The American Bison is one of the things that I think of when I think of the American West.
These iconic creatures were a food staple of Native Americans when settlers came. It is estimated that the population was around 60 million prior to 1800. During the 19th century, they were hunted by settlers to near extinction with the number of bison at 300 in the United States in 1900. Through conservation, these animals have been brought back to a population of about 360,000 and are no longer in danger of extinction. Many western states have a small number of bison tags for their free-range animals.
The interest in hunting bison was highlighted last year when 45,000 people volunteered to fill 12 spots to hunt bison in the Grand Canyon National Park. Bison average between 5 and 6 feet tall at their shoulder with bulls ranging from 800-1400 pounds and cows averaging around 1000 pounds. On top of their massive size, they are known to be aggressive when provoked.
My Bison Hunt
For my hunt, I arrived at the Briar Oaks Ranch around noon on Friday to hunt the afternoon through Saturday evening. I planned to use my bow and brought my in-line muzzleloader as a backup. Briar Oaks is divided into several different plots and just prior to arriving, the bison herd was moved to the thicker growth area. We spent the first evening attempting to get the other girl who was hunting bison close while trying to stay downwind. Bison are nearsighted but have great hearing and sense of smell. This combined with being able to run about 35 miles per hour, makes them a hard beast to catch.
I started out in a brush blind, waiting by a waterhole. The bison came into about 100 yards, but no bow opportunities were to be had. After a morning of hunting being surrounded by deer, addax, sheep, and distant bison, I made the decision to finish the hunt with my muzzleloader. Bowhunters are an interesting breed, where we want to use our bows for everything as it seems to be pitting us against our quarry on more even ground. However, I felt like hunting with a muzzleloader was iconic and still difficult. After hours of getting close with my muzzleloader and the animals being spooked by hogs and addax, at the end of the day Saturday, I feared that I was going home empty-handed with legs full of cactus.
The owner offered to let me hunt through the day Sunday. Sunday morning, I got up early for one more try. My guide and I heard the bison down the trail and took off sneakily for them to just circle around where we originally started. So I belly crawled with my guide to 100 yards. One of the hard parts of hunting with a guide is waiting for them to tell you what animal you can shoot. I sat there in a pokey bush until the shot was called.
I made a well-placed double lung shot, but these animals are tough and often require a follow-up shot. It was terrifying coming up to a herd of 20 bison at 30 yards, butts together knowing I had to finish the job and I only had 1 shot in my gun. I was able to harvest a beautiful young bull and bring home hundreds of pounds of delicious meat to my family.
This hunt was a meat hunt and should have been easy but turned out to be one of the more challenging hunts I have been on. It was amazing to bring home food to my family in a way that felt patriotic in a world where many do not have pride in what our country originally stood for.
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