Bison Hunting: Beginners Guide

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Are you about to go bison hunting? There are many factors that you should consider. To start with, you will realize that the bison, or what is commonly known as the American buffalo, is usually hunted by Plains Indianas people who reside on the vast grasslands of the Interior Plains of North America. 

This activity was an essential economic activity for these residents in the yesteryears. This has made bison hunting to be a nostalgic pursuit for many hunters out there.

An Overview of the Bison

Earlier on, these animals used to be plenty in number. However, over time, they vanished, only leaving a few on the grasslands of the Interior Plains of North America. 

It is estimated that over 15 million bison lived on the Great Plains at the end of the Civil War. However, 30 years later, only less than a thousand were left in the United States and Canada.

The North American bison are quite large, similar to the size of the wild Asian or Australian water buffaloes. A mature male bison can weigh an average of 1600 pounds, while the female bison weighs 930 pounds. 

Bison Hunting Ammo and Gear

The North American bison hunter is more likely to deal with freezing temperatures. It is worth noting that bison are usually hunted during winter when their heavy coat is at its best. 

Also, they are mostly hunted in locations that are experiencing winter. You are likely to experience low temperatures and sometimes while it’s snowing. 

Hunting Clothes

Since bison usually are hunted during the winter season, you need to put on as many layers as you can. Here, you need to wear a warm jacket and a good pair of gloves to keep your body warm as you start hunting.

Some of the jackets that you should consider here are the:

Legendary White Men’s Canvas Cross Trail

This is one of the most functional hunting jackets that can keep you warm even in inclement weather. It comes with a heavy-duty 10 ounce sanded canvas. 

The jacket features 210 grams of insulation. The shell is made of 100% cotton while the lining and the fill are made of polyester. There is no doubt this jacket will keep you warm.

Carhartt Men’s Quilted Flannel

This is another comfortable jacket that can never hinder your moves when you are hunting the bison. It is 100% cotton, making it breathable and will make you feel at ease even when you are in your hunting mission.

Sights / Scopes

If you are going to hunt the bison, you should consider using a low power scope. This dramatically facilitates fast, short, and medium-range shooting. Bison are massive animals and can occupy a large piece of land when they are many. Therefore, there is no need for a lot of magnification since you will have a wide field of view.

Aimpoint Micro H-1 Red Dot Sight

Another great product of the Aimpoint series is the Aimpoint Micro H1. We have written an ultimate buyers guide to aimpoint sights that you can read here.

It only weighs 105 g, and as a result, it is convenient to use when hunting. Although this sight is light, it is made of sturdy material. As a result, it can last for many years.

Long Battery Life

Thanks to the ACET technology, this sight comes with long battery life. This means that you will conveniently hunt with minimal interruption of having to change the battery now and then.

Waterproof

If you are looking for a sight that withstands harsh weather conditions, this sight tops the list. You can readily use it even in bad weather, and it will not get damaged.

12 Different Settings

Even when the lighting is terrible, this sight can still be used. The product features12 different settings and makes it possible to hunt even when it is dark. Here, you will aim accurately and shoot the bison successfully.

EOTECH HHS II Holographic Hybrid Sight – EXPS2-2 with G33 Magnifier

When hunting, and especially when hunting bison, you want to have a sight that feels sturdy in your hand and that is quick to shoot with. Ecotech HHS II has a rugged feel for ultimate comfort and reliability.

Are you looking for a sight that offers value for your money? The EOTech HHS sight can last for many years while giving the same high level of performance. Therefore, it is worth investing in.

Talk about the warranty; the good news is that this sight comes with a long warranty period from the manufacturer. You will enjoy the 10-year limited warranty.

Quick Transitions.

The sight allows you to change quickly from close-quarter to medium-range targets with the included G33 Magnifier and Switch-to-Side mount.

Side Button 

This sight comes with a compact design and side button operation that consume minimal rail space. 

Unbeatable Accuracy

The G33 Magnifier, combined with the Switch-to-Side mount, delivers excellent target acquisition. This way, you will be able to zoom in your target in the close-range shooting.

Rifles and Ammunition

Chances are, this is not your first hunting venture in your life. There are many types of rifles that you can use as you go for hunting. 

Ordinary rifles might not be ideal for hunting the bison. This is because bison are huge animals with thick skin. Most of them are classified as a thick-skinned game. We can’t just bring out our old deer-shooter here, we need to make sure we’re packing enough power to easily kill a bison with a well-aimed shot.

Considerations for the Rifle

Ideally, you should go for something that packs more than enough power. For instance, a .50 caliber/175 grain round rifle or something more significant can be handy during this hunting escapade. Therefore, a reasonable choice in rifles will be more suitable for hunting. With a good gun, you can be sure about its power and reliability. Here, your safety will not be at stake.

Also, you should ensure that you are conversant with the rifle that you want to use for hunting. Your rifle or handgun of choice should fire a 200 grain or larger bullet, which retains at least 2000 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. A good weapon that meets this specification is a .30-06 with a 200-grain bullet.

Muzzleloading Rifle

Apart from the rifle qualities mentioned above, the bison can be shot using a muzzleloading rifle. Here, the muzzle loading rifle should be .54 caliber or larger or at least .45 caliber with 300 grain or larger elongated slug. For safety reasons, your muzzleloader of choice should also have an easy reach smokeless powder rifle that meets the centerfire rifle requirement mentioned above.

Black Powder Cartridge Rifles

This rifle must fire a 400-grain bullet or larger loaded with a minimum of 70 grains of black powder or equivalent (.45-70 with a 400-grain bullet or a .44-90 with a 500-grain bullet).

Other Accessories

When hunting for a bison, there are many accessories that you should carry. These include;

Hunting Knives

You do need a really sharp and sturdy knife to help you field-dress your bison after killing it. We have an extensive guide written on the best hunting knives that we suggest you check out here.

Laser Rangefinder

This device usually uses a laser beam to determine the proximity of an object. It can, therefore, help you determine how close a bison is. You need a good quality rangefinder when hunting bison, primarily you need one that can take a lot of damage without breaking. We have had great success with this one.

Good Hunting Binoculars

Having good binoculars when hunting is maybe obvious to most people but when hunting bison it’s essential so you don’t have to swing your rifle and look through your scope and accidentally scare them away. Fortunately for you, we have a huge guide to the best hunting binoculars, that I really hope you want to check out.

Shooting Sticks

With a shooting stick, your shots are likely to be more accurate. The added stability helps give you a clean and ethical shot anytime you want to shoot the bison. Also, these sticks help you to shoot over an area that has vegetation easily.

Four Large Tarps 

These can help you wrap the meat after skinning the bison.

Compass

For you to know the direction of a particular location, you need to have a compass. This can help prevent chances of getting lost when hunting the bison.

Earplugs

These are to be worn when one is shooting to protect damage to your ears. Get yourself a pair of the Acu-Life Ear Plugs.

Tips For Bison Hunting

Bison Shooting Tips 

You must avoid taking a long first shot when shooting this animal. Instead, you should consider taking a closer shot so that you can improve your shooting accuracy. This will, in turn, minimize the chances of wounding a bison.

After that, you can make the necessary follow-up shots quickly and more accurately. You should take more time and shoot successfully, rather than just shoot anyhow and wound the animal for no just cause.

Where to Shoot 

Shot placement is critical in effectively and humanely killing a bison. The hunter should be familiar with the weapon being used and have had sufficient practice to ensure proper placement of the bullet. Heart/lung shots are the best. Aim right behind the knee joint of the front leg for a heart shot or above the knee joint for a lung shot.

Head and neck shots are challenging due to the long hair and thick hide on a bison,

making placement challenging. You will note that bison have thick skulls and bullets have been known to hit the skull and not penetrate. The neck is short with long hair and very thick skin, making it challenging to locate and penetrate to the spinal column. I do not recommend going–away or head-on shots

As bison are a herd animal, they will try to remain with the herd even when wounded. Do not attempt a running shot unless required as a follow-up to a wounded animal; only take it if there is no chance of hitting another animal.

Double Lung Shots

For bison, it is essential to consider double lung shots. Here, you will aim above and slightly behind the front’ elbow’ of the bison. You must avoid head shots or neck shots. Bearing in mind that bison are known to have thick skulls, and sometimes, the bullet might not necessarily penetrate the head successfully. The neck, on the other hand, is short and very thick. Therefore, you will have a difficult time figuring out the spinal column.

How to Differentiate between a Male and a Female Bison

As you purpose to hunt the bison, you should be aware of the animal’s age and sex before you shoot.

Ideally, it is essential that you shoot the adult male bison to ensure the bison hunt’s long-term sustainability. However, determining these characteristics is not easy, especially in a forested habitat with deep snow with no other animals for reference.

Sex Organs

For the male, the penis sheath is present but may be difficult to see in late winter. However, the female has no penis sheath but may have tufts of belly hair and usually appear similar.

Horn Bases

Male bison generally have larger horn bases than cows, ranging from 10-15 inches in circumference. On the other hand, female bison usually have smaller horn bases than bulls, ranging from 4-10 inches in circumference.

Adult Horn Shape

The adult horn of a male bison points upward or curve inward on older bulls, similar to cows; they appear to taper quickly from base to tip. For the females, the adult horns generally curved but may point up, identical to bulls, appear to taper quickly from base to tip.

Yearling Horn Shape

In a male bison, the yearling horn points at a 45 degrees angle from the head but longer and larger bases than yearling cows. However, for the female, it points at a 45 degrees angle from the head but shorter and smaller bases than yearling bulls.

Head Shape

A male bison has a fuller, blockier forehead than cows; smaller bulls may appear similar to larger cows. On the other hand, the female bison has a narrower forehead than bulls; large cows may look identical to small bulls.

Coat

For the male bison, the coat is often two-tone; light & soft front shoulders, darker on the back, maybe single color. However, female bison have a single-colour coat. It can be two-tone.

Body Size

Mature male bison are larger than cows; young bulls may be the same size or smaller than cows. On the other hand, mature female bison are smaller than mature bulls; mature cows may be the same size or larger than young bulls.

The Perfect Season for Hunting

For successful bison hunting, you should know the right time to go hunting. In the perfect season, you can be sure that you will get your target within a short period.

For instance, in Alberta, most of this region can only be traveled in winter when the creeks and muskegs are frozen. The hunter can go up to 100 miles in a day by snowmobile, searching for fresh tack of the bison. Once found, these tracks can be followed by foot.

In Alaska, the best time to hunt the bison is between September and April for the best hides.

How to Locate the Herd

The bison usually like staying in herds. Therefore, you have to locate a herd for you to shoot one or two bison. 

When trying to locate the herd, you should be vigilant enough by position yourself in a prime glassing area. Choosing a glassing area might not be as easy as you have to know the characteristics of an area where a bison has visited before.

You can tell an area previously habited by the bison depending on how the area smells or the kind of droppings you find around that place.

How to Spot a Glassing Area

To succeed, you should ensure that your glassing area demonstrates recent or current use by a herd. The good news is that many indicators can show that a bison was recently in that particular location.

These include a wet, sloppy dropping. If you see tracks that were laid down in the wake of recent snowfall, the chances are that a bison was there. Finally, you can use your sense of smell to determine if a bison was there or not.

In most cases, the place will stink. However, if the herd was there several months ago, the site might not have a bad odor. Therefore, the site can smell cleaner, and this can linger for several days assuming there is no rain.

Bison Hunting Regulations

Hunting, just like everything else, is usually regulated by the government of that particular state. Therefore, you need to have a license for you to hunt a bison. You must check your local rules and regulations.

Some of the states in the United States that allow you to hunt the bison include:

Alaska

The odds of drawing a bison tag in this state are very low, but they have no point system. This means that you can have a random chance of drawing just like anybody else. 

However, you must conduct basic research before applying as some of these units can be on private land. For instance, in Alaska, the Delta unit is known to have the best access to bison. Other places you might find the bison is the Copper River, Delta junction, and Farewell.

Arizona

This state usually has the most complicated draw process of any other state. However, you can accumulate more than one point annually for your bison hunt. Here, the draw odds usually run between 1% and 10%. Some places to find bison here include; the House Rock Valley Herd and the Raymond Wildlife Area.

Montana

The odds of drawing a bison tag here is below 1%. Some of the areas where you can hunt the bison here include the area adjacent to Yellowstone National Park and some portions of the Crow Indian Reservation.

South Dakota

This state has some privately owned bison hunting ranches. Also, it has a point system in place for bison tags. If you draw a trophy bull permit, you will be scheduled for a three –day hunt. For the non-trophy meat hunts, bulls, and cows, one will be scheduled for a one-day hunt. If you draw, you will be fully guided by Custer State Park employees at no extra charge.

Utah

Bison tags here are issued through a draw, raffle tags, Governor’s tag, and Commissioners tag. Here, you can readily apply for either a bull or cow hunt. However, you need to be prepared because if you do not have 20 points, your chances are below 1%.

Some of the places to hunt the bison here include; the Antelope Island, The Henry Mountains, Uintah, and Ouray Indian Reservation, Book Cliffs, and many more.

Other states where you can hunt the bison include; Alberta, British Columbia, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Most safari farms usually provide bison hunting programs that include meals, boarding, complete guide services, guaranteed hunting activity and preparation of hide and head as souvenirs, as part of the package deal.

Hunting Tips

Do Not Go Alone

You might be tempted to go alone to hunt a bison out there. This might seem to be a good idea, but it can be detrimental. Ideally, you should be accompanied by a few friends. However, all these people should have a rifle and be strategically located for a successful hunt. 

Also, they should be passionate about hunting, as this will increase your chances of shooting and killing a bison. 

If you have never hunted a bison in the past, you might have a difficult time tracking them down. It might take you several hours for you to shoot one successfully. A guide will help you find the bison easily.

Also, this professional can help you move the bison once you shoot it down. Sometimes, you might have a difficult time doing this on your own, considering that it might weigh 1000 pounds or more.

Carry an Insect Repellent

In hunting preparation, you should not forget to carry an insect repellent. This is one of the essential tools you should have as you hunt the bison out there. The primary role of this tool is to keep harmful insects at bay when you are hunting.

Camp Away from the Location of the Bison Herd

Since you might have to spend a day or two hunting, the chances are that you might have to camp in for the night. As you camp, you should keep a distance from these animals as they might free away.

Be Patient

There are instances when the herd of bison will come closer to you. You should not be in a hurry to shoot any of the animals. Instead, you should take time and study the movement of these animals. This will decrease wounding and increase your chances of putting a tag on a bison.

After shooting the bison, do not be in a rush to reveal yourself immediately as the herd might chase you in an attempt to protect the wounded bison. Sometimes, they might all retreat and thereby fail to make a kill. It is always advisable to reveal yourself several minutes after the rest have left the scene.

Set Out Early

Since bison tend to spread out later in the day, leaving early can increase your chances of hunting these animals. By the time you arrive, the chances are that they will not have spread as much as they would during midday.

Stay focused

This is an essential element that is overlooked by many people who hunt bison. You will realize that it’s very easy to get distracted when you are shooting this animal. 

Essential Bison Shooting Tips to Consider

The following are some helpful ideas that you should consider when shooting this animal:

  1. Choose an animal that has been separated from its herd.
  2. Stack the animal within at least 100 yards of the selected animal
  3. Ensure that the target bison is of the correct sex
  4. Aim carefully and then make a double long shot.
  5. If the wounded bison joins the herd, do not try to shoot again. Also, avoid shooting a running bison.

Methods for Bison Hunting

There are two ways to hunt the bison. These include:

The Traditional Native American Way

Here, you chase the bison on horseback to the cliff, exhaust them and make them fall. As a result, the bison will fall in the following stampede. Once the bison fall, it would get crippled and would thus be easy to kill it and skin it later.

Modern Ways

Unlike before, the methods of hunting the bison have revolutionized. Currently, most hunters use modern firearms in a more planned manner. The good news is that a gun will be more accurate and can kill the bison almost instantly.

Conclusion

Hunting a bison might seem to be a challenging undertaking. It might be an uphill task to a beginner, but over time, you can be sure that you will get used to it.

The above guide will help you hunt successfully. Most importantly, beginners should consider hunting with a guide or hunting professional. This way, they will be able to get all the necessary insights and thereby increase their chances of success. Consider this guide today, and you will hunt bison more successfully.

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