By Eric Heath
I couldn’t contain my excitement. It was one of the most emotional days of my life. I had drawn a once in a lifetime bison hunt on Utah’s Henry Mountains. It was a tag I wanted, but hadn’t even hoped for. I jumped in the air and yelled to my wife, who was only two feet away, “I GOT A BUFFALO TAG!”
I had just over five months to prepare for my hunt. The first question I had to answer was which gun to use. While I was doing some window shopping, I saw a Henry Big Boy lever action. This was the gun, the gun I would love to say I had killed my buffalo with. So after some consulting with friends I ended up with a .44 mag, delivered directly from Henry Repeating Arms to the Sportsman’s Warehouse store in St. George, Utah (With a little help from the Sportsman’s News). During the next few months, I shot the gun over 200 times. I made a lot of changes with my shooting to be able to make a 200 yard shot with open sites. The bullets had about three feet of drop from 50 yards to 200 and another two feet to get to a 300 yard target. I felt like the 300 yard shot was so slow I didn’t want to risk a bad shot. I knew I could make a 200 yard shot and have plenty of impact to do some serious damage. But I hadn’t convinced everyone.
Two days before the hunt I was finally there and ready. I had seven family members and friends there to help me and we all split up to find some free roaming bison. The hills were steep and rocky; it was rough terrain to say the least. With all those eyes we were able to find a large herd our first night. The next morning my brother and I worked in a little closer to view herd. From about a mile away we watched over 40 buffalo feed through a large burn. We argued back and forth most of the morning about which bull was bigger and if they were big enough to take opening morning of my hunt. When we finally got back to camp we met up with everyone and I just hadn’t decided if I would be happy with any of those bulls. It’s my once in a life time hunt. I had to be sure I did the best I could. So that night I went to take a look at another herd. When we pulled into the high spotting point, there were two other hunters looking at the herd. I spent some time looking at the largest bull in the herd; everyone around me was pretty excited about this bull. It was a big mature bull, one that was definitely worthy of a once in a lifetime tag, but I knew it was smaller then both the bulls my brother and I had argued about earlier that morning. So right then and there I decide to try and take one of the two bulls we had seen earlier that morning in the larger herd if we could get back on them.
It was a long sleepless night for me. I was nervous about using my .44 mag. I had had a lot of people tell me I was crazy and that I should leave that gun at home, but I was sure it could do the job. My mind raced all night as I thought, “What if I had a chance at a big bull, but couldn’t cut the distance to 200 yards? What if I just miss the shot with those open sites? How many other hunters would be after those two big bulls?” There were so many things that could go wrong. I was stressed and worried about my hunt. I watched my clock all night. Finally it was time to start preparing. I nervously got all my gear on while double and triple checking for my GPS and binoculars. My brother had the range finder and we started on our way back up the mountain. We were early getting to where we wanted to be at first light. It was cold and silent on the mountain. We couldn’t see or hear any other hunters. I couldn’t believe we were alone on this herd.
At first light we spotted one of the two bulls I had decided to try and take. He was lying down in the middle of the burn that I had seen him in the previous morning. We started our stalk from there. I felt like it took forever to cover the two mile hike across the rocky hillside to get within shooting range. He was all alone when we first saw him again. He was bigger than I had thought. It was such a beautiful scene, this free roaming bull bison. No fences to hold him in, he was wild and free. I felt like I was in an old western movie. I’m sure my Henry rifle had a lot to do with that. He was heading into a small herd of about 10 cows and another big bull when we came over the small ridge about 250 yards away from him. We slowed our stalk to almost a crawl, trying to close the gap in such an open burn. When we finally got to within 200 yards I was confident in both my shooting and my gun to make the shot. I had made this shot almost 100 times over the past months and knew I could do it. I eased the hammer back and took a steady aim and then slowly pulled the trigger. We could hear the contact of the bullet as it hit the huge animal. He only went a few yards before going down. We cheered with excitement as we yelled over our radios for all of my family to hear “bull down, bull down”. It was one of the most successful moments of my young life. I had worked hard and spent a lot of time preparing for this hunt. I had spent so much time at the range it would probably add up to almost a full week.
Thanks to Sportsman’s News and their association with Henry Repeating Arms, I can now say that I have taken my free roaming American bison with a Henry Big Boy .44 mag and fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams. I was able to go back in time and experience what many people in the old west dealt with so many years ago. Being able to experience it all with my family and friends was nothing short of “Priceless”!