Every once in a while, a man gets to live a dream. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it deserves to be savored like a fine wine. My lifelong hunting dream was to bag an iconic animal in American history. In the waning days of 2009, I was fortunate enough to harvest a mature cow bison, a member of the species of the largest big game animal on the North American continent! Best of all, my wife of 19 years and our teenage daughter were along too, making this trip a family affair.
My dream hunt took place during Thanksgiving week of 2009 at Land of Lakes Plantation, which is just a scant 18 miles from my home in Opelousas, Louisiana. Bison are not indigenous to Louisiana proper, but they once roamed the vast expanse of the Louisiana Purchase by the hundreds when Lewis and Clark mapped the region. Land of Lakes is located between Ville Platte and Pine Prairie on Hwy. 167. Its owner, Mr. James Holdman, made my family and I feel like we were old friends as we pulled up to a warm campfire just outside the lodge on the cool, damp evening of November 19, 2009. James can be reached online at www.landoflakesplantation.com or telephone 337-363-0550. His facility boasts a full-service lodge with all the comforts of home and enough trophy mounts to make even the most hardened hunter run for his rifle!
The guides, Dalton and LJ, regaled my wife Chris, daughter Caitlin and I with impressive tales of the many types of big game animals that make the plantation their home. Over 250 animals, ranging from scimitar-horned oryx to axis and fallow deer, elk, hogs, a small bison herd and the ever-present whitetail deer grace its 400-plus acre, high-fence boundaries. LJ’s wife, Elaine, made a believer out of all of the lodge’s guests that night at dinner, when she sreved a sumptuous pork backbone stew. Other guests that night included Mike Medine and his 11-year old grandson Landon, David and Brenner Tanner and Jimmy and Debbie Thibodeaux. All of these folks were from Southeast Louisiana and have hunted Land of Lakes before, so they were well aware that we were about to embark upon a great adventure together, all the while making fast bonds of friendship that would last for many years. Almost immediately after learning that I was a historian, the group affectionately bestowed upon me the moniker “Professor.”
Although my bison hunt was not physically challenging, I appreciated this fact immeasurably, because at age 48, cerebral palsy has slowed me down markedly in the last few years. Further, Chris and Caitlin were quickly able to find comfortable stand positions above me to video my harvest, as I waited for the right shot opportunity to materialize early the next morning. Although I was not a hide hunter on the Dakota plains sighting down the barrel of a Sharps .50 at that moment, my brain began to drink in the exhilaration of what was unfolding before us. I was shooting my favorite Mauser, an Argentine sporter in .308 Winchester topped with a BSA Catseye 3-10x44mm glass. In a few moments, I would attempt to harvest an animal that had served as the mainstay for generations of American Indians. Four 165 grain Hornady cartridges were snug in the magazine.
As a light drizzle began to patter down that Saturday morning, I was gently nudged to attention by LJ, who was having a ball watching me watch a 5X5 bull elk feed nearby. The bison drifted ponderously up to the feeder. There were three of them, a large four-year-old cow with nice horns, a younger three-year-old companion with one misshapen horn and a fat, two-year-old with a beautifully furred dark chocolate hide and symmetrical headgear.
As you might expect, I was a bit nervous, because I had not shot a bison before and was aware, after much preliminary research, that there are only two immediately vital areas on an animal as big and tenacious as the ones I faced: the heart, which sits low behind the foreleg and the brain, which is a baseball-sized area just behind the right ear. Therefore, proper shot placement was critical. While the .308 is definitely not recognized as a long-range caliber for such large, tenacious game as bison, the shot would take place at about 60 yards, which was within the capabilities of rifle, cartridge and hunter.
I had hoped that the larger of the two cows that I mentioned would turn broadside for a heart shot, but neither she or her sidekick gave me the correct shooting opportunity. I finally settled on the smaller of the three, the sleek, plump cow with the nice hide and horns. She stood facing me, looking curiously into the bore of my rifle barrel. I did not have a viable brain shot, so I chose to try to place the first 165 grain Hornady Interlock right between her eyes. Giving a silent prayer of thanksgiving to God for this moment and asking for the skill to place the shot properly, I centered the bison’s forehead in my crosshairs and gently pressed the trigger.
The cow came down like a ton of bricks! My bullet took her just over the right eye, for she moved her head a bit as I was squeezing off. Although firmly anchored, my bison then rolled over onto her side and began throwing her head up and down in a vain attempt to rise. Now came my responsibility (as it is the responsibility of every ethical hunter) to finish the job humanely. Cycling the bolt, I waited for her movements to slow before placing a second shot just behind the right ear. The bison’s head lolled back and she expired quickly and quietly.
Suddenly, I felt a keen sense of sadness at having to take that second shot. LJ sensed my mood, quickly reminding me that in his experience, no bison had ever been taken at Land of Lakes with a single shot from a .30 caliber bullet, even Hornady’s pride and joy. Further, I had chosen the right target, for the cow had been facing me alone rather than in the company of the other two. Therefore, there was no chance that I could have wounded another animal.
Mollified, I slowly got up and walked with LJ to the downed bison, stroking her wooly hide and admiring her majestic head and blunt, oval-shaped horns. Since I couldn’t bend down and pick up her head in the customary hunter’s pose, I chose to balance myself sitting on the cow’s ribcage for the quick photo session which followed.
LJ drove us all back to the lodge for breakfast, making hurried arrangements with another guide, John, to secure the lodge’s front-end loader and return to the kill site to pick up the 900-pound bison. The weather was getting uglier by the minute, as ominous rain clouds reminded us that the work of field dressing, skinning and quartering the cow had better begin soon! John worked quickly and efficiently with an electric saw and skinning knife. Soon the lodge’s ice machine was working overtime. By the way, the bison occupied one 120-quart ice chest and three 100-quart ice chests by the time the job was finished! I had one ice chest left in reserve for a fallow deer hunt, which would take place the following Sunday morning.
By 9:00 AM the rain started coming down in earnest. A steady downpour persisted until two o’clock, stopped and then began again! Nonplussed, Mike and Landon Thibodeaux dutifully took stands that afternoon in search of whitetails and/or axis. When they asked me for my advice, I told them that they would either not see anything or come back happy, because no deer would expect any hunters in their right minds to be looking for them in weather like this! The Tanners were going to try for hogs, as Brenner’s vintage .30-30 Winchester Model 54 needed baptizing.
As it turned out, everyone had scored by 9:00 PM that evening. Jimmy Thibodeaux took a nice 150-class 10 pointer; his wife Debbie took a 130-class 8-point. Landon came back with a management 8-point with a huge body and unique ivory-tipped antlers, capped at 80 yards with a Remington .243. I have rarely seen a nicer-looking boy or buck on a hunt. Brenner Tanner brought in a young barrow hog with 2-inch cutters that tipped the scales at about 120 pounds, which translated into an abundance of sausage and pork chops.
By 7 a.m. Sunday morning, LJ, Dalton and I were in one of the lodge’s Kawasaki “Mules” in search of my fallow doe. On the way, we glimpsed a 170-class 10-point whitetail buck that almost left me with a permanent case of apoplexy! Finally, after scouring several food plots and feeders, we happened upon a small group of fallow does silhouetted against the woods. Shooting from a sitting position on the right side of the vehicle without a rest, I fired at a large, charcoal-grey doe. I was rewarded with the frustration of a clean miss, which I attributed to being nervous about the shot. I hurriedly bolted in another round, sighted and fired again, with the same result. By now, LJ and Dalton were looking at me with wide eyes and slightly bemused faces. Was my barrel bent? Did I clean my glasses before the hunt? Let me set the record straight: no hunter likes to miss, but I would not have traded those clean misses for making a bad shot on an animal that required hours of blood-trailing.
I endured much good-natured ribbing at the lodge over breakfast, being spared from further hazing when Landon and Mike returned from a morning hunt with a 250-plus pound sow that Landon took at about 70 yards with his .243. Not bad, huh?
Now coffeed and breakfasted, LJ and I set out once more. As it was now after 8:00 AM, the deer were more skittish than ever and we were busted on four separate occasions. Grunting in frustration at the fifth attempt, LJ parked the Mule and went out on foot to our left in an attempt to drive a small group of three does toward me for a shot. Taking note of his position, I shoved a round into battery and put the safety on, waiting for the shot that might not come and being suddenly assailed by the terrible thought that I might miss again.
Suddenly, an 80 pound chocolate fallow doe appeared across a small ravine approximately 50 yards to my right. I could count the hairs on her shoulder through the scope! The Mauser barked and she bolted in LJ’s direction. Sick at heart, I believed that I had missed again! LJ appeared about 5 minutes later, asking with a poker face if I had seen the deer. Barely controlling my agitation, I replied that I had. Grinning hugely, AJ then informed me that the deer was dead about 25 yards further up the trail, being shot perfectly through the shoulder. No man was ever gladder to have found a deer than I was then. At that moment, the fallow doe meant as much (maybe more) to me than the bison back at the lodge. I had now experienced the full range of a hunter’s emotions at Land of Lakes: elation, disappointment, frustration and redemption!
As my family and I prepared to leave for home by noon that Sunday morning, we reflected on the friendships and experiences that were forged there. Will we be back? Of course! My wife had been excited about photographing different forms of wildlife, including an albino whitetail buck named Hoss. My daughter was able to spend some time hiking and thinking about a novel on the Cajun exodus that she was writing.
I had, in the brief space of 48 hours, been given the gift of experiencing the thrill of the hunt once again, being able to provide my family with over 500 pounds of lean, delicious bison meat and venison. More importantly, I had met more of my kind, the friendly, ethical, compassionate breed known as hunters. Age and sex notwithstanding, they are the future of game conservation in this country and a proud reminder of the qualities that we Americans hold dear.
Copyright 2011 by Walton P. Sellers, III and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.