The Right Tool for an Unfortunate Job: A Double Rifle & A Wood Bison Bull

Bison Bull & Merkel .375

The Right Tool for an Unfortunate Job: A Double Rifle & a Wood Bison Bull, Cleaning up a Poacher’s Mess. 

Today I had a rather peculiar, unfortunate, and extremely rare experience. I work remote in Northern British Columbia, Canada, hundreds of kilometres from town, flying helicopters for what I describe as my real job. Returning to camp for fuel mid day, I saw three men and two pickup trucks on the only road into the area, they had their doors open and were looking at the bush talking, nothing unusual except outsiders are quite rare up here. What had caught my eye however was the mess of tracks, human and Bison, all over the area in front of them in the snow. This morning, there were three Wood Bison hanging around near our camp’s front gate, extremely close to where these men were. I immediately suspected Bison hunters, which isn’t uncommon as the herd while closed for hunting is of course open to Treaty 8 Aboriginals, who take substantial numbers every year. For instance three were killed just today that I know of including the one in this article. However hunting this close, literally at the gate of our hangar and camp is unheard of.

Just previous to my fly over, over ten shots were heard in quick succession at camp, the shooting being a maximum of thirty or so yards given the footprints on the road and blood on the side. I called our boss to have him check out what the men were up to, most importantly because they were a hundred yards from our hangar and had been shooting. He found three Caucasian males, immediately defensive and stating they were with a band member who was somewhere in the bush, and that they had indeed shot a Bison. The vehicle plates were covered in snow and ice, and the men not exactly friendly and somewhat agitated now having been overflown low by a helicopter and then questioned in person, so he grabbed vehicle descriptions and left. I called it in to the BC RAPP line, and was connected with a conservation officer named Mike in minutes. Mike and an officer from the next town who happened to be hunting in the area immediately hit the road, hoping to cut the men off as they had left in a hurry after being approached.

My .375 Merkel double rifle is with me as I practice and prepare for a February Lion hunt in the Kalahari, and I offered its and my services to Mike, I couldn’t have had a better tool at hand for the unfortunate job. The officer requested I shoot the bull at the base of the skull if I could find him, so as not to destroy evidence from the wounds, putting the bull down would both relieve its suffering and provide evidence that may otherwise walk off to the Wolves. Also a death I wouldn’t wish on any creature. Tracking was simple, though in dense boreal, given a fresh dusting of snow and a slight blood trail. Wood Bison, North America’s largest land animal and a bull the largest example of the largest species, don’t walk lightly either. It wasn’t difficult to follow them the roughly one kilometre they had travelled, and I came upon them in a small clearing; clearly the shooters just didn’t care. Bumping into the wounded bull, laying down, and two other standing Bison accompanying it at thirty or forty yards I caused them to start, and I sat down and waited in the hope they would settle quickly. They can cover unbelievable ground, and though the tracking was easy, I had no desire to chase them deep into the thick boreal forest just before dark.

It worked thankfully, five or ten minutes after all sound ceased I followed the tracks again. My mind on the tracks and considering how the largest of the three, the one lying down, had got up with a significant limp and was leaving more blood on the snow now, I happened to catch sight of a very large dark mass less than twenty yards to my right. It was the bull, he was huffing laboured breaths, and just behind a dense row of black spruce. The other two Bison had carried on and he had stopped scantly a hundred yards down the trail from my waiting place. I have been charged by a Bison bull when I unfortunately happened into his personal space, and I don’t recommend it. It was likewise an experience I was not keen to relive. I found myself caught in the awkward middle ground of being extremely close to a wounded and agitated example of the largest thing in North America, and yet not having a good shot courtesy of the black spruce jungle between us. From my previous unwanted Bison experience, I knew the trees meant nothing to him and he could charge through them like tall grass for me, but my rifle needless to say had more severe limitations.

Mindful of Mike’s instructions, I also didn’t want to do what I did in Zimbabwe with a different Bovid, Cape Buffalo, at scantly further range and that is dump two .375′s into the centre of its shoulder as quickly and accurately as possible. I had previously shot that bull mortally once, and in that case insurance was cheap. In this case I couldn’t mess up evidence, and I also couldn’t even see the base of his skull; I saw bobbing horns, and hump, and a whole lot of massive dark body. I decided to risk manoeuvring for a shot, that meant getting a little closer ultimately up to just over ten yards, and skirting up more in the hope of an avenue through the bush for my .375 pill. I found a gap between two black spruce I managed to move into rough alignment with what I was quite sure was the spot, judging from the horns, seeing a several inch wide window of dark hair in what I imagined was the correct place. I was concerned about him bursting out the spruce my way, or running again, so I didn’t waste any time and immediately took the shot. He blessedly fell on the spot, twitched a few times and that was it. I called Mike to let him know he was down and I’d meet them on the road to lead them in when they arrived, which would be another couple hours.

I found him wounded apparently only twice despite the volumes of gunfire, likely by a 7mm Mag (the cases found), one to the shoulder / high leg, the hundreds of pounds of muscle turned it into a nasty flesh wound, and one through the throat in front of the shoulder, the source of most of the blood it seemed. Blood had spread substantially through the hair on his neck, leg and shoulder, likely spraying when fresh. He ran and moved with a pronounced limp, but not nearly as badly as it seems he should have. They are the toughest thing on the continent, not just the biggest. It should be noted in comparison a Wood Bison is larger than the Cape Buffalo, substantially so in the case of the really big Wood Bison bulls. This fellow wasn’t a giant, but rather typical, and still an enormous animal no Moose or Elk will come close to for weight and sturdiness of build. If you’re one of the lucky British Columbians, Albertans, Yukonians, or Northwest Territorians to draw a tag for a Wood Bison, use enough rifle. To me that means at the very least a 200gr .300 as a bare minimum, it’s only fair to the animals. Admittedly, they could be killed, like anything on the planet with even a well placed .270, but there is no insurance, and using enough gun is just plain right. The overkill engineered into African standards wouldn’t do so badly for us over here if people practice enough to use them, but that’s another article.

Wood Bison Are Big: The Rifle is Just Under Three and a Half Feet Long

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That’s today’s unexpected ending. I received permission to take these photos, and couldn’t have been happier with the Merkel’s performance or the comfort it gave me in an unexpected situation mere paces from a wounded bull. Thanks for reading folks.

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