A Buffalo By Any Other Name
It was a time before cell phones. I was in my office in Uvalde, Texas working on an article for the next issue of DSC’s Game Trails when the phone rang. My daughter Beth, who worked for me in our outdoor media business answered. “Yes, Sir Mr. Bachelor, he actually is here!” covering the receiver. “Dad, John Bachelor is on the phone, says he first met you, years ago when you, Gramps and Crockett Leyendecker hunted black bear on their property next to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Said he wants to invite you on a buffalo hunt in Oklahoma if you’re interested.”
Moments later John and I renewed our friendship. At the time I had just started my first own television show, “Hunting the World”, which was broadcast on the then-new Outdoor Channel. It was the first show of mine DSC sponsored. John had seen our show and tracked me down, not only to visit but to invite me on a bison or buffalo hunt.
Since we had last talked he had moved from New Mexico to central Oklahoma where he was in the cattle business. Loving buffalo and the days of the buffalo “runners” he had bought several American bison and released them on his property. John soon learned buffalo do not respect five-strand barbed wire fences. Some of the released herd stayed on his ranch, but two older bulls and four cows roamed onto adjoining properties.
“If you can get up this way in the next few days we’ll see if we can find you a buffalo. We’ll use a wagon just like the buffalo runners used to follow the hunters to bring back the hide, skull and meat. Too, I’ll have several friends on horseback scouting to find the bulls. Once they locate them, you can stalk and then shoot one. Should make a most interesting episode for your new show and be great fun on top of everything else.” Explained John.
I agreed, then called the cameraman I was using at the time. Two days later my partner in the show, Bill Whitfield, the cameraman and me were on our way north. Back then Bill and I also partnered in a whitetail hunting operation. Our primary clients were Bill Jordan and his Realtree team.
For my buffalo hunt, I decided to use a .405 Winchester rifle loaded with Hornady’s 300-grain Soft Point. This was before Trijicon was building scopes, otherwise, I assure you my rifle would have been topped with one of their AccuPoint scopes. I had used the same .405 Win rifle in Africa on greater kudu and other plains game, as well as on mule deer in western Texas. Reading about this being Teddy Roosevelt’s “go-to rifle” when hunting dangerous game had much to do as to why I chose that particular caliber!
The first day we spent all day looking for the roaming buffalo. Same the second day. And the third day. Fun horseback and wagon rides, but no buffalo.
The fourth morning our scouts located a bull and three cows ten miles from the home ranch. They were feeding in a northerly direction along the side of a deep, brushy creek. It was mid-afternoon before my cameraman and I finally spotted the buffalo. They were still feeding along the edge of the brushy creek. We hiked to get around to their back side, then stayed in the creek bottom until we thought we might be just ahead of them, there to wait in ambush.
I crawled up the steep bank, peered into the bluestem grass plain bordering the creek..nothing! They were nowhere in sight. Hard to believe animals as large as a near one-ton buffalo could simply vanish. Maybe they had sensed danger and had run away, or perhaps they had dropped into the brushy creek bottom, and, we had walked past them.
Then immediately to my right, I saw something huge and brown walk out of the head-high brush into the tall grassy plain. It was a monstrous, shaggy buffalo. Obviously based on his size and horns…a bull. I moved cautiously to my right. I could see the bull’s shoulder and vitals. I raised my .405 Winchester. I knew Roosevelt considered that round his “big medicine” and had used it to take African buffalo, rhino and even elephant. Still, at the moment, looking at the enormity of the buffalo, even Roosevelt’s choice for dangerous game seemed small and light.
I raised the single-shot rifle and tracked the bull’s movement. When he cleared the brush, I pulled the trigger!
I am pretty quick at reloading single-shot rifles particularly Ruger No. 1s. But before I could replace the spent case with a fresh Hornady round, my buffalo dropped. Reloaded, I moved forward, keeping my rifle trained on the bull now laying on his side and breathing his last. He was down for good!
For years I had wanted to take a buffalo, an American bison, going back to my growing up days. In my early teens, I had found a buffalo skull that washed out of the creek bank on my grandfather’s property. Doing so created a yearning. Finally, now many years later I took my own buffalo bull.
We spent the rest of the day taking care of the hide and meat, not an easy chore!
I will admit, I gained a whole new appreciation for those hunters of yore who hunted bison….
Regardless of what is going on in the world, there are always small things, of beauty and splendor, for us to enjoy, admire and appreciate!
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