The stare-down seemed to last forever as our eyes were locked on a herd of five large buffalo only 40 yards away. After all the preparation and months of strength training to increase bow weight, I still felt under gunned for the first time in my bowhunting career.
Yes, their size is an intimidating sight; especially as they’ve spotted you and are staring you down. You realize they have no respect for you as an apex predator. Both sides were frozen as I waited in a pre-draw position for the right angle to send the arrow on its way and seal the deal. It is amazing how heightened your senses become when you know the roles of hunter and hunted could reverse in a moment.
This was a unique hunt for many reasons. First, the intended quarry was the largest North American game animal, which required increased bow weight for maximize effectiveness. Second, bison may retaliate if you attempt to encroach on their personal space. Given their size and defensive demeanor, this definitely adds an element of excitement to the hunt. Finally, I was hunting with a great friend of mine, C.W. Bean for the first time….and he is a gun hunter.
Was it strange that both of us in our mid ‘50s, never hunted with someone toting a different weapon than our own? Was I a bowhunting snob? Or is it human nature to gravitate to your own? The answer probably doesn’t matter, but we were both going to experience each other’s world for the first time – as we would be hunting together for our buffalo.
During the pre-hunt preparation back home, I spent many hours tuning and experimenting to get my fixed blade broadheads grouping at long distances. I demonstrated to my buddy all the details of good shooting form, bow-tuning and arrow aerodynamics. On the other side, my friend had purchased a
very specific old-fashioned rifle called “Big Medicine,” used by Teddy Roosevelt for large game hunting.
He loaded all his own bullets and experimented with different cases, powder and bullets with meticulous detail. I learned as he range-tested every variation to find the best combination for this hunt. It was interesting how we both had extensive knowledge about our own weapon of choice but were completely ignorant about the other’s. During times when we were hanging out, we taught each other the ins and outs of our prospective weapons. Seeing my friend’s excitement level made the approaching trip more enjoyable for myself.
We arrived in Bosque Farms, New Mexico the day before the hunt and were greeted by our guide Monte Fastnacht of LaMont’s Wild West Buffalo. I’d researched about 30 buffalo hunting outfitters before deciding he was our guy. He has an extensive tract of land to hunt, with just enough shrubs and cover to stalk an animal effectively to bow range. This was a preferred method, as compared to hunting an open prairie. Also, Monte is an experienced guide, having worked with gun and bowhunters, which put my mind at ease.
The following morning after our pre-hunt briefing, we headed out on ATVs and on foot, looking for buffalo. We were joined by Monte’s son Cody, who is also an experienced guide and loves working with bowhunters. After about four hours, we got our first glimpse of some buffalo and we were fortunate that we spotted them before they spotted us. We decided to settle down and wait for them to work their way towards us, not wanting to risk spooking them.
About a half-hour later, we were rewarded for our patience as a group of five large buffalo were quickly closing the distance. My target bull stepped in an opening 45 yards away. As the moment of truth was unfolding, my gun-hunting friend had a front row seat to witness his first bowhunt. I could see his face in my peripheral vision and his eyes looked like saucers. It was exciting when we saw the arrow hit its mark right behind the front shoulder, but disappointing when it did not seem to get complete penetration.
Cody grabbed me and we quietly ran to circle around and get ahead of my bull. I had about 10 seconds to catch my breath as the bull stepped into view and Cody ranged him at 60 yards. My second arrow hit home and we watched the bull go down.
Meanwhile, as the other buffaloes circled around behind us, C.W. and Monte attempted to cut them off; C.W. hoping for a shot with his rifle. As I watched a bull a hundred yards out hesitate, C.W. executed a perfect shot. His bull went down, and just like that, his dream of taking a buffalo out West with an old-fashioned rifle was achieved – and his freezer would be full for two years.
We all gathered for some pictures of our bulls, some man hugs and reflections of the hunt. I mentioned to my friend C.W. that I couldn’t help but notice he looked pretty wide-eyed right before I shot. “What were you thinking about?” I asked.
Without hesitation, he said, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and “I can’t believe you’re about to hit this thing with a sharp stick.”
In short order, this family-run business kicked into gear. Monte’s wife Lana arrived with food for all, and Cody’s wife Lenore arrived to help skin and quarter our prizes. As my friend and I sat on the tailgate of our truck, we enjoyed a celebratory shot of whiskey, which has now become a post hunt ritual for us.
The toasts sounded something like this: “Congrats hunting brother, you did good out there today…for a gun hunter.” “Yes, congrats to you my friend, you did well, too…for a guy lobbing sticks.” We all had many laughs throughout the day, shared good conversation and got to know each other better over dinner. I always found myself thinking during conversation with this hunting family: “These are my kind of people.”
My friend and I have continued to enjoy many hunts together, including another successful return visit to our now-good friends at LaMont’s Wild West Buffalo. These trips are always some of our best memories of the year, and hunting has a way of forging bonds with people.
That’s something that PETA and HSUS will never understand. So, it’s troublesome to me when I read about or hear of people inside our hunting community disrespecting each other based on weapon choice. For all of us to continue having great memories, there really has to be a harmony amongst hunters. There are reasons for our choices and hunting is a very opinionated sport. Constant attacks from well-funded anti-hunting groups coupled with fewer hunters entering the woods each year equates to all of us needing each other.
Just like the iconic buffalo unite to form a buffalo stance of protection, we, too, must unite to protect our rights as hunters. We may not always share the same opinions, but we do need to be accommodating of each other. As an exclusive bowhunter of 40 years, I’ve opened my eyes to see the same joy, dedication and passion within my gun-hunting friend. After all, isn’t it about respecting the game we hunt, respecting each other, following game laws and pursuing the quarry with the weapon of OUR choice?
And speaking of choices, we haven’t even mentioned our crossbow-toting brothers. Although I can tell you that my friend and I are currently looking for a crossbow hunter to join our group for a perfect blended family. Anyone want in?–Mark Johnson