It's not every day you get a phone call from a buddy asking to be part of a bison hunt. I happened to get that call this past November from my good friend, Christopher Yankers, of Bozeman, Montana. Chris was fortunate enough to draw a tag in the unit outside West Yellowstone.
Prep work and scouting for one of these hunts is pretty straightforward: Pray that it snows... A LOT… And gets bone chilling cold. Then just sit back and wait for the buffalo to move.
I put out a phone call to friend, Matt Clyde, who was with Randy Newberg of On Your Own Adventures when he harvested his bison. Matt generously pointed us in the right direction, giving us a game plan for the morning. He also informed us that 60 head moved out of the Park the day before.
Saturday, February 2nd would be our first day to try and find a bison. Four of Chris’ friends; Trent, Cliff, Ben, and myself were along for the hunt. At first light, we all jumped on snow machines and headed to where Matt suggested. After a mile walk, we made it to the Madison River expecting to find the 60 head. That wasn't the case as the entire herd crossed the river the night before.
Chris, Trent and myself decided to wade the river – not the best idea – while Cliff and Ben picked the snowmobiles up and looped around to the other side.
Once across, we found two herds. One with about 20 small cows and calves and another herd of about 40 with a broader age class. Unfortunately, there were no bulls in either group. Regardless, we were bison hunting and we were stoked!
We eagerly started to pick the herd apart hoping to find a mature cow with good hair and unique horns. This was when things got confusing. Trying to tell the guy next to you that “the big brown one with black hair looks good" or "that one right there looks cool," when they all looked about the same was a head ache, but part of the fun.
After two hours of looking the herd over and enjoying the company of wild buffalo up close, we decided on one particular mature cow. She had great hair, neat coloration and a unique set of horns that set her apart. After a fifteen-minute wait, she moved into a clear shooting lane and Chris pulled the trigger on his .450 Marlin lever action.
The rifle roared and the herd split. Chris made a great shot quickly putting her to rest. Emotions were high as we took in the beautiful sight. We were in awe of the pure size, beauty and character of this unique animal.
Once a quick prayer was said and pictures were taken, it was time to get to work!
Time was of the essence since it was already 4:00 P.M and we had a 1,000 lbs. animal to deal with. After a couple hours of cutting and pulling and reflecting on the day, we had her broke down and ready to head to the snowmobile trail. Our last trip on the sleds was right at 8:00 P.M.
It was hard to fathom that we all had taken part in such a special and rare experience!
One day, I hope to draw a free-range bison tag for Montana. But if not, I will always have this memory. A huge thanks to Chris for inviting me along, (I’m still positive it was because I'm 23 with a strong back) and to Matt Clyde for all the help and information he provided us.
A quick side note, please disregard Chris's bright blue ski helmet. There was something about being in the moment and forgetting a beanie that caused him to wear it all day.