Nebraska is a mighty cold place in the winter, a test for any black powder rifle or shotgun. Jim Noah bundled up in insulated bib overalls to brave the zero-degree weather. Nebraska’s signature winds tear through man or beast, making the hunt even more challenging.
Noah joined Wayne and Tim Braun, owners of Trophy Bison in Atkinson, Nebraska. The plan was to hunt on foot to find a trophy American buffalo. A combination of tough weather and a healthy surplus of sand burrs made walking miles through tough country quite a challenge.
The hunt took place on a 5,000-acre north central Nebraska buffalo ranch on the Niobrara River, not a small, fenced-in hunt that outfitters offer these days, but a traditional hunt that could have moved the calendar back 150 years. Noah thought about the old hunters while walking up and down the rolling hills.
Noah made the hunt even more challenging by using a new black powder rifle prototype, the CVA Muzzleloader Electra. The idea was to test the gun in rugged conditions.
“We walked several hours before spotting a small herd of three bulls and two cows,” Noah said. “They were grazing in a small draw and the stalk began. It was difficult staying hidden in open grassland and even harder walking without crunching patches of frozen ice around cover and in draws and canyons. The cows sensed danger and ran, leading the bulls across a huge pasture and out of sight.”
Noah followed the herd and moved in the same direction after the buffaloes were out of sight. The Nebraska hills paid off big for cover in the open country when they crept to the top of a knoll. He peeked over the edge and found his herd, walking about 200 yards away.
“The buffalo must have heard my hard breathing and they all dove into the scrub cedar,” Noah said.
Tim and Wayne suggested trying a 1,500-acre area where the buffalo roamed. Noah welcomed the pickup ride to warm up and rest. A large herd of fallow deer were immediately visible at the new ranch. The Braun brothers asked Noah if he would like to take a large buck and he refused.
“I was there for a big bull bison or nothing,” Noah said.
The group soon found a lone buffalo bull across a deep, icy canyon, a very difficult crossing for much younger men. Tim checked it through binoculars and reported a very nice bull, but a tent would be required. Shooting this big bull would require camping out to protect the meat from predators. At least three days would be needed to move the huge animal on pack frames. Noah passed.
“While glassing the bull Tim found a large bull elk watching us watch the bison bull,” Noah said. “He knew we were there long before we knew he was there. Tim soon found another large bull that seemed to also enjoy watching us. No way would we have been able to get a clear shot at the two monarchs. I would have settled for either one of these bulls, but they would not have waited for me to cross the ice. This ranch is rough as some of Colorado I have hunted.”
Once again, the group climbed back in the pickup at dark and headed back for a great supper at Wayne’s house. Noah returned to the hotel and soaked his aching joints and bruised backside. He had discovered the ice was slick and decided he was too out of shape to chase buffaloes.
“I now know why our ancient Indian brothers were all skinny and in great shape,” Noah said. “Just watching these amazing animals is a rare experience but they are a challenge to hunt.”
Day two started cold and cloudy with hints of snow. The group went back to the first ranch, looking for the herd from the day before.
“Tim spotted the three lone bulls in a large meadow about a mile from where we lost them the day before,” Noah said. “Again, they were way over on the other side of a deep draw we could not cross with any vehicle and I still didn’t have a tent. A stalk was out and they were content in the snow.”
Wayne and Tim decided to try a buffalo drive once again. The bull would have to fall where a truck could load it. Wayne said we had a much better chance as the cows were not with the bulls. Tim left to start the drive.
We found the bulls were not scared, making it possible to move reasonably close. The old bull’s attitude is to stomp and horn whatever bothers them, and why run? Noah wondered who was protecting Tim since he was unarmed and in deep snow and moving closer to some very dangerous animals. Wayne figured an 80 percent chance the herd would head south using their normal trail.
Noah and Wayne moved south out of sight of Tim, who was on his own. Noah settled in over the expected escape route, his rifle positioned on the Crooked Horn Shooting Stick.
“Hurry to the north,” Tim said over the two-way radio. “The bulls are taking the less traveled route north out of the canyon.”
Wayne and Noah went north quickly as possible. They soon spotted the three bulls moving quickly out of a canyon. Soon they dropped behind a small scrub cedar.
“I unfolded the shooting sticks and prepared for a fast shot,” Noah said. “About 80 yards out the big bull was leading the herd north. I led him and pulled the switch, igniting 150 grains of Hodgdon Pyrodex to send a .444 grain Flat Nosed PowerBelt toward the big boy’s front shoulder. It was a very solid hit and his front leg was no longer working. I reloaded as fast as I could and was ready to fire again when Wayne said, “You don’t need to reload, he’s down.”
Wayne and Noah walked to the bull that had walked about 15 yards after the shot. The buffalo left a 2-foot wide blood trail. Noah was amazed at the actual size of the buffalo. The meat was delicious.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.