Bison Hunting: Where and When to Go
Tell a non-hunting friend you’re going bison hunting and they’re likely to say, “Oh, you mean buffalo hunting.” And while lots of people use the words buffalo and bison interchangeably, the truth is that the animal you can hunt in several states is the American bison, native to the Americas and Europe, and different from the 38 types of buffalo you’ll find in Asia and Africa. Trophy animal hack: American bison have beards, buffaloes don’t.
The distinction is important, because wild bison are carefully managed in all states, and those that have bison hunts strictly control the number of permits issued, the number of animals that can be harvested, and the rules surrounding the hunt.
In South Dakota, for example, bison hunting is limited to Custer State Park, in the southwestern part of the state. Custer has two brief seasons, the first of which is a two-week non-trophy season that starts on October 30. The trophy season starts on November 27 and runs into January. Non-trophy hunts last three days, and begin on Mondays and Wednesdays. Park-selected guides accompany hunters, and tell them which bison they may hunt and where in the park the hunt can take place. The later trophy hunt targets bulls that are usually 10 or more years old and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. These bulls have the potential to be Boone and Crocket eligible. The same guiding rules apply as in the non-trophy hunt. Hunters in both seasons are required to have species-specific big-game licenses as well as hunting tags; licenses are issued via an online lottery.
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Montana has four units for bison hunting on public land. The Absaroka-Beartooth unit’s season opened September 15 for backcountry hunters; the regular season opens in November, as it does at the other three. The Absaroka-Beartooth unit is very isolated, which means you’ll only get in and out on foot or horseback. Some of the bison in this unit weigh a literal ton and can yield 800 pounds of meat, so plan on bringing a string of pack animals to get your haul back to the world.
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Wyoming has three units on public land open for bison hunting, which is now in season. Licensing requirements can be tricky and expensive, with non-residents paying as much as $4,000 for a bison hunting license.