The American bison has been a truly awe-inspiring and emblematic symbol of the expansive landscapes of North America and has an incredibly rich history intertwined with both nature and human intervention.
I was always fascinated by the world of bison hunting in the U.S. throughout history, and as a result, know a lot about the subject.
If you also happen to be interested in the story of bison hunting, its past, present situation, and how bison hunting actually works – you’ve come to the right place!
In this article, I’ll cover everything you could possibly want to know about bison hunting in an easily digestible manner — so that you too can be blessed with the knowledge of the thunder of the plains.
Let’s get into it.
The Mighty Bison and Its Decline
Back in the day, in the earlier chapters of North American history, bison thrived in massive numbers and abundance.
We’re talking close to at least 60 million throughout the US.
Back in those days, before Europeans came to ruin everything, bison hunting was one of the main integral livelihoods for Native American tribes, who not only relied on them for sustenance but materials for shelter, tools, and spiritual practices.
As I’m sure you remember from 11th-grade history class, however, the 19th century brought a seismic shift. During the westward expansion of European settlers, bison populations not only plummeted – but almost led to the extinction of the entire species.
These European settlers would not just overhunt bison for the sake of hunting, but slaughter them in masses for the sole purpose of depriving the Native Americans of resources.
By the early 1880s, the 60 million bison were down to maybe just a few hundred “lucky” survivors.
Conservation Efforts Thankfully Eventually Lead To Its Resurgence
No doubt, the extinction of bison is one of the darkest chapters in U/S/ environmental history.
Fortunately, the bison’s story did not end there.
Early conservationists eventually recognized the importance of saving the species — and by protecting lands such as reservations and national parks, a solution was found.
One of the main efforts you might remember from class was the protection provided within Yellowstone National Park, in which that land alone managed to turn a few hundred bison into the hundreds of thousands that we have today.
Extreme conservation measures with reintroduction projects and protected reserves saved this beautiful animal, and has even allowed for some more minimal bison hunting again!
Modern-Day Bison Hunting
Don’t get me wrong, bison hunting today isn’t what it was back in the day. A couple of states allow extremely limited hunting with a few tags, the states being Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Alaska, and Montana.
Montana for example, has managed to keep up some limited bison hunting by handing out tags for bison that wander outside the boundaries of Yellowstone or reserved land.
And in case that makes you upset: it’s for population control, so don’t worry, it’s actually good for the environment.
Now if you’re reading this because you want to go bison hunting: good luck, because it is near impossible.
The tags are extremely few and are highly sought after. The states I mentioned all employ a lottery system, with odds so low you might as well just try to win the actual Powerball, buy land with bison on it and hunt on that instead.
If you’re wondering why over 150 years of constant control and breeding hasn’t resulted in more opportunity for bison hunting, there’s a very simple answer:
Bison are terrible breeders.
They populate incredibly slowly compared to pretty much all other wildlife, so they require careful management to ensure that populations remain stable and healthy.
The Hunt Itself
For the very few lucky and skilled hunters that get the honor of a bison hunting permit, an incredibly unique hunting experience is up on the agenda.
Bison are massive, and can often weigh over a metric ton. They’re imposing, powerful, and majestic. There’s a reason they’re often referred to as the “thunder of the plains”.
Because of the incredibly thick hide that coats the bison, hunters have to get fairly close to the actual animal before taking a shot. As a result, most hunting methods will involve careful stalking or strategically places ambush points.
Bison hunting is not just for the casual hunter; you need a huge amount of safety measures, knowledge, and respect for the animal and hunting in general to have a shot at a successful hunt.
Did you know that a charging bison can reach speeds of up to 35 mph? That is faster than every participant in Tour de France.
Imagine a massive creature weighing over a ton charging at your full speed.
… good luck.
Bison Hunting: A Majestic Treat For The Lucky Few
The journey of the American bison has been a tragic one, going from historic abundance to near-extinction in very few years.
The story of the bison is a narrative of the human impact, and how incredibly important and powerful conservation is.
I am thankful for early conservationists that started to ensure the resurgence of bison before it was too late, and that we are to this day still blessed with a population in the hundreds of thousands.
And who knows, maybe one day even I will have the honor of hunting the thunder of the plains.
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