A full moon accompanied us on our drive from Colorado Springs westward to beautiful South Park, Colorado, where we were to meet Matt Burrows (Old Matt) and Dean Hendrickson, of Stick and String Outfitters. I was joined by Brad Severs and his son, Matt (Young Matt) on our first attempt to hunt the symbol of the old American west, the American Bison or buffalo. The large herds that once roamed the grasslands of the central United States and were decimated by the early 1900's have now recovered to the point where hunting them is again possible. Although there are only two designated "free range" herds in the U.S., the 1,200 bison that roamed this 75,000 acres of Colorado high desert would certainly qualify as free ranging. No fences can hold these animals, as they are quite capable of going through or over any of those designed to hold cattle.
We arrived at the ranch to the warm hospitality of Old Matt, Dean, and Bob Schwanke, another member of the Stick and String crew. Dick, the ranch owner, also joined us and was most interested in our bowhunting exploits. By the end of our hunt, he was a convert to our way of pursuing the greatest of North American big game.
We settled into the comfortable mountain cabin, and a coin toss later, it was Brad who had the honors for the morning hunt. The next day, clearing skies greeted us along with word from one of the ranch hands that two bulls had been spotted within a mile of the ranch headquarters. With heightened anticipation, we quickly gathered our gear and departed for the nearby hills. We climbed to a good observation point and soon found the bulls meandering through the dry washes and Ponderosa pines, unaware of our rapidly forming plans to approach them from two sides, downwind and crosswind. With Brad and Old Matt in the Number 1 position, the bulls began their fateful journey toward them. After waiting for the bulls to move toward them for about half an hour, the two bulls finally moved past Brad and Old Matt, unaware of their presence. As Brad drew on the larger bull, now only 40 yards away, the animal turned to face him straight on! Forty yards is not much distance between the hunter and one ton of thunder. Brad held his ground and the lack of movement convinced the bull to continue his journey. That was a fatal mistake as Brad sent home the first arrow. At 60 yards, the second assurance arrow hit its mark and shortly the massive bull went down. We all got our first close-up look at these impressive animals, this one a mature bull around 10 years old and over 2,000 pounds! After rolling the animal 50 yards downhill to a level spot, the ranch's cowboy crew, a definite plus and fantastic highlight of our adventure, arrived on the scene, hoisted the entire animal with a pump pulling rig and took it directly to the skinning area on another part of the ranch. The bull was cleaned and skinned within the hour, the entire carcass cooling in the Colorado mountain air, the perfect way to preserve this high-quality protein.
Now it was time for Young Matt and me to team up on our own buffalo. We traveled about 5 miles south of the ranch to a location where a group of five bulls loose from the ranch had previously been spotted by the ranch hand. The next 2 hours were spent glassing the foothills in vain, looking for the group of bachelor bulls. Finally, our persistence was rewarded. In the distance we spotted five large animals moving away from a small bottom area. Quickly, we proceeded to an intercept point, out of sight of the steadily moving buffalo. Although the wind was right, the best we could do was to get about 80 yards from them as they moved up a dry wash. With daylight fading, Dean and I decided to make one more wide circling approach, and were able to set up, within shooting distance from the nearest bull as he nonchalantly grazed up the hillside. However, the bull I wanted was just past him. It was pushing my maximum shooting range and the heavy 625-grain arrow just brushed the hair beneath the bull’s chest. The five bulls trotted out of sight, but fortunately, resumed feeding on the next rise. It was time to call it a day and hope for another chance tomorrow.
Barbecued buffalo topped the evening menu as we cheered Brad's success for the day, and planned our own hoped for celebration tomorrow. Sleep came easily after a day of hiking in the rarified air at 9,000 ft. elevation. Strong winds and lowering temperatures foretold a change in the weather.
At dawn, we arose to 4 inches of fresh snow on the ground. It didn't take long to slip into winter camouflage and head for the place we last saw the quintet of bulls. They were located within 1/2 mile of the previous evening's sighting, and an approach plan was quickly formulated. Brad and Young Matt headed up one ridge, while Dean and I took another. The bulls moved up into the hills we selected and stopped 80 yards from Young Matt. No cover between any of us and the bulls meant we had to wait until they made their next move. Finally, they chose a path. Dean and I scrambled up the rocky terrain to the next intercept point. With good cover to my side and a gentle crossing wind, I felt that this was the moment I had been waiting for. The first bull crested the ridge and walked by at 35 yards. He was followed closely by the second bull, which I identified as the "Old Patriarch." I came to full draw as he passed at 40 yards, quartering away from me. Triggering the release, I sent the 100-grain Nail Driver broadhead on its mission. The broadhead with 80ft/lbs of energy penetrated his chest coming to rest on the underside of the opposite shoulder. With only the fletching to mark the entry wound, the bull trotted with his companions to the top of the ridge, 80 yards away. There the magnificent animals stood, silhouetted against the morning sky. Finally, they dropped out of sight over the timbered ridge. Dean and I quietly approached some bushes where they were last seen, and peeking over the top, I decided to send a second arrow after the mortally wounded bull. It struck the area behind the right shoulder and the buffalo moved 100 yards further where the old leader came to rest. The others tried to get the fallen master to rise, but to no avail. The four remaining bulls finally moved off down the slope.
We could only hope that Young Matt and Old Matt had moved to a new ambush point. They had! Within 20 minutes of the end of my hunt, Young Matt was presented with a broadside shot from 35 yards. At 17 years of age, the 6' 5" high school football player coolly placed an arrow into what would become his greatest trophy. Four bulls came by him, only three bulls left. A second arrow at 40 yards confirmed the demise of the beautiful golden-maned mature bull. The tale of the tape showed Matt's bull to be the largest with horns measuring 19" on one side, and 18" on the other, with 15-1/2" bases. My bull was similar, but older, and one damaged horn was shortened to 17 1/2". Brad's bull, although somewhat smaller in horn size, was equally as impressive and a mature, trophy buffalo. None of us would trade for our trophies or the unique experience we each had on our hunts.
Three great bulls in two days was the result of great guiding, careful scouting, planning, and persistence. Oh, and did I mention, just a measure of good luck? No script could have been written that would have allowed us to take the first bull close to the ranch headquarters and then two animals within 20 minutes from the same bachelor group. A quality hunt producing quality animals that were all handled in such a way as to produce quality table fare is all a hunter could ever ask for. We got that and more, as the friendships made, as well as the memories, will last a lifetime.