The end of October I received a letter in the mail addressed to me from the Wildlife Administration. I was a little confused as to what it would be and was shocked to find out that I had drawn an extra tag for cow bison on the Henry Mountains They had added a bunch of extra tags after the herd numbers were higher than target, and because it was a different situation than the regular draw I had the option to turn back the tag without losing my points. My husband, Dave, and I debated back and forth all weekend before finally deciding to call Monday morning and take the tag. Arrangements were made for our moms to watch our 3 kids, and pretty soon we had a pretty good group of people volunteering to come with us. Apparently a family member with a bison tag is as good an excuse as any to take off work and go to the Henry Mountains!
Dave went up a few days early to scout out the area as my dad was the only one of our group who had been there before, and that had been many years ago. My dad, Dave's dad, a brother, an uncle, and a cousin all made the long journey to meet up with Dave the day before the hunt. Dave hadn't seen any bison yet, but he was excited to show us the area and some of the big bucks he had seen. We had heard from quite a few people who had been out looking at deer the weekend before that they had seen bison, so we knew they were around. What we didn't realize before we got there was just how HUGE that area is. We went back to camp and made a plan for the next morning.
We split up the next morning to cover the most ground with the idea that we would try to find good places to set up spotting scopes or sit with binoculars and glass. Dave and I hiked out onto a reseed, and not 5 minutes after he had gotten his spotting scope set up he started to squeal. I know he won't appreciate me saying that, but there's no other way to describe it. He was so excited. He had seen a small herd of 3 bison in an area that seemed incredibly far away to me. We rounded up the other guys and headed that way. After hiking up a big ridge we expected to see them but were disappointed We did, however, find their tracks, and Dave, his brother, and I took off after them. We hiked in a drainage for what seemed like hours, and every time we came to the top of a small ridge we hiked as quietly as we could expecting to come up on them only to find...nothing. We hiked that drainage for about 3 miles before the tracks hit a dirt road and got mixed in with tracks from domestic cows, and we lost the trail. I was so disappointed! We met up with the rest of the group and headed back to camp. After a long fourwheeler ride later that day I was exhausted and defeated. Dave could tell and told me to hang out in the trailer and "be a girl" for a minute. I hate to say that I cried, but I was so frustrated and ready to give up after the first day that I was a "girl" and cried for a second before heading to bed early.
We didn't see any bison the next day, but we did see a few nice bucks, and after spending the afternoon just hanging out and relaxing under a tree with Dave and his brother and cousin, I was beginning to have a better attitude. The bucks were absolutely incredible and I decided that if all we saw the rest of the trip were nice bucks that I would be okay with that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, but that didn't mean I was going to get a bison so I might as well enjoy the "hunt" itself.
The third morning we split up again to put eyes on as much ground as possible. Dave and I began our hike out onto the reseed where he had seen the bison from the first day when we heard his cousin on the radio. Dave answered him and after a brief and somewhat cryptic exchange, we knew he had seen something and headed back to where he and Dave's uncle were. Sure enough, once we got there they told us how they had been standing up on a point not seeing much and messing around when all of a sudden Dave's cousin saw a herd of bison with his naked eye. They kept an eye on them, and pretty soon Dave, his cousin, and I were bailing off the side of the lookout spot after them. It was a horrible hike slipping and sliding down loose rock until we finally got up to the spot where the bison had last been seen. We hiked a few yards more when all of a sudden I saw movement through the trees! I had never actually seen the bison the first day so I was kind of freaking out! We were unable to get a good shot because of the thick trees we were in, and there was no way we would be able to pick out a cow from the herd, so we took off after them. Those things can MOVE! We got to a spot where they had bailed off down a hill and when we looked up we could see them hitting a reseed. They might as well have been in another state as far away as they looked to me. I sat down and gave up. I had just hiked down this horrible mountain and now the bison were in the middle of an open reseed in an area where I was sure other hunters would see and get to them first. I underestimated Dave though, and pretty soon he and I took off after them again while his cousin went up to help us watch where they went. I kept my eyes on Dave's boots so I couldn't see how far we still had to go and just pushed as hard as I could. I had adrenaline from seeing them plus the possibility of someone else getting to them first, and somehow I was able to keep up, and we did our best to catch up to the herd.
As we were hiking we heard a shot. My heart absolutely sunk. Dave stopped for just a second and then kept moving. I'm pretty sure he had caught on that I was ready to give up and didn't want me to sit down again! We moved on and heard another shot. This time tears came to my eyes. I was so done. We heard over the radios that it was a different cousin's wife who also had the same tag who had shot. The bison had been coming toward them and turned after the shots, but they were still in the area, so on we went. Eventually we made it to the reseeds and listened to our "eyes in the sky" try to help us know where the bison were heading. I was amazed at how Dave knew which way to go. By this time I was exhausted and tripping and stumbling as I tried to keep up, and then there they were! There wasn't a good dead rest close by so I laid down and tried to get a shot, but I couldn't see them through the scope before they were gone. We jumped up and were off again. I had tears in my eyes from being so close and so tired and was frantically trying to wipe them away so I could see if I was able to get a shot. We went through some trees and spotted them again. I got a dead rest on a tree branch, and we watched them go through a small wash. They all looked like bulls, and even though they weren't running they were moving fast enough that we weren't ever able to get a good shot. We took off, AGAIN. Finally we came up over a small rise, and there they were. My initial reaction was to tell Dave to get down because they were standing 50 yards away from us, but they didn't seem to notice. Dave told me where to sit, and I got down and got comfortable. He told me he thought the last one in the herd was a cow. I looked through the scope and agreed, except her horns looked more like a bull's to me. Dave felt confident she was a cow, so I took one last look and pulled the trigger.
I don't remember what happened next very clearly. By the time I looked up they were gone. We heard some yelling, and Dave thought it was his dad saying, "She's down!" Dave asked me if the cow bison had humps. The cows don't really have humps. I burst into tears. I cried because I was SO ready to be done chasing them and relieved and shocked I had gotten a shot and scared that I had shot a bull. We waited a couple minutes and then made our way to where the bison had gone down. Dave told me to wait as he walked around to see if it was a bull or a cow - a cow! I had hit her pretty much where we had practiced, and she hadn't gone far before she went down. We were ecstatic! Soon the rest of our group met up with us. The best part about where we ended up finally getting the cow was that almost everyone who had come on the hunt to help was able to see her go down (with the exception of Dave's cousin who was the one who initially spotted them for me!). Being able to share that experience with those guys was one of the best moments of my life, especially to have my dad there who had always wanted to do that hunt himself.
I owe everything about that hunt to those guys. I may have pulled the trigger, but they were the ones who did all the "heavy lifting," literally! Without their help we may have still found the herd after we lost them that morning, but I'm positive it would have been a much longer hike! I am also still in awe of how far Dave pushed me. I'm more impressed with how I hiked than the fact that I made a 50-yard shot! I also am impressed with his trust in me. We had practiced shooting so much together in the past month that I was comfortable with the gun, and he knew I would put the shot where it needed to go. I'm a pretty independent girl for the most part, so to know that he wouldn't think of taking the gun and taking the shot himself is pretty awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better guide. How many people can say they were able to get a shot at a bison at 50 yards? It is incredible to think that I have done something that very few people will ever do, and I'm pretty excited to see how she tastes. :)