Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rifle For The American Bison

A few years ago I started sharing my elk hunting experiences with folks.  Originally I wasn’t going to suggest caliber, but people asked and I relented.  Bad move.
While some readers appreciate my 40 plus years of elk guiding and outfitting experience, some readers have criticized me for my words.  (Everyone has a favorite caliber and no one should touch it without glowing words.)  Some have gone so far as to run back to their virtual “hunting forums,” and spread their opinions of me.  I have been called an idiot, a bull shit artist, a moron, and a few words that surely violate the forums policies.  So, I quit sharing my info.

But, a week or so ago, a prospective bison hunter asked me the following:

Hey, nice blog ... I have a bit off topic question- what gun to use for Buffalo hunting. I drew a buffalo tag in WY this year (I live in Pinedale). I have had friends hunt them in the past successfully with a 30.06. I myself am strongly considering using my Browning BLR PG 30.06. That said, others have told me to use a BLR .450 or Marlin 45.70. What do you think? Thanks for the comments.

Well, except for moving and herding bison, the American bufffalo, I don’t have any personal experience shooting them.  I have always marveled at how effortlessly they can move with very little effort.  That slow lope can put distance between the best horse and rider, leaving said horse and rider in their dust.   And that is without exciting the buffalo.
I’ve seen quite a few hunters shoot bison, but until now I’ve never really thought about shooting one.
To research this post, I googled the net and interviewed a few of my friends that have killed bison, and coupled that with my experience hunting elk, deer, sheep and bears.  On the internet you will find vast numbers of “experts” claiming that large-bore rifles are needed.  338s and 375 seem pretty popular.

Friends suggested whatever was in the closet or in the gun safe seemed appropriate.
One of my friends, who I calved for this winter/spring, took his twin sons Thane and Luke, and his nephew, Johnny, on a bison hunt.  All three youngsters shot their bison behind the ear, at 75 yards with 30-30s.  The twins used a Model 94; the nephew used Marlin.  None of the first shots “killed” each bison, but they were put down and only needed a follow-up shot to finish the job.
The bison is the largest land animal in North America.  (To get a larger mammal one needs to look at whale.)  Although they are larger than their elk, musk ox, deer, caribou, etc., their kill zone doesn’t increase in size.  So, to put it in perspective, a bad shot with a large-bore rifle isn’t any more effective than a poor shot with a small-bore rifle.  The heart doesn’t get any bigger, and actually because the leg bone that covers the heart is so much heavier than elk/caribou, the kill zone is smaller.  If one is taking a heart shot they should try either a quartering toward/away, or wait until the bison takes a step forward with the near leg before delivering the shot.
To answer the comment/question, I would use the 30-06 in the closet, but remember to practice hitting a heart sized target at 200 yards.  Not just at 200, but throughout the arc of the bullet.
Alternatively, I would order a fancy Shiloh Sharps rifle in either 50-90 or 45-110 caliber.  I like guns and to have a old-style buffalo rifle in a obsolete cartridge hanging on the wall alongside the tanned hide would complement my rifle collection and my living room.

After writing this I hope that none of those wonderful "forum goers" has any heartburn over my choice of calibers.  That would just break my heart--ya' know, to have my real life experience conflict with some computer hack sitting on his duff, handing out what he/she thinks is real.  So much for my rant!