The American Bison (Bison bison), known to most of us as buffalo, once existed across most of North America in numbers believed to be as high as 50 to 60 million.
Many historians claim they existed in numbers so great that it would sometimes take an entire day for a single herd to pass. During that time, the great beasts were a chief source of food and clothing for most, if not all, of the Native American tribes. As the white man began to settle and move steadily westward in what is now known as the United States, the animals were eventually slaughtered to near extinction.
Unlike the Native Americans who harvested the animals solely for the purpose of sustaining their tribes, the white settlers often killed the buffalo simply for sport. White “buffalo hunters” killed mass numbers of the beasts for commercial profit. Those hunters would often remove the tongues and hides of the animals only, leaving the meat from the animals to ruin. Tragically, by around 1890, the buffalo population in the U.S., is thought to have been dangerously reduced to around 1,000 animals.
Thankfully, through conservation efforts, the number of buffalo in the U.S. has risen drastically. Although the animals seem to have been saved from extinction, due to factors such as man’s encroachment on the areas in which they historically ranged, their numbers are still relatively low and only a small fraction of what they were originally.
Some statistics reflect there are only about 30,000 buffalo in conservation and free ranging herds such as in the great Yellowstone National Park.
A far greater number of buffalo live in privately owned herds scattered throughout the country. As with any other type animal, to maintain the health of the herd, it is necessary to control the ratio of males to females. To that end, a very limited number of controlled hunts are conducted on some of these ranches.
Recently, on a Friday afternoon, I received a telephone call from my friend, Pete Ray, an outfitter and hunting guide from south Texas. He knew I had been discussing the possibility of hunting one of the big bovines should the opportunity arise for over a year. He informed me that one of the nearby ranches which supported a healthy herd of buffalo was about to allow the harvest a very limited number of mature bulls.
The following Monday (and a 1,300 mile drive later) found me pulling into the driveway of Ray’s hunting lodge “Hog Hunting Texas” which is located near the small town of Pearsall, Texas and only about 100 miles North of the U.S./Mexico Boarder.
Ray had explained to me that due to the enormous size of the bulls we would be hunting, the preferred shot was one which would put the bull down instantly in its tracks. This was not only for the purpose of making a humane kill, but also to prevent the bull from running into an area which would be inaccessible to the tractor or other large piece of heavy equipment it was going to take to help recover the animal after the kill.
Ray further explained this would require a shot placed perfectly in a small area located directly behind the ear of the animal which would be targeting the spine. He advised the distance of the shot should be fairly close, probably between 45 and 100 yards.
For this task I chose one of my old favorites, a Model 70 Winchester chambered in .308. The rifle was topped with a Leupold 4x12x40 rifle scope. The ammo I selected for this hunt was a Winchester brand 168 grain boat tail sierra Ranger Match Hollow Point.
Upon arrival at the lodge, I rechecked my rifle for zero. It was “dead smack” on at 45 yards and about a quarter inch high of center at 100 yards. The rifle was ready, I now just needed to do my part.
The next morning, I woke to temperatures in the 30s and a wind that seemed to chill to the bone. The weather was perfect for the upcoming hunt. The ranch where the buffalo were located was about 45 miles from Ray’s lodge. When we arrived at the ranch, I was instructed to climb upon what the Texans refer to as a “high rack.” That is an elevated structure on the back of a pick up truck or other type vehicle which allows the hunter to see more terrain by permitting the hunter to look down into the thick tangled brush.
In south Texas, any land which isn’t cleared for some purpose such as a field or road is nearly totally flat and covered almost completely with thorny brush and cacti. Visibility is extremely limited. That is one factor which makes hunting any type animal in that region difficult. Hunting from a high rack is also known as hunting “safari style.”
It wasn’t long after we began to slowly make our way deeper onto the ranch before we spotted a small group of buffalo off in the distance grazing in a nearby field. We began to make a wide circle in order to maneuver closer to the small group using the thick brush to our advantage. As we attempted to complete this move, we came upon a huge bull buffalo. He was alone at the edge of an immense expanse of thick underbrush about three hundred yards from us. We watched him as he slowly ambled toward the field where the others were located. Even from 300 yards I could tell this animal was an absolute monster. Outside of a zoo I had never seen an animal of this size of any kind.
We followed the big bull from a distance in order to not spook him and send him sprinting back into the thick cover which he kept only a few feet away the entire time we followed. He knew we were there for he would pause momentarily at different times to watch us. Fortunately, he didn’t spook and eventually made his way into the field with the others. As he went around the corner of some thick brush towards the field, we were able to maneuver the high rack to within about 40 yards of where the bull had gone.
When we rounded the corner and began to catch glimpses of the buffalo, I was amazed to see two more huge mature bull buffalo standing with the bull we had just been stalking. All three bulls were gargantuan. One of the bulls, however, seemed to be noticeably bigger than even the monster we had been following.
Ray instructed me to get off the high rack and close the next few feet on foot to where I could take a rest on an old fencepost which was standing in a thickly overgrown fence row. I quickly made my way to the fence post. My heart was pounding at this point. Crouching in the brush on one knee, I used the fence post to support my rifle as I tried to settle the cross hairs of my scope behind the tiny ear of the biggest bull.
I aimed as best I could, and fired. The bull didn’t drop, but I knew I had to have hit him pretty good. He took just a few wobbly steps and, a couple of seconds later, I fired a second shot at the same spot and he fell, cleanly dispatched, in his tracks.
It wasn’t until I approached this massive animal that I truly realized just how big a mature bull buffalo can be. I was totally awe stricken. That bull was definitely one of the most impressive things I had ever seen in my lifetime.
Buffalo are generally not aggressive toward humans, but the big animals can jump six feet vertically and run up to 40 miles per hour. The bull I harvested was approximately six feet tall at the shoulder, was gauged at between 8 to 15 years old and weighed an estimated 1,500 pounds. Its head felt as if it were made up of 300 pounds of concrete.
I have relived that hunt many times in my mind. I’m convinced if any of the three bulls we stalked up on that day had decided to turn on us, they could have presented a formidable problem.
I consider myself very blessed and privileged to have gotten to harvest one of those amazing and magnificent animals. Because of the experience, I have an even more heightened respect for the American Bison than ever before.