Riding the Line
Story by Sam Davis / Photos by Zack Boughton
“A once in a lifetime opportunity” is the only way I can describe the bull bison permit I drew for Wyoming last year. Hunting one of America’s most iconic animals in the wild was a true dream, and for me as a bowhunter, this was also my chance to get my ninth big game animal out of the Wyoming Big Ten with archery equipment. No pressure at all, right?
Summer flew by with lots of family time, vacations, and also a career change. I did a ton of e-scouting, called numerous biologists and past tag holders, and felt as ready as I could be for opening day.
Everyone told me it would be a tough hunt because you are playing by the bison’s terms and they spend 95% of their time in Grand Teton National Park. Every so often, they stray across the imaginary line onto National Forest lands where they are on the hunt table. This definitely turned out to be the case.
The hunt opened August 15, so my hunting partner Zach DeWitt and I headed west on the 13th to meet up with Stone Glacier’s Zack Boughton who was going to film the whole hunt. Like I said, no pressure right?
We set up camp that afternoon and got the horses settled in. We covered a bunch of ground on Sunday in the pickup just to get a feel for road access and glassing knobs. We also rode the horses in to get a lay of the land where would be spending almost all of our time hunting. It was a great scouting mission, and we found one old bull right on the border. I couldn’t wait for the opener the following morning.
Opening morning was full of excitement and also four other groups of hunters diving into the same valley we were in. The bison, now a herd of around a hundred or so, sat safely inside the park far from any legal border. After riding out that afternoon, we talked to an older local gentleman and he told us to just keep doing what we did the first day and it would eventually pay off. It was hard to ride in five miles in the dark, wait for daylight, then cover a couple miles of boundary just to discover the bison were playing it safe inside the park. For four days we did just that though, sticking with the plan in the hopes that our persistence would pay off.
On day three, the herd of around 220 bison had moved within about four hundred yards of the boundary. This time they stayed high on the ridge watering out of a small spring within eyesight of the boundary. We were getting closer.
Morning four came with high anticipation of getting an opportunity at one of these giant rutting bulls. Daylight broke and excitement grew. As we reached the top of the last big ridge with the first vantage, I could hear the bulls grunting and bellowing from almost a mile away. It was on! As we slipped through the strings of aspen stands, we could start to see down the ridge towards the boundary where the grunting was coming from. I was in the lead, and as I rounded the last patch of trees I could see a bull standing on the knob we glassed from the past three days. We quickly tied the horses up and grabbed our gear. The bison were still about 800 yards out, so we slipped around them to the north to get the wind right.
I slipped right up to the park boundary and started working my way south with the wind in my face directly at the herd of rutting bison. As I eased up the last sagebrush finger, I was able to slide into the shade of a lone pine. When I reached the top, I could immediately see bison well within range, straddling the boundary. We waited for what seemed like hours as bulls pushed past each other to get to the hot cow about 46 yards from me. As we waited for the big bull to cross the line, I looked through my binoculars at each boundary marker to make sure I knew when he was legal. The cow suddenly bumped left, crossing well into the National Forest. The big bull followed.
I took my last range, came to full draw, settled and released a perfect arrow just as he stopped. Within seconds he spun a half circle and went down. That once in a lifetime opportunity had just presented itself, and I was able to capitalize on the moment and kill a giant old warrior. I couldn’t believe it.
After some emotional celebrations and gratitude given to the animal, the work began to get this huge beast out of the sagebrush and up to camp. With three experienced big game hunters on hand, we broke the buffalo down into packable pieces in just over an hour. From there, it was onto the horses and back down the trail to camp.
A few hours later, we had meat hanging in the shade in camp with the horses fed and watered. We were tired but ecstatic to get an opportunity and then take full advantage of it. The next morning, we broke camp at daylight, loaded up, and hit the road back towards home. The six-hour drive gave Zach and I plenty of time to relive every detail of the trip – an adventure like none I have experienced!
-Sam Davis (@sdavis2506)