Close Search
April 2023
Story by Nancy Wollenzien
State: Montana
Species: Bison

To say that I’m not a hunter would be an understatement. In fact, my sister jokingly said to me recently, “Who are you?” Well, 30 years of being married to a Huntin’ Fool will that do that to a girl, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed raising my kids on wild game and have begrudgingly allowed my husband to fill up much of our house with animal heads, not because I love them, but because I love him. Therefore, I was somewhat surprised when Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks called me in the beginning of February to tell me I had drawn an either-sex bison tag for the Gardiner district. My husband had received a few calls like this over the years, but none had been for me. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been putting me in this draw for many years, so I was slightly confused and didn’t react as much as they were probably used to hearing to this kind of hunting gold. At the time, I didn’t really understand that I had the next two weeks to harvest the animal, not just buy the tag. I understood later that they had activated the Bison Hunt Roster due to the large number of bison leaving Yellowstone Park this year. I was one of 20 people to get a tag and had until February 15th to fill it.

My son had drawn a regular season tag for the same district five or six years ago and had hunted in late November, so I was expecting the same; however, I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to try. When my husband arrived home from work a few hours later, I initially forgot to tell him about the call, but when I told him about it, his eyes about popped out of his head and he jumped up to call his good friend, Olaf. They were both very excited. My son, Jack, was able to harvest a small, young bull after much hard work, and my husband had killed a nice bull 20 years ago in the Henry Mountains of Utah. We had very much enjoyed the meat, and I looked forward to being the one to possibly fill the freezer this time.

Growing up on the foothills of the Wasatch Range in Utah, I had many opportunities to shoot guns. My father had raised all of his eight children with a knowledge of firearms. He believed it was important for us to know how to shoot. I have fond memories of shooting with him and my siblings, but there’s only one picture of me shooting with my dad that I cherish. I was 11 or 12 years old. He is standing close behind me so that the recoil doesn’t land me on my rear. You can see how happy he is in that picture.

Barry, my husband, and I have continued to target practice and clay pigeon shoot over the years with our boys and their friends, but I had never killed anything bigger than a spider, so I was a little worried that I would make a bad shot and just wound the animal so that it would suffer needlessly. A few days later at the range, we set up a target at 100 yards and I shot a box of shells. I must admit it was a lot of fun, and I was able to shoot a decent-sized grouping. For a short moment at the range, I felt as if my father was there with me practicing. I knew he would be pleased with the prospect of my upcoming hunt.

The following day, we were on the road to Gardiner with our good friends, Trish and Olaf. I was to learn quite quickly after the kill how gigantic bison are, and there was no way we could have dressed this animal on our own. I am very grateful for their help and friendship.

When we arrived at the hunting area outside of Gardiner, just north of Yellowstone Park, we saw hundreds, maybe even a thousand, bison outside of the park. They were standing and foraging in fields of private property posted with no hunting. We also saw a lot of gut piles on adjacent land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Barry was shocked as this was not the situation when he had brought our son here years ago for his hunt. Immediately, we were very hopeful!

Multiple Native American Tribes conduct tribal hunts in this same area each winter. They are only subject to the tribal laws, so they can shoot multiple bison and tag them for friends and family. We met a group of Native Americans from Idaho who were very friendly and filled us in on their hunt thus far. They had harvested several bison already that they were taking back to family members on their reservation. They explained that we would not have to wait long to fill our tag and invited us to be part of their group.

Within 15 minutes of this conversation, we could see a group of bison forming to our north and getting ready to cross over into a huntable area approximately half a mile away on Forest Service property. We quickly got down there and followed the small herd of approximately six or seven large bulls quite calmly. When they crossed the necessary property lines, we coordinated with the other hunters and each chose a specific animal. They let me pick a big bull at the tail end of the group. When we were about 100 yards from the herd, we all took aim and one of them counted, “One, two, three!” and everyone shot together. I aimed right where his head connected to his neck. Several bison dropped, mine included. After some follow-up shots, six bison were down. My fellow hunters let out a war whoop, and I said a silent prayer of thanks. When we approached my bull, we were all amazed at his size! I thought I might be a little sad, but I wasn’t. All I felt was gratitude and joy. I thanked the bison for his life and told him he was going to feed our families. Olaf and Barry were thrilled and proud of me. Olaf said, “It’s pretty remarkable that Nancy’s first big game animal is a trophy bison!”

A friend asked me afterwards if I now considered myself a hunter. I paused for a moment and said, “Not really. I’m happy to let Barry provide for the family.” Although I will likely never be an avid hunter, this was a great experience and one that I would definitely do again.