Bison in Alaska - An Adventure of a LifetimeThe lethality of Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range continues to amaze me. I hoped to add bison to the list of Alaskan animals downed by my ammunition of choice.
The 190-grain nickel-cased beauty was put to the test once again on a recent winter bison hunt on the Copper River in South Central Alaska. This is a once-in-a-lifetime draw tag, meaning pulling a tag hovers at .01 percent success rate. I was extremely fortunate to land a tag, and start preparing for a hunt in The Last Frontier. If you or someone you know draws the tag and you’re lucky enough to get an invite, you have to make it happen.
The Copper River is one of the most dangerous in the state of Alaska. The tenth largest river in the United States is fed by a number of glaciated drainages, boasting sheer bluffs with turbulent, silty water. There are a few ways to access this hunt: by boat; snow machine; or airplane. ATV’s have no chance of crossing the river or climbing the bluffs which hold prime habitat for the introduced bison population.
Land ownership is also a hurdle to cross. Acquiring the Ahtna Land Use permit grants access to areas above the high-water mark. People do take bison by boat on Alaska state land, but usually herds hang above the river bluffs. The permit is key. Transportation to this relatively small but sustainable population of animals is tricky. The season runs from fall through spring (ending March 30). Herds move depending upon the time of year. The window of opportunity is slim based on the environmental conditions.
Colleague Landon, for one reason or another, couldn’t make the adventure happen with his limited fall schedule so our only shot was the winter season. He, not I, was the lucky fellow who drew a tag to hunt bison in this region. Too, weather is always a consideration in Alaska. Aviation weather cameras and local area intel told us the river was frozen but had formed an ice dam creating an overflow and thawing in February. The snow machine transportation option immediately became unavailable.
A few calls to pilot friends owning Piper Super Cubs led us to a drop camp in a field several miles from a herd of bison. The Lycoming engine plane with two seats zoomed off in the blink of an eye leaving us in minus 5-degree weather. We set up our Arctic Oven tent and fired up the propane stove settling in for the evening.
The following day we snowshoed for two-and-one-half miles following a single bison track into a large opening lined with thick stands of spruce trees. The bison track turned into many tracks with dug out snow pits where a herd had been grazing. Slowing our snowshoed-walk to stealth-status, we spotted a herd of eight bison with one impressive bull leading the pack. The stalk provided Landon a 411-yard shot.
We used terrain to the best of our abilities, but getting closer wasn’t an option as the thick groves of spruce trees and thigh deep snow impeded movement. Spooking a single bison would lead to a stampeding herd. Most likely they would move many miles through the forest to a different field. Gaining access to them after a spooking event would be mission impossible on foot.
At this critical moment, Landon felt comfortable with the shot trusting his Winchester XPR rifle in 300 Win Mag, loaded with Expedition Big Game Long Range ammunition. The last thing a hunter wants to be concerned with on the hunt-of-a-lifetime, is his or her rifle/ammunition combination.
Landon laid on his pack in waist deep snow and made a fabulous shot on the huge animal. After impact, it joined the herd then bolted towards the spruce trees to his final resting place. Next up, hard work in quartering and transporting the beast back to camp and ultimately into the plane.
Alaska recently changed regulations for the bullet grain requirement from 225 to 180. The 190-grain bullet did its job and Landon notched his once-in-a-lifetime tag. Expedition Big Game Long Range has worked wonders for big game in the Land of Midnight Sun from blacktails to bison … the ammunition is a juggernaut.
The dependable work horse performed yet again, and we both appreciate the confidence afield that Winchester, The American Legend, provides.