HOME RANGE: The bison is traditionally an inhabitant of grass prairies, but bison are also found in open forests and mountainous areas. Within recent historical times, bison were spread over the greater part of the North American continent from the Northwest Territories (and perhaps also Alaska and the Yukon) to northern Mexico, and from eastern Oregon to the Appalachians. They are now found only in parks, refuges and private ranches in Canada and the United States.
ANIMAL SUMMARY: Many people call the American bison by the name buffalo, but it is not a true buffalo like those found in Asia and Africa. Scientists tell us its forebears reached North America from Asia by crossing the Bering land bridge some two million years ago. The American bison, and its close relative the European bison, belong to the tribe Bovini, which includes the world's cattle, buffaloes and bisons. After the walrus, the bison is the largest North American game animal. Large bulls can weigh up to and well over 2,000 pounds. Females are much smaller. Both sexes have a large hump on the shoulders and a massive head that is carried low. The body is rather narrow in the hindquarters. The head, neck, and forequarters are covered with thick, shaggy hair, and there is a short beard. The tail is short and tasseled. The summer coat is a pale yellowish-brown; the winter coat is dark brown, becoming almost black on the head and shoulders. Both sexes have short horns that curve out and up from the sides of the head. Females have slimmer horns, a thinner neck, and a smaller hump than males. There are generally only two subspecies recognized. The plains bison was once widespread from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, and from the Canadian prairies to northeastern Mexico. The larger, darker and warier wood bison lived farther west, extending northward as far as the Northwest Territories and possibly as far west as the Bering Sea coast of Alaska. Today, there are large numbers of plains and wood bison hybrids in Yellowstone (U.S.) and Wood Buffalo (Canada) National Parks and elsewhere. The only remaining pureblooded wood bison are found in sanctuaries in northern Canada. From an estimated population of 50 million-75 million prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, bison were reduced to fewer than 1,000 animals by 1890, with most of the slaughter taking place between 1870-1884. Today, well over 100,000 bison exist in Canada and the United States. The plains bison is secure, but the wood bison is on Appendix II of CITES (1975) and is listed as endangered by the USF&WS (1970). Canada, however, believes that its pureblooded wood bison populations are secure, and has opened limited permit hunting. Under present USF&WS regulations, these animals cannot be imported into the United States. John Jackson and Conservation Force, along with other organizations (including GSCO), are working toward possible importation of the wood bison by U.S. hunters.
BEHAVIOR: The bison is one of the world's most gregarious mammals. During the 19th century herds were said to be numbered in the millions. Bison feed almost exclusively on grasses and drink water regularly. Unlike other hoofed mammals, they will face into a storm because the heaviest part of their coat is in front. The usual gait is a plodding 5 mph, but able to gallop as fast as 30 mph if necessary. It is a good swimmer. Eyesight is poor, hearing is good, and sense of smell is very good. Mating usually occurs in the summer, with a single calf born the following spring. Life expectancy 20-25 years, and sometimes as much as 40 years.
Super Ten®/Super Slam®: For the Super Ten®/Super Slam®, only one bison is recognized and required. Information found here contains excerpts from the on-line and printed version of Safari Club International (SCI) Record Book of Trophy Animals and is used by permission. Visit www.scirecordbook.org.
Bison Range in North America: The map above is used by permission from the on-line Safari Club International (SCI) Record Book of Trophy Animals. Visit www.scirecordbook.org.