buffalo horn in the snow
All Photo Credits: Mario Vani

I always refer to the day draw results come out as Christmas. The 2012 season was no different. I called the day they were available and anxiously awaited to hear my fate for the upcoming season. Antlered mule deer – unsuccessful; antlered moose – unsuccessful; archery antelope – unsuccessful; bison – successful. I hung up and went back to work. However, after several seconds I paused and asked myself, “Did they say successful?” I called back with a gut wrenching feeling of excitement. After listening through my unsuccessful draw results again, sure enough I heard them say, “Bison – successful!”

I called, texted, and emailed every relative, friend, and even coworkers who hunted with excitement about having drawn such a low odds tag.

To be exact, the draw results for bison are under 1%. Once the reality set in that I would be hunting North America’s largest land mammal the planning started. I began by picking other successful bison hunter’s brains on equipment they used, how to use the geography to my advantage, and things they would have done differently.

After these discussions, I had a long list of needs to fulfill. I borrowed and bought item after item, and slowly checked off every need on my list. Before September arrived I was ready to head north. However, since the bison hunt in Alberta doesn’t begin until January 1st, I still had a long 4 months to wait! I was able to occupy myself with other hunts in the meantime, but was elated when my bison hunt finally arrived.

I convinced two other friends to brave the great white north with me and we took off. The location for this hunt is in the far northwest corner of Alberta bordering the Northwest Territories and British Columbia. After a short 9-hour drive we arrived. We stayed in the nearest town, which was approximately an hour from our targeted area. We settled in, checked over all our gear, and called it a night giving us 3 days to scout before the season opened.

The next morning came slowly as our anxiety for the hunt caused us all to toss and turn. The alarm finally sounded and we were off. During the first day we drove around old lease roads hoping to catch a glimpse of these giants, or even cut a trail. We luckily did both. As we were driving we noticed the snow completely trampled, leading to an opening that held 6 bison. What a sight to see! We were able to sneak within a few hundred yards to better analyze them. We spotted 3 cows and 3 calves. My tag allowed me to shoot either a cow or a bull, however they encouraged harvesting a bull. Not to mention, I figured we didn’t come all this way, and do all this work, to go home without a bull.

Although the cows and calves were not what we were looking for, they boosted our team moral. Later that day we ran into a well operator who mentioned an area just north that historically was promising. Naturally we decide to investigate; however we saw more signs of wolf then bison. On our way back to the truck, we came around a bend when suddenly a wall of bison greeted us! They were startled just as much as we were and frantically crested the hill away from us. We were able to spot 5-6 good bulls within the herd of approximately 30 bison. There is no better feeling then locating the prey you’re after. We decided to not push them over the next day before the season opened, because we did not want to push them further into the nasty, northern Alberta frozen swamp. However, near midday our curiosity overcame us and we decided to head back to locate the herd for the next day. We did all we could to properly analyze the herd and bulls when we located them, even to the point of overanalyzing them. During this time of the year the days are very short, so the afternoon/night before opening day made us very nervous. To make matters worse, when we arrived back in town we noticed a lot more hunters, all equipped with trailers and snow machines ready to tackle the snow in hopes of accomplishing the same thing we set out to do. A few emotions overcame me that night. I was nervous due to the amount of pressure I had put on myself. Scared we would come home empty-handed and let everyone down and I was angry that other hunters came pouring in with no legwork or history expecting to shoot a bison.

However, as we started winding down my two buddies quizzed me as if we were rehearsing for an exam. What will you do if this happens? What if they’re there and not here? This helped me tremendously and I was able to calm down and ease my mind. We all climbed into bed for one of my worst nights ever. Right at midnight fireworks went off from locals celebrating New Years Eve. I turned to my buddies and asked, “You awake?” They both followed with a “yup.” The same conversation occurred periodically throughout the night until we awoke at 7 a.m. Legal light was at 9 a.m., and we had calculated an hour to get there comfortably, with additional time to unhitch and unload our flat deck with two snowmobiles. However, due to the sleepless night and excitement/anticipation we departed around 5:45 a.m. The energy in the truck on the way was at an all time high. We arrived at our location, dropped the trailer with the snowmobiles, arranged our gear, and drove near the location we had last seen the bison the night before. Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more. We had arrived so early we had to wait nearly an hour before we could start the ambush.

I remember going over every scenario when a sickness came over me. I left the truck and started walking around trying to get some cool air. Honestly I thought I was going to puke due to my nerves. The cold, dark air helped as I paced back in fourth not even realizing where I was walking. I wandered into an opening about 30 yards from the truck when my friend exclaimed, “Look how deep that snow is!” It was up to my thighs; the stalk would prove difficult.

Finally the time arrived! We exited the truck and began the walk through the thigh high snow. Stopping frequently to not strain or over heat ourselves, we crested a small hill when the leader stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face me. “Don’t freak out, but they’re right over this hill!” So, I freaked out! I quickly regained my composure and slowly crawled over the hill. The opening where we had last seen them was still littered with bison and a feeling of calmness settled in over me. I kept reassuring myself that I had done this before. We quickly located a shooter bull. As I was getting settled in to take the shot, a cow moved behind him making it an unethical shot. So, we waited for something to happen. The herd must have caught our wind because they suddenly started leaving. They crossed a thin strip of land into another meadow, so when the last cow crossed we bolted to where we could see them again. We quickly located the bull again, but the entire herd was nervous and was evacuating towards a dangerous swamp.

As we waited for a miracle to happen the unexpected occurred. The herd passed by the bull who stopped dead in his tracks and starred us down as if calling us out. The herd passed him by one by one until they eventually left him alone within the meadow. The quiet and cold morning quickly became loud as my 7MM echoed. The bull just stood there like a mosquito had bitten him on the nose. I quickly fed another bullet, but he only bucked briefly before stopping. Another shot followed and the bull finally lay down. Adrenaline took over as I plowed through the snow creating a trench to the bull. I could not believe the size of this animal. We yelled with excitement and gave high fives repeatedly. It was a day I will never forget. Of course, that is when the work began. Such is especially true when you have a full-grown bison in two feet of snow. It took us 7 hours to skin, quarter, and haul him back to the truck using our snowmobiles. By the end of the day our bodies were sore, cold, and wet, but given the chance I would do it all over again.

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