Montana holds first bison hunt in 15 years |

Montana holds first bison hunt in 15 years

Becky Bohrer

GARDINER, Mont. – Bison hunts in Montana once drew outrage, in part because game wardens led hunters to specific animals, which were sometimes grazing peacefully when shot at close range.On Tuesday, after a 15-year hiatus, the hunt resumed, but under different rules meant to minimize the fault-finding.A teenager bagged the first buffalo within 90 minutes of sunrise – and animal-rights activists photographed the scene in nothing but quiet protest.While state wildlife officials were out in force to deal for any run-ins with protesters, Mel Frost, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said she knew of no confrontations.The hunt is meant to thin the bison population near Yellowstone National Park, and resumed only after years of protests from animal-rights groups.State and federal officials say the hunt will help manage a population that has grown to an estimated 4,900 animals, more than some fear the area can support. Some ranchers also worry that some diseased bison could spread illness to cattle.George Clement, 17, was the first to bag an animal, shooting a bull bison he spied near Gardiner shortly after he and companions began surveying the rolling, shadowy landscape. A second bison was later killed on private property near the park’s western boundary.Clement and his companions skinned the animal where it fell as animal-rights activists photographed the scene.Clement, who applied for one of the highly coveted licenses on a whim, said he was surprised at the sheer size of the beast. It took four people to roll the animal on its back and hours to peel back the hide and gut it, staining the snow red and causing steam to rise from the warm carcass.In 2003, lawmakers opened the door to resuming bison hunts. State wildlife officials stressed that this hunt would not resemble past ones.For instance, wildlife officials cannot tell hunters where bison have wandered outside the park, and no more than 50 bison overall can be killed during the three-month season.Many hunters were expected to stay home on the season’s opening day.”I’ve had a lot of hunters say to me, ‘We’re going to stay away. We don’t want the attention,”‘ Frost said. Vail, Colorado

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