November 15, 2005

Montana revives bison hunt after 15-year ban

By Jeffrey Hull

HUSON, Montana (Reuters) - Bison hunting, once commonplace
in the American West until the species was nearly wiped out,
resumed amid controversy in Montana on Tuesday after a 15-year

On a bitterly cold morning just outside the northern
boundary of Yellowstone National Park, a 17-year-old, hunting
with his family, fired the first shot in the state's revived

Dru Dixon, who filmed the shooting for bison advocacy group
Buffalo Field Campaign, said it took "half an hour to 45
minutes" and four additional bullets for the bull to die.

A group of four other bulls surrounded the carcass, Dixon
said. The hunter threw rocks at the live animals, striking them
in the head and flanks before they moved off.

The hunt will allow up to 50 of the Plains bison, often
called buffalo in North America, to be killed in the
three-month season that opens November 15. A lottery for 24
permits drew nearly 6,200 applicants, including an unsuccessful
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Sixteen additional permits were reserved for native
American tribal members, and 10 went to hunters who had drawn
permits for a previous hunt that was canceled.

Hunters typically eat any bison they kill and sometimes
mount the head and horns.

During the 1980s, Montana's bison hunts featured state game
officials phoning hunters whenever bison strayed out of the
sanctuary of Yellowstone National Park. Wardens led hunters
directly to grazing buffalo, prompting one animal rights
advocate to liken the hunts to shooting parked cars.

Facing nationally televised protests and tourist boycotts,
the Montana legislature banned bison hunting in 1991.

This year's hunt was designed to quell past criticisms. It
takes place across a 450,000-acre (182,000-ha) area.
Regulations forbid game officials from helping, and hunters are
all required to attend classes on the rules of the hunt.

At the turn of the 20th century, only 23 bison survived in
Yellowstone National Park. The herd now numbers around 4,900.

For opening day, Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife &
Parks beefed up law enforcement presence in case tempers flared
between hunters and protesters. "We had some concerns that
bison hunters might be harassed and we're here in case anything
like that happens," said Pat Flowers, a regional supervisor.

Few hunters took the field, however. "I think many of our
hunters considered whether they wanted to be involved in an
opening day circus, and apparently many chose not to be," she

Other states that allow bison hunting include Alaska, Utah,
South Dakota, Wyoming and Arizona.