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Caribou run across a lake within range of high school hunters from Fort Smith. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The reality of the kill

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Mar 14/05) - On March 4, three teenage girls from Fort Smith's Paul William Kaeser (PWK) high school took aim, squeezed the trigger and took down some caribou on an unnamed lake in the frozen wilderness north of Fort Smith.

It was the first time a caribou hunt was part of PWK's annual winter camp.

Louie Beaulieu of Fort Smith was the instructor/guide for young hunters from PWK High School. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"It's a whole different thing seeing an animal alive," Betsy Mawdsley, 16, explained.

She participated in last year's PWK winter camp, when students helped cut up a caribou shot by someone else.

"Before it was just a dead animal," Mawdsley said, adding that actually killing the animal gave her a new appreciation and respect for caribou.

Mawdsley, a biathlete familiar with firearms, said she felt pride when she shot a caribou. "It's the first time I've ever been hunting."

Sense of pride

Ryanna Bourke, 17, said she was both nervous and excited during the hunt. "It was nerve-wracking and exciting to shoot the caribou."

She said she also experienced a sense of pride when she her shot found its mark.

"I felt not only proud, but also, in a way, successful," she explained. "I felt as if I had accomplished something grand. When I realized my shot had actually hit the caribou, I thought only of my dad and how proud I would make him."

First hunt

Another student, 17-year-old Natasha Lagarde, was hunting for the first time, having moved to Fort Smith from Ottawa a month earlier to attend school.

She hit and wounded a caribou, which was tracked down and killed by Fort Smith's Louie Beaulieu, who has been the camp's instructor/guide for nine years.

Lagarde said she could never have such an experience in the nation's capital. "They don't have caribou in Ottawa," she pointed out.

For a few years, Beaulieu has hunted caribou at the PWK winter camp and shown the students how it is prepared.

The students would see the animal after it was shot, but would never see a live animal, he noted.

"They now know what an animal is like standing up and how to approach them," he said, noting it was his idea for the students to hunt this year.

"They did pretty good," he said, agreeing with the students that hunting increases respect for the caribou.

Eight PWK students signed up for the winter camp, although two chose not to participate in a one-day hunt.

They were on the land for nine days from March 3-11, living in canvas tents, quinzies and improvised shelters. The camp is located at Piers Lake, 35 km east of Fort Smith. The students snowmobiled to Piers Lake and were then flown in, closer to the caribou herd.

The meat from the 18 caribou taken will be presented to elders in Fort Smith.