When Brianna Blickenstaff, of Wolfsville, was 8 years old, she successfully completed the Maryland hunter education course to earn a hunter safety training certificate. Over the past five years, while under the mentorship of her father, Brian Blickenstaff, Brianna has hunted white-tailed deer and wild turkey in her home state of Maryland. Brianna has demonstrated safe gun handling in the field, improved her marksmanship and learned more about hunting than most others her age.
Years before Brianna was born, Brian began making annual hunting trips to western states in pursuit of big game. Now at the age of 13, Brianna has two passions, playing soccer and hunting with her father. Brian decided his daughter was ready for the challenge of a western big-game hunt. The Blickenstaffs decided to organize their family summer vacation around a hunt for American bison in Montana.
Arrangements were made for Brianna to harvest a bison on a private ranch owned by Turner Enterprises Inc. in Montana. Turner Ranch Outfitting is the hunting and fishing division of TEI and offers hunting, fishing and eco-tourism adventures on 10 Turner ranches in five Midwestern states.
According to their website, TRO’s commercially managed hunts are highly regulated. In addition to coordinating guest services with Turner ranch managers, TRO conducts wildlife surveys, provides supervision for contract biologists, and oversees the activity of contract outfitters and leaseholders. TRO also has longstanding relationships with outstanding contract outfitters who handle outfitting opportunities.
Brianna’s hunt was booked through the Montana Hunting Co. for a guided bison harvest on the Flying D Ranch, a 113,000-acre property near Bozeman. Bison hunts are scheduled for July and August during the pre-rut and rut bison breeding season because the bison beards and hair are the longest during this time period and make incredible shoulder mounts. A mature bull weighs up to 2,500 pounds and can yield as much as 700 pounds of meat.
On July 21, the Blickenstaffs flew from Maryland to Bozeman and rented a car to drive to the Flying D Ranch. That evening, before the scheduled hunt, the family was treated to a ranch tour and an opportunity to locate and view the bison herd for the following day’s hunt.
The very scenic Flying D Ranch supports a bison herd of approximately 2,300 adult animals. These bison are minimally handled and are as close to wild bison as can be. It was an incredible opportunity to witness the vast herd of bison in natural habitat during the breeding season for the Blickenstaffs.
“My favorite part of the hunting trip was to see thousands of bison standing in the field on the ranch,” Brianna said. “There were so many, and it was so cool to see them up close.”
Brianna was able to gain first-hand knowledge about bison, such as the unique grunting and roaring sounds they make during the breeding season.
“On this trip I learned a lot about bison, like what sounds they make or how to tell how old they are by the rings on their horns,” Brianna said.
Early the next morning, Brianna and her father were set in position by their guides in sight of the large bison herd in the distance. The plan was to wait for a mature bull to move into rifle range.
The oldest bulls, usually at least 10-12 years old, live separately from the main herd. At this time of year, the old bulls move down from the mountains to breed, and these are the bulls the game managers prefer to thin from the herd. It didn’t take long before a large bull began moving into range of Brianna’s .260 Rem rifle.
The bison came much closer than expected and made for a few exciting moments.
“When the bison was only 30 yards away from me and I was about to shoot, the guide thought it was going to charge at us,” she said.
The guide quickly brought out his rifle just in case the beast did charge. But Brianna shot three rounds quickly and accurately to put the game down.
“The guides were very impressed with her shooting ability,” Brian said.
“The hunt was not what I was expecting … these bison are as wild as wild can be,” Brian said.
Brianna’s mother, Jennifer Blickenstaff, was thrilled with her daughter’s success.
“She loves to hunt, and this was her first big hunt,” Jennifer said.
Fortunately, the hunt included in-field processing. The bison was delivered to a local meat processor and the head to a local taxidermist. It was decided not to send any of the meat back to Maryland for fear that it would spoil during shipping. Instead, the meat was donated to be sold to needy local families at very low cost. The Blickenstaffs were able to enjoy bison burgers and steaks served at local restaurants during their stay.
Although the bison hunt was the highlight of the trip, it was not the end to the summer adventure for the Blickenstaffs. They drove their rental car to Wyoming to fly fish for cutthroat trout in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is also home to the largest wild herd of bison in the United States. The Blickenstaffs spent a few nights at the Old Faithful Lodge in the park before driving to Jackson Hole, where they had an exciting float trip down the Snake River.
Contact Dan Neuland at: firstname.lastname@example.org.