Alaska Fish & Wildlife News April 2005

Video where to shoot a buffalo

An Alaska Buffalo Hunt

The three bison were all big, but one shaggy bull dusted with snow stood out. Hunter Travis Smith, 14, knelt and rested the heavy octagon barrel of his buffalo rifle on a shooting stick, then took aim at a 1,200-pound Alaska buffalo.

A herd of about 400 wild, free-ranging plains bison roams the countryside near Delta Junction in Interior Alaska. About 16,000 hunters apply each year for the chance to hunt these massive beasts, and only 130 people received permits last year. Smith was one of the lucky few to draw a permit, and he headed 500 miles north to Delta from his home in Kenai last November with his father, Roy Smith, and family friend Paul Bell.

“The big thing about this hunt for us is the uniqueness of this animal,” said Roy Smith. “It has a long history in the United States, and in the prehistory of Alaska. We don’t hear much about that, but wood bison and steppe bison were here in prehistoric times.”

During the Ice Age, steppe bison – the ancestors of modern bison – migrated to Alaska from Asia, crossing the Bering land corridor. Far larger than modern buffalo, with much longer horns, these giant herbivores shared the tundra of prehistoric Alaska with wild horses, wooly mammoths and western camels.

As the ice sheets advanced and retreated, these migratory animals spread across North America. Bison evolved into two subspecies, wood bison and plains bison. The giant longhorn steppe bison became extinct. Wood bison adapted to life in the north, grazing in the meadows and forests of Alaska and Canada. The smaller plains bison thrived farther south and formed the famous buffalo herds of the American Great Plains.

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Although wood bison can still be found in Canada, they disappeared from Alaska about 100 years ago, likely because of hunters and changing environmental conditions. Plains bison were introduced to Alaska in 1928. The animals in the Delta Bison Herd are all descendents of 23 plains bison from Montana. The herd increased steadily throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, and in 1950 a hunting season was established to stabilize the size of the Delta herd.

Emigration and transplants created additional herds at Copper River, Chitina River and near Farewell, and a few dozen permits are issued each year to hunt animals in these herds as well.

The Delta Junction Bison Range, a 90,000-acre tract of public land, was established in 1979 near Delta to ensure adequate winter range for the animals and to diminish damage caused by bison on adjacent farms. Bison spend fall and winter on the Delta Junction Bison Range and on private land in the area. During calving season, between late April and early June, they move a few dozen miles southwest to the gravel bars of the Delta River.

The bison summer along the river, and they can be seen on the gravel bars along the Delta River from several viewpoints along the Richardson Highway.

Roy Smith said he applied for the Delta bison hunt for a number of years without luck. This year, at about 100-to-1 odds, his son Travis drew a permit on his second try. A young but experienced hunter, Travis took a black bear when he was 11 and has successfully hunted moose as well. Roy said when he told people that Travis had drawn a permit, he found a prevalent misconception.

“People assume the biologist takes you out and shows you which animal to shoot,” he said. “It’s not like that at all. It’s a lot of work.”

See also  .45-70 Government for Elk Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for a Successful Elk Hunt Hunting Calibers 04 Apr, 2020 Posted By: Foundry Outdoors Is the .45-70 Government a viable caliber/load/round/cartridge for elk hunting? The accurate answer is “it depends”. However, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether the .45-70 Government is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk. As with anything, the devil is in the details. To answer the question completely, we would need to evaluate the downrange distance to the elk, the bullet type, the grain weight of the bullet, the physical condition of the firearm, the size of the elk in question, the shot placement, the local wind conditions, the expected accuracy of the shooter, the ethics of the ideal maximum number of shots – the list goes on. [Click Here to Shop .45-70 Government Ammo]What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a elk in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically. Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .45-70 Government within the ideal range of suitable calibers for elk hunting?” our answer is: No, the .45-70 Government is UNDERKILL for elk hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table. Assumption Value Caliber .45-70 Government Animal Species Elk Muzzle Energy 2270 foot-pounds Animal Weight 720 lbs Shot Distance 200 yardsWhat is the average muzzle energy for a .45-70 Government? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .45-70 Government round is approximately 2270 foot-pounds. What is the average weight of an adult male elk? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male elk is approximately 720 lbs. [Click Here to Shop .45-70 Government Ammo]What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in elk hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for elk to be approximately 200 yards. What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .45-70 Government. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the elk being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.Various calibersA common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions. Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .45-70 Government is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk - and to this question, the response again is no, the .45-70 Government is UNDERKILL for elk hunting. [Click Here to Shop .45-70 Government Ammo]This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below. Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting elk to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.Foundry Outdoors is your trusted home for buying archery, camping, fishing, hunting, shooting sports, and outdoor gear online.We offer cheap ammo and bulk ammo deals on the most popular ammo calibers. We have a variety of deals on Rifle Ammo, Handgun Ammo, Shotgun Ammo & Rimfire Ammo, as well as ammo for target practice, plinking, hunting, or shooting competitions. Our website lists special deals on 9mm Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 45-70 Ammo, 6.5 Creedmoor ammo, 300 Blackout Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 5.56 Ammo, Underwood Ammo, Buffalo Bore Ammo and more special deals on bulk ammo.We offer a 100% Authenticity Guarantee on all products sold on our website. Please email us if you have questions about any of our product listings. 7 Comments Matt Milano - Nov 23, 2021I have a hard time accepting anyone as a “trusted home” for outdoors equipment when that someone rates the 45-70 as underkill for elk.The 45-70 has been used to take every animal on the planet, including Africa’s biggest. It is THE gun to use in Alaska for bear defense. With proper sights/scope and good bullet selection, a 200 yard shot is no problem.There’s absolutely nothing underkill about a 45-70 for elk. Dave (dated Myers - Jun 02, 2022This article is so miss leading, It only refers to Hunters perched on a hill top shooting out to 200 yards, There is another class of hunters that use bows, muzzles loaders and 45-70 trap doors.For us using the 45-70, our perferred range is 50 yards and 75 yards being the max shooting distance. at least for me. Some who have the lever action with a scope will take Elk out to 100 yards.So this is the rest of the story. Dave Acie Brown - Jun 02, 2022If the 45/70 is good enough to kill buffalo at short and long range. It is good enough for me to hunt elk with. You have bungled this one Bro. Back up and try again. There are a lot of us that would face just about any kind of animal with a 45/70. Johnnie a. Keller - Jul 18, 2022Huntiing any big game as small game, one must know their weapon, the ballistics and have practiced enough to have the right and accurate “shot placement.” I have brought down elk sized animals with .308 with open sights and with one shot. I also have a 45-70 and I know that out to 200 yds with the right bullet, powder and round placement, I can kill elk or mouse with one shot = one humane kill. Jae Beah - Dec 04, 2022The 45-70 is a fantastic Elk/Bear/Moose cartridge for timber country, especially out of a modern lever or bolt action!Shots out to two hundred yards are 100% effective with several of the factory dangerous or big game loads available.For reloaders, there are countless bullet options for every game species on earth in the .458 caliber.Modern 45-70 lever actions, and better yet, bolt guns can absolutely put out energy in the 3,000 foot pounds or higher range!My go to reload, using my own frictional reduction bonded bullet coating, generates 300 Win Mag energy with a solid 420 grain bullet doing a chronographed 2,120 – 2,100 fps out of my lever action. Yes it’s a stout kick, but with NO over-pressure signs. ( Easy extraction, normal primer appearance, no cracked or ringed cases ). That load alone will pass completely through an elk, or bear or young moose. It has literally punched through the entire length of a quartering cow elk at 100-120 yards, dropping it within a few steps.After 30 plus years reloading, hunting and shooting all manner of cartridges, I can adamantly state the 45-70 is more than enough cartridge with the correct rifle and load for Elk.As for the original 405 grain lead loads in the 1200-1500 fps range out of trap doors, given lead’s mass, even this load will dump an elk within 100 yards with proper placement. Nicholas Devito - Dec 04, 2022 I have hunted with a 45/70 for almost 20 years now. Killed dozens of deer, over a dozen elk, bears, mtn lions, etc. Knowing your rifle and your own limitations are the most important factors in an ethical shot. Ive seen plenty of people wound animals at 100 yards with 7mm mags just because of poor shooting skills. If you want to hunt with a 45/70 and shoot over 200 yards, there are scopes with turrets and bdc systems that essily get into the 350 yard game and do it accurately. Then the next most important thing is to practice! If you practice like you hunt, you will learn your limitations and be successful. Daniel Stevenson - May 23, 2023I own and use a 45-70 and believe the round is more than adequate for Elk under the right circumstances. But I have also wounded and lost a small deer shot at less than 100 yards with the same round and same rifle. The size of the round or the rifle has nothing to do with the result but the skill and ability of the hunter mixed with a bit of luck. Leave a commentComments have to be approved before showing up Your Name * Your Email * Your Comment * Post Comment

The Smiths talked to other hunters and a number of Delta locals for advice. They studied animals in a private bison herd to help them differentiate between bulls and cows, which both have horns and can appear similar.

“The farmers and locals told us these free ranging animals are almost always on the move, constantly grazing, and they tend to walk into the wind,” Roy said. They’re generally in groups of 12 to 40 animals, he said.

The Smiths hunted for a week in mid-October and then returned home to Kenai. In late November they were back in the Interior for another try. Although numerous roads transect the Delta area, it’s a patchwork of public and private land, and the bison roam throughout the area. They had secured permission to hunt on some farmers’ fields, and they worked both public and private land, scouting from the truck and then stalking on foot.

Travis said he was surprised how difficult buffalo are to stalk.

“A couple of times we tried to get into range and they spooked,” he said. “They’re really fast, and they just keep running. We were stalking some on a farmer’s field and they ran about a mile into the trees and we lost them. Once they get into the trees you never find them.”

It was about 15 degrees and snowing when they spotted a group of three in the early morning light. After carefully determining the gender, Travis took his shot. He was using a Browning model 1886 lever action .45-70, with open iron sights, a replica of the old Winchester government model of the 1890s that the historic buffalo hunters used.

“Fish and Game encourages hunters to have a back up,” Roy said. “I was ready with my .375. We both aimed for a killing shot in the vital region, just behind the bull’s massive left shoulder. Fire belched out of the end of the barrel as Travis shot, and we heard a solid hit.”

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The three buffalo ran off a few hundred yards, and the hunters hustled through the foot-deep windblown snow and stopped at a grassy outcropping about 100 yards from the bull. Several more shots brought the bull down.

“They are so powerful,” Travis said. “I was happy when we finally got it down.”

Roy said not only is a lot of bullet energy expended in penetrating the very thick hide of a buffalo, but the hide dulls a knife quickly. He measured the bull at 8-foot 3-inches from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. He said they plan to have a shoulder mount done of the bull and a European style mount of the skull as well.

In addition to the hide, which they plan to have tanned, the bison yielded about 400 pounds of boned-out meat. Roy said the meat is very tasty, with about one-fifth the fat of beef and no gamey flavor at all.

This year, permits to harvest about 45 bulls and about 45 cows from the Delta herd will be issued. Hunters apply by May 31 for the hunt, and the season runs from Oct. 1 to March 31. Hunters are assigned a specific hunting period within that time. The $10 application fee goes toward helping to manage the bison range.

For more on bison hunting in Alaska:

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>