bull hunt in the past, it’s difficult to tell them (the cows and bulls) apart,” he said.
It makes sense to hunt bison from the highway because the animals “like disturbed, clear areas, unlike moose or caribou,” Jung added. “When we create these big shoulders along the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction, for example, it’s perfect bison habitat.”
According to territorial hunting regulations, hunters can’t shoot across the highway or from the inside of a vehicle. Hunting is only allowed beyond the shoulder of the road.
This is the case for all hunting in the territory.
“There haven’t been substantial changes to the hunting laws for quite some time,” said Kris Gustafson, senior conservation officer for the Yukon.
“You can hunt something legally in the ditch if it’s safe to do so,” he said.
The jury is still out on whether bison, because they’re easily spooked, would run onto the road if hunted from the side of the highway.
“They tend to run directly away from the road, but that’s not to say that it couldn’t happen,” said Gustafson.
Hunting in Zone 5, the wooded area bounded by the three highway corridors, will be shorter and will run from December 1 to March 31.
The territory chose not to open this area for fall hunting because of a worry that hunters would cut trails through the woods and leave gut piles behind, said Jung.
A “bison exclusion area,” east of Zone 5, will open September 1 and remain open all year to limit the expansion of bison herds that have moved out of Zone 5.
There will be no specific hunting allotments for First Nation groups.
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