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Scouting for Bison in the Henry Mountains

Updated: Nov 25, 2019


We set out in the bronco (aka Rhonda Rousey) and headed towards the Henry Mountains on a Friday afternoon. We took UT-24 E which would take us directly through Capital Reef. We turned right on a small road called Notom Drive. Our GPS had us drive an easy 14 miles before turning left. Now we had another 19 miles of moderate terrain until reaching McMillan campground. At first when we started towards McMillan campground, we drove through steep, windy sandstone and then as we gained in elevation the trees thickened with pine and aspen. This 30-mile mountain range is no joke. Seeing the rocky, steep peaks in the distance is intimidating to say the least.


McMillan campground was free; however, they do ask for donations. Conservation is something very important to us, so we did register and place some funds in an envelope. McMillan does have picnic tables, water and fire pits. You can find a link to the campground here: https://www.blm.gov/visit/mcmillan-spring-campground. We are happy to say that the campground was very clean. It seems that everyone who camps does their part to maintain the campground, as the camp does not have regular employees or volunteers.

Just up the road from the campground, we found a nice vantage point to see a long stretch of the mountains. We pulled out the binoculars and started glassing the hillside. I never expected to see wild bison that quickly- but there they were. Seeing the immense animals on that open hillside was magical. I am so grateful that my job puts me in touch with the most remote and beautiful places on earth. Looking at where they were hanging out was chilling. Hiking the Henry’s is going to be some of the hardest terrain we have ever experienced.


The girl who pulled the bison tag and her partner came in later that evening. (Apparently finding McMillan campground by coming in on the Hanksville side is a lot more difficult. We came through Torrey and signs marked our whole route). When they arrived, we drove around and glassed the mountainside. Bison travel long distances regularly and we didn’t see any more that evening. We spent a better part of the next morning scouting, only to find the bison higher (to our dismay) in the steep cliffs. The magnitude of how difficult this upcoming archery hunt really set in at that moment.


When we tell people that we are filming a bison hunt come October, we also tell people about the girl who drew out. Most people put in for the bison hunt for 10-20 years before they draw out for this once in a lifetime opportunity. The first year she puts in, she draws out. She is this beautiful, petite girl who has a drawback strength of 47 lbs. and is sighted in under 50 yards. Just picture getting within 50 yards of a nervous bison! Jaws drop when we tell people that. Hunting is about spirit, and let me tell you, this girl has a lot of spirit. It’s not about having years of experience and expensive equipment. She understands the significance of hunting and the harm that can come from agriculture. She definitely in an inspiration to me and should be to other women who would like to get into hunting.

Many people may question the ethics of hunting bison. I talked about this in another blog post- but our roads, our buildings and our houses prevent true migration. Populations have to managed. Without management, inbreeding would occur, disease would be rampant and other species would die. Science supports balanced ecosystems and hunting makes that balance possible. The biggest threat to our wild bison is the agriculture of cows. There are other threats out there like wild horses and human land development, but in this blog, I want to focus on the agriculture of cows. The Buffalo Field Campaign directly says:

In our modern times, the grazing of livestock—(usually cattle and sheep)—has many direct and indirect impacts on buffalo and their habitat.


Some of the primary effects from livestock include:

  • direct damage to vegetation structure;

  • alteration of native plant communities;

  • changes to soil characteristics;

  • significant threat of disease transmission from livestock to free-roaming buffalo, simply due to proximity;

  • and the impact of other habitat modifications, for example the practice of allowing livestock to graze on public lands requires developments such as fencing, cattle-guards, and roads to control livestock movements. Such modifications to the land impair natural buffalo movement and distribution.


To be completely honest, I eat cow 2-4 times a month; however, eating cow (or any meat) is something that I save for special occasions. Like myself, many humans need to eat meat for survival. Personally, I like to think that if more people ate less meat and actually hunted for what they needed, our earth and our bodies would be healthier. Not everyone can hunt. I understand that. I just hope that more people will respect hunting and realize that eating grocery store meat isn’t any more or less “right”.



In total, the weekend seemed short. Packing up was extremely hard to do. The magic of the Henry Mountains is tugging at my heart. I cannot wait to go back in three weeks. We became more familiar with the Henrys. We know what campsite we want, and we know that there are a lot of bison there. We really have no idea what the Henry Mountains truly hold for us, but we do know that hunting in these mountains is going to be an experience of a lifetime.


References:

Buffalo Field Campaign. (2016). Habitat Threats. Retrieved from https://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/habitat-threats.


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