Take the Shot? A Once in a Lifetime Bison Creates an Ethical Dilemma – Presented by Springfield Armory

Hunting Bison in Alaska’s remote Copper River drainage is a once-in-a-lifetime dream hunt. PC: Jordan Voigt

TAKE THE SHOT?

A once-in-a-lifetime Bison tag is in your pocket, and the only two buffalo you’ll see in a week of hunting are walking toward dense timber. But there’s a problem; one bull is directly beyond the other. You have five seconds to decide: Do you take the shot?

All your life you’ve dreamed of hunting Bison. You wouldn’t call it an obsession, or even a consuming passion, but hunting buffalo is definitely high on your bucket list of adventures. You’re growing a little long in the tooth, though, so if it’s going to happen it better be soon. And then it does; you draw a once-in-a-lifetime permit to hunt wild Bison along Alaska’s legendary Copper River drainage.

You plan. You prepare. You gather the requisite gear and zero your rifle. You pore over maps and study aerial photographs. Your research turns up evidence that bison are often harvested along the river far from the road, so you arrange to rent snow machines for yourself and your son to use. You lease a remote cabin far up the river, a place to camp away from the frigid Alaskan winter. To the best of your ability, you prepare for every eventuality. And then you wait the long months until your hunt dates arrive.

Glassing for Bison in sub-zero temps can be challenging. Don’t breathe on the lenses – they’ll ice up! PC: Jordan Voigt

RIFLE, AMMO, AND OPTIC

The rifle you’ve chosen to use for this hunt is a bolt action chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum. It’s slightly heavy for a hardcore backcountry rifle, but very reliable, superbly accurate, and balances nicely in your hands. Your ammo is Norma’s “Bondstrike”; purpose-built for deadly performance at extended distances. The 180-grain bonded bullet sports a muzzle velocity of 3084 FPS at the muzzle and a lovely ballistic coefficient of 0.615 on the G1 scale. Energy at the muzzle is just over 3,800 foot-pounds, ample for even a huge old bull Bison. Due to that lovely high BC, the projectile retains 2334 foot-pounds of energy and 2417 fps at 500 yards; the maximum distance you’ll shoot at a buffalo. Your riflescope is a 6-24-power beauty made by Nightforce. A range-finding binocular from Swarovski completes your setup.

The Voigt’s covered a lot of country on snow machines. The buffalo were elsewhere though, and six days of hard hunting produced no sightings. PC: Jordan Voigt

DOWN TO THE WIRE

It’s cold on the sixth morning of your hunt, and you’re tired. It’s been a tough week of hunting; trying unsuccessfully to navigate your snow machines upriver to the cabin you’d hoped to camp at, fighting dangerous ice, bad brush, and other unforeseen obstacles. You’ve yet to spot a buffalo, and it’s growing hard to maintain your enthusiasm. But you have a new plan; you’re going to ditch the snowmobiles today and use snowshoes to access a series of small, timber-wrapped meadow-lakes that are off the beaten path and, hopefully, haven’t been disturbed. With luck, you’ll find Bison in the meadows and get a shot at one. You strap your snowshoes to your boots and slog into the timber, every step an effort. Hopefully, this works, because you’re almost out of time. Tomorrow is your last day to hunt.

It’s just after midday, and the first small meadow-lake shows through the timber. You ease forward, hoping, but not expecting much. Something moves though, and you take another step, straining to see through the branches. Then there they are: two magnificent buffalo bulls, sparring head to head about 150 yards away in the meadow. Eyes wide, you turn to your son and whisper “I see one!”

Finally, in a small timber-wrapped meadow, a big bull Bison offers a fleeting shot opportunity. Will you take the shot? PC: Jordan Voigt

TAKE THE SHOT?

Struggling forward through the meadow-side brush, you manage to find a spot with a clear view of the Bison. Sitting down in the snow you rapidly deploy your shooting sticks and ready for the shot. The bulls are within easy range, but the shot is still tricky; your tired body is stiff with cold and fatigue and at the same time shot with adrenaline. You’ve been hunting big and small game for the table since you were a youngster, though, and you know how to hold it together under pressure. Shooting sticks planted in the snow, you shoulder your rifle, rest it on the sticks, and find the buffalo in the crosshairs. At that moment they turn and walk into the timber side-by-side, posturing at each other as they go. Your crosshairs are steady on the near bull’s broadside shoulder, a round is in the chamber, and the safety is off. But the bulls are side-by-side, one beyond the other. If your bullet passes completely through the bull you shoot, it will wound or kill the other bull. You have five seconds more and the buffalo will be gone into the impossibly thick Alaskan bush.

Do you take the shot?

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED: TRUE STORY

This story occurred just this late winter to my good friend Jordan Voigt’s father. He is an experienced hunter and worked hard for a shot at a Bison. He got it, too – but the odds of a bad outcome were too high, and he waited as the buff melted into the boreal forest, hoping against hope that one would return and offer another opportunity. It never did. The Voigt’s sat and waited the remainder of that day and returned the next, to no avail. Traveling home with empty hands, they are still questioning their decision to pass on that one-and-only shot.

It was a bittersweet decision, and the knowledge that you could have killed a bull, but chose not to, would haunt you as you snowshoed from the woods for the last time. PC: Jordan Voigt

CONCLUSION

Did Mr. Voigt make the right decision? Yes, but maybe no. He could have killed one of the bulls, and most likely the bullet would have stopped in his bull rather than continuing on to strike the other animal, especially if he shot his bull through the shoulders. But “most likely” was not good enough. He exercised superb ethics and waited, knowing that there was a chance the bulls would return, and a better shot opportunity might develop. He did right to hold the trigger, exercising restraint and good ethics.

Ironically, had he pressed that trigger (knowing that Bison are one of the largest land mammals on the North American continent and the chances of a pass-through were slight), and as a result, killed a bull without injuring the second one, it would have also been a good decision. Now, he sits at home, spooning once-in-a-lifetime tag soup into his belly every time he thinks about his Alaska Bison hunt. He’ll never know what might have been. At least he can take comfort in the knowledge that he did the right thing. Or one of them…

Did Mr. Voigt make the right choice? Quien Sabe. I’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section below.

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • rex gates April 13, 2021, 2:46 pm

    i think he made the right call.the memoy of the dream hunt will last forever the meat wouldnt but if things had not went well after the shot the night of making a mistake would

  • Danny joe Helton April 12, 2021, 8:38 pm

    KILLING A BISON IS LIKE KILLING A COW THEY JUST STAND THEIR AND WHEN YOU DO SHOT THEY JUST FALL DOWN

  • Mike Thomas April 12, 2021, 5:50 pm

    Absolutely, You don’t have to harvest an animal every hunt to have a successful hunt. A successful hunt is one that produces lifetime memories, not necessarily one that ends with game in the freezer. I would happily trade a hunt that ended with meat in the freezer for a lifetime hunting memory with family and friends.

  • KMacK April 12, 2021, 3:57 pm

    Pass on the shot and you lose money and time and a chance to ever do it again. Take the shot and hit both bulls and you get to be a guest of the Fed for several years and can NEVER possess a firearm again.
    Not hard at all, is it?

  • griz326 April 12, 2021, 2:14 pm

    A headshot is out. I’ve actually seen the remains of a .270 Nosler bullet stopped and flattened by the skull of a Montana bison.

    Penetrating beyond the shoulders is unlikely if you hit bone.

    Heart/lung is old reliable.

    I probably would have passed too; I am not a subsistance hunter.

  • Jason B Jones April 12, 2021, 11:19 am

    Was there not a neck shot or even a head shot that might have been a possibility? Not ideal, but at 150 yds, the risk of either a quick kill or a clean miss seems ethical. I would have taken the shot.

  • Mark April 12, 2021, 10:06 am

    Of course. Every hunter has had numerous instances where game alignment is poor. And many of us have been at a kill site with a gut pile and another deal animal intact. All knowing someone lacked ethics and cast dispersions on all of us. Thanks to the hunter for choose all of us over his personal desire to tag his game. Imagine two dead animals, all while hunting with your son. There was a lot more at stake than just filling a tag. Bravo to you.

  • MikeD. April 12, 2021, 8:44 am

    He made the right decision. This hunt may have been a “once in a lifetime”, but imagine touching the trigger, and seeing two animals fall! Then one getting up and limping away to die a slow painful death in the brush sometime later. The animals deserve more respect than to believe you can risk killing/wounding a second one, as “collateral damage”, to your success on the first… There would be little pleasure in telling that story. Not taking the shot, as painful as it was, was right.. My opinion only…

  • Ric Evenson April 6, 2021, 4:56 pm

    The thrill of the hunt is planning, and doing everything to put yourself in that situation. Not pulling the trigger does not diminish the experience with his son. perfect!

  • Paul April 6, 2021, 2:21 pm

    I also think he made the right decision. If there was a chance to injure or kill the second bison it would have been unethical to take the shot.

  • Andrew April 6, 2021, 1:40 pm

    He made the right decision. It was the smart & ethical thing to do plain & simple. As others have pointed out he only had one tag & to take the chance and kill or wound the other Bison would have been wrong and far from the most intelligent thing he could have done. Hats off to him.

  • Leonard S. April 6, 2021, 12:37 pm

    I would have taken the shot. The idea of over-penetration is slight, and it isn’t 50/50, but more like 20/80, and if aimed correctly, not very likely. Those are big animals but your aim is also important. How sure were you of your aim, given the range and your scope?
    A trophy hunter can walk away proudly because he felt he was ethical. That is good for the sport. Many others hunt as a supplement to their food supply, and never get to go on a “dream hunt.” They eat what they can find, as opportunity provides. It isn’t just a sport, it’s a trip to the market.

  • David Brill April 6, 2021, 10:44 am

    I agree it was a 50/50 decision and agree that either choice was right. I would have taken the shot. The anatomy of the animal and shoulders are massive. With a high performance bullet the chances of a pass through were less than minimal. The shoulders of a wild boar will stop a .30~06 (I’ve tried it). Just my take.

  • Rob April 6, 2021, 10:03 am

    Of course it’s the right decision! “Always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it”. It’s also the only decision!

    He didn’t have two tags!

    Hope you get lucky and draw that coveted tag again!!!

  • MT Mac April 6, 2021, 8:58 am

    He certainly did make the right decision!! Good for him

  • Jim88 April 6, 2021, 7:23 am

    That was not an easy decision to pass up the shot on parallel bulls, but it was the right one. Mr Voigt had a dilemma which could have produced the wounding or killing of the second bull. He may never had been able to enjoy the flavor of the meat if there was already a bad taste in his mouth.

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