Answering the call: The Grand Canyon volunteer bison hunt

Answering the call: The Grand Canyon volunteer bison hunt

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The constant growth of the human race has had a devastating effect on wildlife over the years. Our perpetual need to expand, advance, and adapt our environment to fit our perceived needs has driven many species we share this planet with to the brink of extinction. Hunters have always been on the front lines to defend against this so called “progress.” Despite so many of us fighting to find a balance on this razor-thin road we now walk, it continues to remain a battle of inches. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There have been stories of success. Instances where our attempts to make up for the mistakes of the past have borne fruit. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than the return of the American bison.

At one point, there were fewer than 400 bison left in the country, but due to the efforts of wildlife groups dedicated to their restoration, today there are more than half a million. There are so many, in fact, that in many places bison herds have become overpopulated. These unchecked herds of North America’s largest animal have a devastating impact on natural resources such as water, soil, and vegetation. One of the greatest examples of this is currently happening in Grand Canyon National Park, where a herd of 600 bison has been trampling archeological sites, creating wallows and deep ruts in unstable soil along the canyon’s North Rim, and spoiling the ponds and streams around the canyon, which serve as the only water sources for dozens of protected species within the park’s boundaries. Although many of the animals have been trapped and relocated to other areas, it has proven to be a dangerous and costly venture. So, just as they did 200 years ago when the overpopulation of bison was threatening western expansion, the U.S. government has turned to hunters to solve the problem.

In September of 2020, the National Parks Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) entered into an agreement allowing limited hunting in Grand Canyon National Park—something normally prohibited—to cull 200 bison from the north rim of the canyon. On May 3rd, 2021, the AGFC opened up an online application portal in search of volunteers for the hunt. The application window was a meager 48 hours long, but in that time more than 45,000 people applied.

They are not letting just any hunter into the Grand Canyon to haphazardly blast a bison, either. They are in search of the elite of the elite. Hunters applying for the bison hunt had to meet rigid criteria, which included:

  • Being 18 years old or older
  • Passing a background check
  • Self-certifying a high level of fitness
  • Having a firearm safety certification
  • Being able to pass a marksmanship test
  • Providing their own equipment, lodging, and field-dressing supplies

In short, the hunt will only be available to the best big-game hunters in the country. Twenty-five volunteers will be randomly selected to meet with representatives from the AGFC, who will verify that all criteria are met. They will then make a final selection of 12 skilled volunteers to participate in the hunt.

The reason the park service is only allowing such meticulously selected and skilled volunteers is because the Grand Canyon bison hunt will be one of the most difficult hunts that many of the volunteers will have ever undertaken. Bison are among the most difficult animals to pursue, wherever they are hunted. Extremely wary of predators and quick to resort to fight or flight when threatened, bison are difficult to approach and stalk. Additionally, the average bison weighs nearly 2,000 lbs. and skinning and butchering an animal like that is a hell of an undertaking for anybody. Volunteers for the Grand Canyon hunt will be responsible for harvesting the bison and removing the entirety of the animal from the field, ensuring that none of the animal’s meat goes to waste. What will make the hunt even more difficult—and the reason why volunteers will have to meet such elite physical criteria—is all of this will have to be done on foot, as no machinery is allowed, and the hunt will take place at 8,000+ feet above sea level.

It will be a grueling undertaking, but for those lucky enough to be selected, the exclusive Grand Canyon bison hunt will be the hunt of a lifetime.

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