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Icon of the West

February 2019
Story by Ben Towers
State: Utah
Species: Bison

In 1982, when I was in the sixth grade, my father drew a bison permit for the Henry Mountains in southern Utah. He took me out of school for a week, and I joined him on that hunt where he harvested a nice bison. Ever since then, I had longed to hunt bison for myself. I started applying at the age of 14. Somewhere in my early 20s, after Utah instituted the bonus point system, I missed a couple years of applying. This lack of applying put me about four points behind those with max points and put me many more years away from being able to draw a permit. Fortunately, Utah instituted an archery-only bison hunt and my odds of drawing increased dramatically. In 2018, I finally drew that tag, and 36 years later, my dad and I were going to hunt bison again.

With an archery permit in hand, I was suddenly feeling nervous. Everything that I had read about hunting bison on the Henrys said that the animals are extremely wary and very skittish. I began to question my decision to hunt with my bow. After asking the biologist if I had made a mistake, he confirmed to me that the bison were difficult to get close to but that with some effort it could be done. I decided to keep the tag and dedicate myself to having a great experience, even if all we got was tag soup.

I started to shoot my bow every day. I practiced from every conceivable shot angle. I even made a life-sized bison target complete with bones and vitals to help improve my abilities. Every night, I would lie in bed and watch every video I could find of someone hunting bison with a bow so that I could learn what to do and hopefully what not to do. I was able to make two scouting trips to the Henrys, one with my two daughters and the other with my father and his friend and our hunting partner of over 40 years, Richard. We found bison on those trips and were able to get within 20 yards of one lone bull. I was finally confident that we could pull this hunt off.

October finally arrived, and we headed out for the hunt. Bison hunting is a team sport. Fortunately for me, I had a good one. Joining me for the hunt were my father, David, our hunting 132 partner, Richard, my brothers-in-law, Tom, Tim, and Justin, my cousin, Brian, and my friend, Mark. We arrived on October 2nd in order to have a day to set up camp and some time to scout before the opener on the 5th. It was raining and snowing in the higher elevations where we had intended to camp, so we decided to take a spot down in the flats where we could be out of the snow and glass the higher elevations. Over the next couple of days, we scouted and found bison most everywhere we looked.

The morning before the opener, we found an old, lone bull about a mile away from our camp. After watching him for a while, we decided he was the one we were going to go after. I must say that it was very difficult to get any sleep that night.

We all arose early the next morning to start the hunt. We decided to split into four groups. Richard and Mark headed to a knoll behind where the bison was last seen in order to have a higher vantage point to glass from. Tom and Tim headed about 1,000 yards west of the last known location just in case the bison had headed that way overnight. My father climbed a butte to the east to keep a watch on that side, and Brian and I parked on the road as close to the spot where we had last seen the bison as possible. As soon as it was light enough to see, Brian looked up from the truck and could see our bull directly up the hill from us about 500 yards away. The wind was blowing directly from him to us and it was still pretty dark, so we got out of the truck and began the stalk. The only cover we had was a low ridge that headed in the direction of the bull. We followed that ridge until it died out at the top of the hill. At this point, we were completely out in the open. It was now light enough that Richard and Mark could see us and the bison, so they radioed us that the bull was heading straight for us. Since we had no cover, Brian and I tried to make ourselves look like rocks and hoped for the best.

After what seemed like an eternity, the bison finally crested the hill in front of us. I had previously decided that I wouldn’t take a shot that was over 50 yards. Brian ranged the bull at 64 yards. He was broadside, but I decided to wait and not take the shot. The movement of ranging him caused him to look our direction, but in the low light we must have looked like rocks because he just put his head down and kept feeding to our left. Fortunately, he was heading for the only tree around. As he walked behind the juniper, we stood up and closed the distance quickly. I came to full draw as his head appeared from behind the tree. Brian ranged him again at 54 yards. Since there was no other cover in the entire area, I knew that this was my last chance to get this close. I decided to take the shot. As he stepped out from behind the tree, I set my 50-yard pin on his left side, raised up for what I thought might be the extra four yards, and let the arrow fly. We watched the green Lumenok bury itself in the bison, and he took off running.

After covering about 100 yards, he slowed to a walk. We couldn’t see any evidence of the arrow in him, even though I was sure I had made a good shot. We decided that I needed to put another arrow in him just in case. He allowed us to approach to 40 yards, and I sent the second arrow flying. This one buried deep in his side, and again he ran off. Knowing that bison are extremely tough made me want to get still another arrow in him just in case. We worked our way around to the other side of the bull and put a third arrow into his right side. This arrow also disappeared completely. The bull went another 30 yards or so and then he was down.

I couldn’t believe it! I had filled my bison tag, and I had done it with my bow. From the first shot until he was down was a total of three and a half minutes and he only traveled about 250 yards. It turned out that two of the three shots were complete passthroughs and the other penetrated over 24 inches. Any one of the shots would have been lethal as all of them were through the lungs, but with a once-in-a-lifetime animal, you don’t take any chances. Though we had all planned for a tough pack out on our backs over miles of rough terrain, it turned out that he had died 160 yards from the road. It was one of the easiest pack outs any of us had done. Even though he was close to the road, it still took us four hours to break the bull down and get the meat back to camp.

I am truly blessed to have been able to hunt and harvest this icon of the West, especially in such an amazing place as the Henry Mountains. I want to thank Tom, Tim, Justin, Brian, Richard, Mark, and my dad for coming and helping me out on this great once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I couldn’t have done it without them. I especially want to thank my dad for taking me on his bison hunt all those years ago and for instilling in me a love of hunting. I’m grateful to Huntin’ Fool for encouraging my dad and me to have a 20-year hunting plan that is starting to bear its fruits. Finally, I give my greatest thanks to my wonderful wife who is a lover of all hunting and is patiently waiting for her turn to hunt bison on the Henrys as well. In my book, score doesn’t matter all that much. It’s the experiences with loved ones that make a hunt special. With that being said, my bull ended up scoring 116 4/8", but it’s the memories that really matter.

Hunting Bison in Utah