An American Safari
By Fred Mariscal
The desire to take Arizona’s big 10 had been with me since I went to a party many years ago and the host had 9 of the big 10 on his wall. He said, “I am only missing my mountain lion and then I will have all ten solo without dogs.” I replied that before I was done I would do one better as I would get mine solo without dogs and with my bow.
Through the years, I managed to take 7 of the 10, but I was stuck on the final 3 (lion, sheep, and bison) for several years. By some force of fate, Arizona Game and Fish stunned me by drawing my name many years before acceptable levels of 19 points.
Immediately, I started my research, watching every bison hunting video there was. I studied history, anatomy, terrain, and the social issue of hunting the North Kaibab without the help of the resident guides and away from the main group of hunters. With the help of a couple of guys who had hunted there previously, I had about 30 locations where the bison could leave Grand Canyon National Park and come to huntable areas for salt and water.
The weather this year was the wettest in 25 years, which was great for deer and elk and the absolute worst for bison. The snow levels were great. I spent several hours shoveling my vehicle out of a snow drift about 25 miles from the nearest point with bison. After regrouping (and getting unstuck), I decided to go to an area with much less snow, Saddle Mountain Wilderness. This was pretty much four days of hiking and exploring with very limited bison sign, with one exception. Just as the change from night to pre-dawn was taking place, I heard the clopping of a large hooved animal 35 yards from my cot. I got up, grabbed my flashlight, and saw an escaping body of a smaller bison.
There were two more fruitless weekends of not getting within two miles of the traditional hunting range and then the weekend of the 10th came around. Snow that Friday was still too much to get to the area where the guide and his crew were hunting with his clients, which left me on the points with a great deal of old sign.
My brother and stepdad made it up for the week, and we devised a plan. I was to sit some water and salt with some old sign at Stina Point, and my brother was to check the five cameras I had put out the day prior and set four more cameras with salt on likely points on entry into the National Forest from the Grand Canyon. It was four more days of nothing but deer and frustration. Talking to some other loners, we learned that only one bison was seen by the big group. The House Rock hunt has an unofficial tradition of bison hunters camping together and taking guidance from the main guide in where to go, paying him or not. Even with help, it can be a frustrating experience for any hunter.
After six days of sitting and seeing nothing, my brother, Victor, told me this was not working and let’s do something else. Victor being a former Recon Marine meant one thing – going to the most remote, deepest canyon and points we could find and still hunting the area away from the group and roads. Some fresh tracks were cut a few miles from where we parked. Later that evening, we tried to see if the roads by the park entrance were accessible and met a few very solid, good guys who were either defectives from the outfitter’s group or chose to hunt solo. Wally, an 80-year-young man, just needed a bison to finish his big 10. He was assisted by his son, Matt, who had as much or more knowledge of the Kaibab bison as well as one of the toughest trucks on the Kaibab than anybody on the plateau. Next, we met Josh, a taxidermist from Waddell. No more bison were seen that week by anybody. The week ended with eight inches of new snow and a report that G&F flew the canyon and there were still 300 head in the winter grounds.
A quick few days of work and I would be back for the final 10 days to finish the season solo. As I was getting to my area to check cameras, I met up with a mother/daughter combination who drove their vehicle into a place they shouldn’t have. This gave me a drive to Kanab, Utah (roughly 40 miles away) so they could get back to their hotel and get a specialist towing company. Prayers were sent by the religious mother for my success.
Memorial Day hit and so did more snow, destroying my tent, soaking my sleeping bag, and requiring me to sleep sitting up in my truck until it dried. The week was fruitless with no bison seen by anybody until Friday when an acquaintance named Dave with the main group finally took a well-deserved bison. For the first time on the final Friday it got warm enough not to wear a jacket. On Saturday, I heard a few more shots, but they must have been misses from the reports from one of other hunters.
On the last day, I was resigned to the fact that my tag would go unfilled. I let my wife know I should be leaving around noon and asked to go to dinner. I decided to go to areas close to the park entrance. No one was hunting the area, and the snow from the week’s prior storm had melted with the warm weather on Saturday. I put my bow down and took my World War II era model 70 with a Lyman Alaskan two power scope. The voices in my head told me to take the left fork. I went to what was called “Dirt Tank 1.” I took the extended route in and approached the small field from the northeast.
When I got there, I saw a brown head and for a moment I thought it was a bear, but then I quickly realized there are no bears on the Kaibab anymore. It was a bison sparring with another bison. At 65 yards, I was in full view of them with no view of their bodies. I immediately dropped to my stomach and started crawling to the only cover in the field, a lone spruce tree. The fight stopped, and the bison looked like they were going to leave. The latter of the two stepped his body into view at 80 yards. After 27 days of hunting, I was less particular on size than I was the weeks prior. I sat up and got into shooting position, remembering the heart was low. I squeezed a very relaxed shot into the area where I aimed. He picked his pace up, and I squeezed two more rounds low into the lungs. With my final round, I put the finishing shot into him. He was down less than 30 seconds from my first shot.
Hunting alone has its advantages and disadvantages. Having a down bison 250 yards up a snowy bank was definitely a disadvantage but also a labor of love. I started working on skinning and field dressing him after some pictures. The final piece made it back to the truck just after 3:00 p.m. The smiles of accomplishment do not hit me until the first hindquarter hits my tailgate.
This was the second and last bison out of 25 permits for this hunt. I do not know if I was deserving of the honor, but I also know I will not turn it down.