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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.