Frank Young waited twenty two years for the opportunity to hunt Bison in Utah, and on May 31st 2017, he finally drew his Once-in-a-lifetime tag. Frank started to research the Book Cliffs unit, look at maps, and review mature bull bison characteristics. This tag was an any weapon hunt, but Frank committed early on to taking a bison with his bow.
Frank made two scouting trips to the Book Cliffs early in the season. He saw a few bison, but none of them were mature bulls that piqued his interest. After talking to biologists and locals, he found an area that held a good number of bison. Frank explored the area, trying to pattern the large beasts. The bulls were completely unpredictable, and could be found at any time. The bison roamed all day long and could not be patterned. Frank was informed by a friend of a large water hole that all of the animals in the area frequented. He built a large natural blind to conceal himself during his sits.
After three previous trips that were unsuccessful, I decided to give Frank a hand on his hunt. On Wednesday, November 22nd, we left for a Thanksgiving weekend hunt that I would be documenting. We made the four hour trip to the book cliffs after work. We arrived late in the evening, set up camp, and made a fire.
We spent our first morning was spent driving the numerous roads and trails in search of bison on the move. We saw turkeys, elk, wild horses, and tons of deer. The mule deer were rutting and would let you get within 20 yards before they ran. We watched bucks rutting, fighting and chasing does, all day long. Later in the day, Frank spotted two good bulls that were bedded on the edge of the sage flats. We walked to a good vantage point to review the bulls through my Zeiss spotting scope. One of the bulls was a good mature bison, so Frank decided to try a stalk. We packed up our things and made our way to the tree line.
Once we made it to the trees, the bulls stood up and moved into the trees, and out of sight. We quickly took off our boots and crept towards where the bulls disappeared. We cut their tracks as they went through the trees and off the back side of the hill. After seeing that the bulls were gone, we regrouped and headed back to our boots and the Rzr. We ate some quick snacks and drank some Ignite to refuel.
We put on mile after mile, searching for other bison. Frank drove to areas that he had seen them in the past, but there were no bison to be found. Later in the day we spotted two more bulls as we drove came over a hill. We quickly backed up and out of view. After reviewing the bison, we noticed that the bulls weren’t quite as big as the one we spotted in the morning, but still a great bull bison for an archery hunt. Frank made a quick plan to put on a stalk. I hung back and filmed as Frank and Abby took off their boots and quickly stalked in on the bedded bison. Halfway to the bison, Frank looked over to me and I signaled to him that they were 250 yards away. They kept moving through the sagebrush. Just as Frank made it to 50 yards from the bulls, he ranged them, nocked an arrow, and the wind swirled. The bison stood up and ran through the trees. We came so close to killing a bison on video. We packed up and headed back to camp for a Thanksgiving meal. Abby made a delicious dinner of elk steaks and potatoes with broccoli.
The next day brought zero bison and many miles of traveling the roads and trails that grid the Book Cliff Unit. Since we weren’t seeing anything, we decided to make a trip to town and get fuel and water. We grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to camp. Frank wanted to explore some new areas on the way back to camp, so we made our way through the deep slot canyons and high desert plateaus. We cut some fresh bison tracks crossing the road, but never found the animals.
Saturday morning we awoke with a newly found vigor, knowing that Abby had to be at the airport on Sunday to catch her flight back to Seattle. We drove the roads in search of the wary beasts. I asked Frank, “how does the largest animal in North America stay hidden so well? Especially in herds up to 50 animals?!” We all laughed. After searching all morning and finding nothing, we headed back to camp to get the truck to search another new area. After loading the truck, we quickly set out to find bison. We knew we were running out of time.
Once we left camp, Frank stomped on the gas to get to our destination. The pressure was on. We really wanted to shoot a bison on film, and it was our last day. I wasn’t sure if I could make it down to camp again with my busy schedule and all of the hunts that I’d be photographing. Just as we rounded a corner Frank yelled, “LOOK! LOOK!, BISON!” Frank spotted a mature bull and a cow walking through the sage flats and they seemed to be headed to the water hole. Frank quickly drove to the water hole, pulled over, and grabbed his bow. I jumped out of the truck and grabbed the video camera. We all ran to the water hole. Frank and Abby got into the blind and set up. I ran to 50 yards behind and to the side of them, giving me a good vantage point if he did get a shot.
Just as I turned the camera on and started filming, Frank ranged the bison and drew back. I watched through the viewfinder as the bull came over the top of the burm, standing right in front of Frank. The bull paused, looked over at the blind, then started walking to the water. I followed the bull with the camera and caught the arrow as it buried into the bull at 40 yards. The bison ran past the water and paused, not knowing what happened. I watched as Frank ranged the bull again, nock an arrow, and make a perfect follow-up shot. The bull bucked and ran again. We watched to see if the bison was going to drop, but he didn’t. We waited for a few minutes as the bull stood in silence. Frank took his boots off and slowly made his way closer to the bull, stopping every time the cow looked his way. Frank took a third shot and hit the bull in the vitals once again. Both bison took off and ran down the ridge, disappearing into the distance. We waited for two hours to give the bull time to expire. After two hours had passed, we went to search for blood and arrows. Frank quickly found the first pools of blood and they led us to spots where the bull was clearly bleeding out of both sides, indicating a pass-through shot.
After tracking the bull for a few hundred yards, the blood trail began to disappear and the tracks became more difficult to see. We felt lost. He sunk three good arrows into the large beast, how had it made it this far? I moved ahead to get a higher vantage point and found the bull bedded on the far side of the meadow. We watched as he labored to breathe. After discussing the fear of bumping him, we decided to back out and relocate him in the morning.
The next morning came quickly as we prepared to pack out the giant bison. Daylight broke as we hied to where we last saw him. I no more than set down my pack to pull out my spotting scope, when Frank whispered that he saw him. The bull was laying on his side and had expired during the night. THE BULL WAS DOWN!
We hiked over to the bull, took photos, and began the long process of breaking him down. Frank’s bull was officially green scored at 119” and unofficially ranks as the largest bull bison taken with a bow in Utah, and #5 in the world.