Thursday afternoon my 14yr. old son and I headed to Delta to finally try and connect with a bull bison. The past year has been a huge struggle for my family and it was literally the only time I have been able to even attempt to go hunting and I live in Fairbanks.
We arrived in Delta about 6PM staying at the Silver Fox Lodge. We checked and I immediately called the buffalo goddess herself, Diana Shultz. We drove to her house and checked in to try our luck on her property. Diana knows these buffalo as well as she does her own children. She explained to my son and I the way things work on her farm, told us a couple stories and pointed out a few areas of interest for us to pursue. We were allowed access to Tract 3 & 5. We drove down the road and looked around, walked a bit and didnt see anything alive, but we did see some good sign. As night fell, we were expecting great things for the day ahead.
We drove down to the fields and as soon as I looked to my right, there was a herd of about 50 animals. I had to take a few deep breaths and intentionally slow my breathing before I even got out of the truck. I asked the Lord to help me be successful with my son in tow. He has hunted with me several times, but we have not been successful. We approached the herd, walking straight into the rising sun and a very slight breeze at my back.. not the best setup at all, but the best we could do. We closed to about 300 yards and I began strongly glassing the herd trying to pick out a bull. Suddenly, and rather expectedly they caught our scent and the mighty tatonka thundered off. Just hearing these magnificent creatures galloping away was breathtaking. Seeing the snow cloud that they kicked up was actually beautiful in it's own right. To our surprise, the herd ran about 1/4 mile turned left and then basically stopped. My son and I decided to pursue, knowing full well that our chances were slim. We B-lined across the field through a 1/4 mile of knee-thigh deep snow (no snowshoes DOH!). We kept a windbreak tree line between us and them and attempted again to close the gap. The smart critters had to sense us because it was as if every step we took, they took one away from us. I simply wasn't comfortable taking a shot at 300yds when we first saw them, even though I KNOW my 300 Win Mag would do the job. My rule is unless I know that I know that I KNOW what I shoot at is going to die, I simply dont shoot. I repeated this rule to my son as we watched the herd meander into the woods, not to be seen again for the day.
A quick plug here for Silver Fox Lodge. While the cabins are old, and basically no frills, they have a sauna in them. I am here to tell you that after walking around a few miles and working up lather then chilling off, there is not much like being able to sit in a hot sauna and warm up. What a treat for cold achy bones. As we settled in for the evening, I called Diana again to make arrangements for Saturday. I was allowed to hunt the same property and could hardly sleep thinking about the possibilities.
First off, I was DOG tired from the day before, if not the year before.. as I stated, this past year has been difficult. I set my alarm to go off at 6 and when it did, I turned it off and slept till 7. We got up and out the door and I was kicking myself for not being the early bird trying to get the worm. as we got close to the hunting grounds, I saw another hunter just getting going on their march, and I was telling myself that the herd we saw Friday was actually an hour later. At least this was the excuse I was giving myself.
We drove all the way down Sawmill Cr. Rd. and didnt see the herd standing in the field. We turned around and drove back up to where we had been the day prior. My plan was we would walk out into the field a ways and see what we saw. I had no sooner parked when something caught my eye on the far eastern edge of the field. It looked like a moose standing all alone. That is until I put the 9x zoom scope on it.. Buffalo! Again, I had to take slow breaths as we grabbed the pack and gun and got ourselves ready. The buffalo was at least 1.5 miles away so all we could do was try. The wind was in our face as was the sun.
We walked the first mile out and glassed what we could now see was a herd of about 80 animals. They were lazily eating and milling about oblivious to anything. I let my son take a look through the scope and asked him what he thought we should do. "Dad, we should sneak along the next wind break tree line and keep it between us and them, then maybe we can sneak through the trees and get a shot". I smiled and said, "good plan son, let's do it", and off we went.
The next mile of our walk was not very easy. soft snow and often breaking through the crust up to about my knee. We took our time trying to be as quiet as we could. about half way to where the herd was, a buffalo trail cut through the trees. I followed itt o take a peek at the herd. They were still right where I saw them at first. By this time I was about 250 yds from a nice bull. I was just about to shoot when it turned and began to slowly walk for the corner of the field but also toward our treeline. I backed out of the trees and told my son all we could do was go froward and hope that the herd comes to our field.
We kept walking east on the opposite side of the trees expecting at any moment that the entire herd was going to appear. They never did. Instead, as I approached the end of the end of the wind break, I could see through the trees that the herd was still where it had been all along. I motioned for my son to get low and follow me as I angled our path to the very tip of the tree line on the eastern edge of the field. Game on!
As luck would have it, this particular part of the tree line was spruce timber with some willow understory. Excellent cover. I made my way up to the field and found a spot to look for shot. I glassed the field with my scope...cow, cow, yearling, bull, cow.. groups, bull, bull, cow. As soon as I made my first assessment, the herd strung out in a line. The two bulls in the milddle singled themselves out with about 10 yds on either side of the rest of the herd and each other. I prayed, "Lord, please help me make this connection, let my judgement be accurate, let this be a great memory for my son". I surveyed the field again. The cows horns looked so small in comparison to the bulls in the Burris scope (pays to have great optics). I again sold myself that I had two bulls with clear shots, all they had to do was turn broadside. As the lead bull turned for the correct angle, I gauged the distance at 225yds, said a quick prayer, "Lord, please guide this shot let it hit the mark." BOOM! WHACK! The herd bolted for the corner of the field. I jacked another round and watched as my bull was running off. Shoulder, BOOM. WHACK. Anchored, staggered..fell! I watched as the animal thrashed a few seconds then lay still.
I have to say a few thanks here. First thank you Lord for turning a really cruddy year into a memorable event. To my son, as you turned 14 yrs old this year you showed yourself as a capable young man that can work hard, have fun and learn all at the same time. I am proud of you and love you, we make a great team. To Carlos Rojas, you and I have hunted and fished a lot of years together and it was a thrill to share this with you! To Scott and Diana Shultz, you all saved my bacon Saturday night and lent a hand when mine were about as wiped out as they possibly could have been. Please PM me your address. Your knowledge of the herd, your friendly attitude and good nature are what I love about Alaska. Your kindness toward my son and I are the very qualities I am raising him up to exhibit. Thank you!
Now, for those of you that say it is all talk with out pictures... Here ya go!