Bison is the iconic animal of the Old West. The stories told of the amount of bison that once roamed east of the Rockies are almost unimaginable. Unfortunately, those days are long gone, but due to hunters realizing the need for management, we still have huntable populations today. There are wild herds in Alaska, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, the Crow Reservation in Montana, and Canada. There are also a number of private fenced herds throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada that provide hunters with opportunities to hunt bison.
Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young only recognize the wild herds, but Super Slam and SCI accept all bison. The Boone and Crockett world record bison scored 136 4/8" and came from Yellowstone National Park in 1925. To get into the Boone and Crockett record book, a bison must score a minimum of 115". The Pope and Young world record bison scored 129 6/8" and was taken in Arizona in 2002. The minimum score for a bison to be in the Pope and Young record book is 100".
Alaska offers five bison hunts through the draw. If you are drawn, the bison tag is $900. The units are Chitina, Copper River, 19C and 19D March hunt, 19C and 19D fall hunt, and Delta. You can find information on how to apply in our Alaska state section. The odds of drawing are very low, but with Alaska not having a point system, at least you have the same odds as everyone else who is applying. Be sure that you know what units you are applying for as some of the units are almost all private land and you will need to pay a trespass fee. Other units do not have any road access and you will have to fly in. The best unit with the best access and plenty of public land is Delta. The Delta unit is also home to the largest wild herd in Alaska. If you are lucky enough to draw a permit in Alaska, a guide is not required. However, you may hire a guide, which will run anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000, depending on the unit and air charter.
Arizona offers their bison hunts through the draw process, and they have a point system in place. Their draw process is the most complicated of any state as there are multiple application periods each year for bison and you can accumulate more than one point a year for bison. A raffle tag and a Governor’s tag are also available. Arizona has the most expensive bison tags in the West at $5,400 for an any bison tag and $3,250 for a cow bison tag. The draw odds for the any bison tag usually run between 1% and 10% and the cow hunts run between 10% and 20%. An outfitted bison hunt in Arizona will run between $5,000 and $7,500.
Arizona has a problem with the bison living in the Grand Canyon National Park. Once the hunts start, the bison can move into the park where hunting is not allowed. At this time, Arizona is working with the park service to find a solution to the problem as the park service does not want the bison in the park. For more information, look at our June and September issues where we break down Arizona’s bison draws.
Montana offers their tags through the draw. If you are drawn, the bison tag is $1,250. The odds of drawing a bull permit are under 1%, but there is not a point system, so you have as good of a chance as anyone else. The bison hunted in Montana live in Yellowstone National Park and are hunted when they leave the park during the winter. Montana offers three different hunt areas. Gardiner and West Yellowstone have great road access. The other hunt, Absaroka Beartooth, is a wilderness hunt and you are going to need horses. If you draw a tag in Gardiner or West Yellowstone, be aware that there is unlimited Native American hunting allowed. If there is good snow and bison are coming out of the park, you will see a lot of hunting pressure close to the roads.
When applying, you can list a second choice for a cow/calf tag. Montana creates a hunt roster and if enough bison come out of the park, they will issue cow/calf tags. A guided bison hunt will run between $3,500 and $5,500. For more information on Montana bison hunts, look at our April issue.
South Dakota’s bison hunts are conducted on Custer State Park. The tags are awarded through the draw process, and there is a point system in place. If you draw a trophy bull permit, you will be scheduled for a three-day hunt. For non-trophy bulls and cows, you will be scheduled for a one-day hunt. Tag prices are $5,006 for trophy bull, $2,256 for non-trophy bull, and $1,756 for cow. Something unique about South Dakota bison hunting is that if you draw, you will be fully guided by Custer State Park employees for no extra charge. The bison are very regulated, and the guide will make sure you harvest the correct animal.
The trophy bull hunts are rifle only, but archery hunting is allowed for the cow and non-trophy bull hunts. Success rates are almost always 100%. This is an easy hunt that would be good for any hunter. For more information on South Dakota bison hunts, look at our September issue.
Utah has four different areas that are open to bison hunting – Antelope Island, Book Cliffs, Book Cliffs Wild Horse Bench, and the Henry Mountains. Tags are issued through the draw, but there are also raffle tags, Commissioner tags, and Governor tags available. You can apply for either a bull or a cow tag. Bison tags are $1,518, but the Antelope Island tag is $2,615. Unless you are sitting on 20 points, you are looking at under 1% draw odds for a bison tag in Utah.
I have spent time on the Henry Mountains, and if I were to pick one place in North America to hunt bison, it would be here as they can be found from the valley floor all the way to the tops of the mountains. The Antelope Island hunt is much like the South Dakota hunt as you will be accompanied by state park personnel. This is a very easy hunt, but the tag price is nearly $1,100 more than the other bison tags in the state. The Book Cliffs and Book Cliffs Wild Horse Bench areas are flatter mesa type and canyon country. The Ute Reservation borders the Book Cliffs Wild Horse Bench area. All of the areas in Utah have the potential to produce a record book bull. Outfitted hunts in Utah range from $5,000 to $7,500. For more information on Utah bison hunts, look at our upcoming February issue.
Wyoming offers bison tags through the draw process, but they do not have a point system in place. You can apply for an either-sex permit or a cow/calf permit. Any bison tags are $2,522, and cow/calf tags are $1,022. The odds of drawing an any bison tag are 1%-2%, but the cow tags have much better odds at 15%-20%. The hunts take place around Jackson as the bison winter in and around the National Elk Refuge. Most of the bison summer in Teton National Park.
If you are successful in drawing a bison tag, you will receive a packet with all of the hunt information along with the bison biologist’s contact information and the outfitters registered to guide on the National Elk Refuge. You will be able to hunt the National Elk Refuge, but you will be assigned days. The majority of the cow and calf harvests occur on the National Elk Refuge.
Guided hunts run from $2,500 to $6,000, and there are bison retrieval services available for hunters who are looking to hunt on their own. For more information on Wyoming bison hunts, look at our January issue.
The Crow Reservation in Montana offers free-range bison hunts where you do not need to draw a tag. A lot of hunters travel to the Crow Reservation to avoid the draw process. There are a handful of outfitters that guide on the reservation, and prices range from $8,000 to $12,000 for trophy bulls.
Things are always changing on the reservation, but it sounds like they may be offering some dry cow hunts in the future. The reservation is a beautiful place with a healthy herd of bison. Hunters take some great bulls here every year. Most of the hunts take place in late summer.
Canada offers hunts for wild plains bison and wood bison. Wood bison is the larger of the two. There are wild herds in Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. You have to book with an outfitter if you plan on hunting in Canada. Most guided hunts will run $7,500-$10,000+.
Fenced bison hunts are found throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and many reservations. These hunts are all private herds of bison, and no tags are needed to hunt them. These hunts are not recognized by Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young. The prices vary greatly, depending on the ranch. Most mature bull hunts will be $4,000+. If you are looking at doing a fenced bison hunt, do your research so you know what you are getting before you get there.