Genetically Pure Bison in North America


Most people have at least a passing familiarity with the history of bison (Bison bison) in North America. More specifically, people have probably heard about the almost complete eradication of the species from the continent due to a complete lack of management.

Perhaps fewer people are familiar with the bison as a success story, the one that is ongoing and will hopefully have a happier ending.


Copyright: This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K5680-1 .

The bison is colloquially known in North America as buffalo. Many people will know them as the animal that was shot by the thousands for its hide by European settlers, and as an important part of Indigenous cultures in North America. There is no genetic difference between what people refer to as buffalo and the scientific classification of the species as bison.

To make a long story short, North America had an estimated historical bison population of perhaps more than 30 million, ranging across the continent, east to west, north to south. By the closing of the 19th century, the bison population had been reduced to about 1,000 individuals and its range had been greatly restricted due to human population and agricultural expansion.


Current estimated range of the bison in North America. Source:

Thanks to the dedication and efforts of hunting and conservation organizations to reintroduce the bison to parts of its historical range and ensure its continued protection, we now once again have a stable, though still greatly reduced, population of about 500,000 individuals in North America. In fact, I’m proud to know that Canada initiated regulated hunting for bison as early as 1894, and established Buffalo National Park in 1909 to protect a population of bison. While this is great, the bison’s current range is still historically restricted and they live in fairly isolated pockets, many of which are privately owned (only about 4% of bison are considered wild).

A large, symbolic, nostalgic, and fascinating animal, scientific studies and careful ongoing management of bison is important for the health and continued recovery of the species on a continental scale. Some interesting new research out of Utah State University, led by Dr. Dustin Ranglack, has identified a herd of bison that are “genetically pure”.

The grazing lands of free ranging bison often overlap those of domestic cattle. In addition to some deliberate attempts to cross breed wild bison and domestic cattle, these interactions have created a situation where most bison in North America have at least a degree of what is referred to as genetic introgression from domestic cattle. However, the Henry Mountains in Utah are apparently home to a herd that is genetically pure bison. The herd is also free from brucellosis, an infectious disease that is a concern in domestic livestock. This is an exciting discovery for the future of bison conservation, because according to Dr. Ranglack, this herd could represent “a really important source for potential reintroduction projects that are trying to restore bison to a large portion of their native range.”

Ongoing wildlife research is critical for informed and effective management. This is an exciting piece of research that is an integral part of the successful model of wildlife management we have in North America. It’s important not just for species like bison, but for all North American wildlife and habitat, that we continue to advocate for dedicated funding for wildlife research and conservation efforts. If we want to continue to enjoy truly wild life on this continent, whether for viewing or hunting purposes, we need to see the bigger picture.

Luckily, the Canadian and American governments caught a glimpse of that bigger picture just in time when it came to the bison…but it was almost too late. We need to ensure we look ahead, are open minded, thoughtful, and learn from our past – both the mistakes and the successes. I’m proud of the management model we have on this continent, and I support the individuals and organizations responsible for making the decisions that ensure I can continue interacting with wildlife.


Arrow Selection: Some Considerations and Choices

When it comes to nerding out about archery gear and archery science, I’m guilty as charged. One of the most important considerations in putting together a bowhunting rig (and a topic that stimulates a lot of conversation) is arrow selection. Everything comes into play in choosing an arrow: what are you hunting? What kind of bow are you shooting? How much speed do you want? How much kinetic energy do you need? The answers to these questions all depend on your priorities and your hunting situation.


Foreward: What is Really at the Heart of the Speed vs. Power Issue?

The debate around arrow selection often revolves around one main question: to be fast or not to be fast? Or more specifically, do you want a fast arrow or a powerful arrow? Most of the rest of your decisions come from your answer to this question. I imagine that archers have been engaged in this conversation for thousands of years, at one point having lively debates into the night over the type of wood to use for their arrows. Arrow weight is the single most important characteristic that determines the results you are going to get for speed and power.

Generally speaking, I think the race for the fastest arrow is a bit moot. However, manufacturers need an easy way to assign some kind of value to their bows, and people are drawn to fast things. It’s easy to want a bow that shoots at 370 feet per second (fps) over one that shoots at 280 fps.

But let’s back up. There are a couple other important considerations besides speed, so let’s look at the science and see how this need for speed plays out.

I’m going to focus on three main points for this discussion:

Act 1: Ensure you have the correct spine.
Act 2: In the bowhunting world, weight kills.
Act 3: I think there is a specific, but important, difference between seeking seeking a fast arrow and seeking a fast bow.

Of course, there are many things to think about when choosing arrows, but I think these 3 points will give you a good start when first tackling arrow selection. You will need to spend time doing plenty of research, doing some calculations, and figuring out what works best with your bow. I hope reading this article is one part of that research.

Act One: Arrow Spine

The first thing you need to know when selecting an arrow is what spine you need. Most choices in arrow selection come down to personal preference, but not spine. Arrow spine refers to the stiffness of an arrow, and it’s critical for the safety of your bow and for accuracy that you choose the correct arrow spine.

Imagine you drive a truck into the end of a horizontal telephone pole. Imagine  you drive the same truck into a tooth pick. Finally, imagine you drive it into a 2×4. While perhaps a little rough around the edges, this analogy is meant to explain what happens if you shoot an arrow that is too stiff or too weak for your bow. When the bowstring pushes the arrow off the end of the bow, the arrow flexes, stabilizing throughout the course of its flight. Simply put, if your bow is too weak, the arrow can`t flex enough; if your bow is too heavy, the arrow flexes too much. At worst, these situations could damage your bow, but they will certainly reduce the consistency and accuracy of your shooting. The rule is that heavier bows require stiffer arrows.

Every arrow manufacturer has a way of designating the spine of their arrows, and while the system used to measure spine stiffness is standardized, the systems used by manufacturers to represent spine is not. Easton’s system is generally the easiest to understand, because they use the direct measurement for “arrow deflection“, which is the way spine stiffness is calculated. With Easton arrows, the lower the number, the stiffer the arrow. 20151218_232210So a 70# bow might shoot a 340 spine arrow, while a 60# bow might shoot a 400 spine arrow. All arrow manufacturers will have charts (Easton, Carbon Express, Gold Tip) to help you identify the correct arrow spine based on your bow specifications (e.g. poundage, draw length, and arrow length). Be sure you understand how your specifications affect spine selection. Click here for a great resource to explain some of the finer points in arrow spine.

Act Two: The Science Part

Here’s the science in bowhunting: arrows kill by haemorrhaging, doing internal damage by cutting. Ideally, you want both an entrance wound and an exit wound. Therefore, an arrow’s ability to kill depends on effective and powerful penetration. The ability of an arrow to penetrate depends on kinetic energy (KE) and momentum. Kinetic energy is the energy an object possesses as it moves. Momentum is the relationship between speed and mass of an object. We could get into the differences between KE and momentum, but this is meant to be an introduction to the topic, so for simplicity, I’ll use KE to refer to the ability of an arrow to penetrate effectively.

Imagine that you have two cups. Fill them both half full with water. The first cup is speed; the second cup is the arrow weight. You can pour water from one cup to the other, gaining more speed and reducing weight, or vice versa, but there’s a trade off either way. Together, the interaction of the water in the two cups determines your KE.

As a rule, light arrows travel faster than heavier ones. Think of the difference between throwing a golf ball and a bowling ball. We will all be able to throw the golf ball faster. Speed is great in getting an arrow to the animal quickly, but as soon as the arrow touches the animal’s hide, it stops. At this point, the energy required to penetrate is stored in the arrow as KE, meaning that you need to optimize the amount of KE in the arrow. In the equation to calculate KE, the speed of an arrow has less influence over its killing power than the mass of that arrow. Therefore, the heavier an arrow is, the more KE it will have, and the more penetrating power it will have at the animal. I would rather be hit with a golf ball than a bowling ball, because even though the bowling ball is going slower, it is more powerful.

Some people will say that the faster the arrow is, the less time the animal has to react to it and jump the string. That’s true; however, sounds travels at 1,116 fps. The fastest bow in the world is still pushing an arrow slower than the speed of sound, meaning that the sound of the bow shooting will reach the animal long before the arrow. In other words, no matter what, the arrow can never be fast enough. So again, the real focus is on the ability of that arrow to kill the animal efficiently and effectively when it does reach its target.

To calculate the KE of your arrow, here is the equation:

m = mass. The mass of modern arrows are described in grains per inch (gpi). Most arrows will have the gpi marked right on the shaft. To calculate total arrow mass, take the length of your arrow in inches and multiply that by the gpi weight of the arrow, and then add everything else on the arrow: vanes, nock, insert, arrow head.
v = velocity. You will need to shoot your arrow through a chronograph. There are calculations you can do to estimate your arrow speed using bow poundage, draw length, and arrow weight, but to be absolutely accurate, you need to use a chronograph.

Here’s an example using my old bow and arrow setup. I was shooting an arrow that weighed 9.0 gpi, was 28.5″ long, and had a total arrow mass of about 400 grains. I put it through a chronograph at 282 fps. So if we plug in those numbers, here’s what I was shooting for KE:

KE=71 foot pounds

Here’s a handy resource for some other useful calculations.

So if KE kills animals, the next question is, how much KE do I need?

We don’t really know precisely how much KE is needed to kill every animal. Every bowhunting situation is different, but generally speaking, larger animals require more KE. Easton provides an estimated range of recommended KE for animals of different sizes:

Small game (rabbits, groundhog, etc.): 25 ft. lbs.
Medium game (deer, antelope, etc.): 25-41 ft. lbs.
Large game (elk, black bear, etc.): 41-65 ft. lbs.
Toughest game (buffalo, grizzly bear, etc.): >65 ft. lbs.

So that gives you an idea of what you should aim for depending on your hunting scenario. My position is that there is no such thing as “overkill”; you can’t have too much power. The more the merrier.

Check out this video comparing penetration between two different bow and arrow combinations.

It is worth spending some time doing the calculations, checking the numbers on different arrows, and thinking about what you will be hunting and what you need. Think about how much poundage you can handle in your bow and what kind of arrow weight you need to get the KE needed for quick kills. This brings me to my third point.

Act Three: The Real Need for Speed…Bow Poundage

Having said all that about arrow speed, I would bet that deep down, we all still want a fast arrow. Plus, there is some scientific basis for this: recall that velocity is a factor in KE, so it is important to have speed.

The IBO speed rating on a bow is determined using a 70# bow with a 30″ draw length and a 350 grain arrow. By hunting standards, 350 grains is on the lighter end of the spectrum. So what can the IBO rating tell you about what you can expect from the bow once you start shooting your hunting arrow? Well, since IBO ratings are standardized, it gives you some indication about the efficiency and power of the bow itself. A bow shooting IBO speeds of 350 fps is still going to be faster than one shooting 320 fps, even at lower hunting arrow speeds.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the IBO rating should be your most important consideration when choosing a bow. On the contrary, it’s one of the last things I look at. My point is that if you want to get more speed out of your arrow, I would suggest you focus on increasing the power of your bow, rather than decreasing the weight of your arrow. So you can look for a bow with a higher IBO rating, more aggressive cams, and increase the poundage. I was in this exact situation with my Hoyt Charger. I was already shooting a heavy arrow, so if I wanted to get more KE, it had to be from increasing speed. So I worked the poundage on my bow up to its max of 60#. My new bow, a Prime Rize, is in 70#. This is specifically because I want more KE, but I also want to maintain some good speeds.

Afterward: Where To Start

Ok, so where should you start if you’re picking out arrows for your brand new bow? Or, if you want a more efficient hunting arrow?

First, do some research on different arrow manufacturers. Read some reviews, talk to pro shops, and do plenty of other research. Use the selection charts to determine which arrows fit your bow specifications. Look at the arrow weights. Determine your budget (I didn’t go into this, but basically, spend as much as you are able on arrows…generally, the more expensive they are, the more consistent and precise they are). IMG_3044 If possible, try shooting a few of them through a chronograph and do some calculations to compare the KE you’re getting out of each arrow. There are some other factors and calculations you will want to think about to maximize the efficiency of your bowhunting arrow as well (e.g. arrow length, F.O.C., broadhead weight, etc.). As with anything to do with archery, don’t discount your own intuition about which arrow feels most comfortable shooting, but certainly be confident in the numbers you are getting from your tests and trust those.

This is the fun part. Enjoy the shooting!

MeatEater Podcast: Changing Identities of Hunters Throughout History

I’m a huge fan of the MeatEater show and podcast. The guests and topics discussed on the podcast are varied, intelligent, thought-provoking, and exciting. I thought I’d post one of my favourite episodes. If you have a good drive to make this week or an hour to sit and relax, do yourself a favour and listen to this.

On this episode, Randall Williams discusses his PhD dissertation, Green Voters, Gun Voters: Hunting and Politics in the Twentieth-Century United States, which “explores the changing ways in which American sportsmen imagined, articulated, debated, and pursued their policy interests from the end of World War II up until the mid-1990s”.

Here’s a link to the MeatEater website with the podcast available for download:

Guest Blog: Tracking, the Eyes of the Hunter

This post was written by a good friend of mine, Caleb Musgrave. Caleb and I have hunted together, spent time working in the woods, and discussed a range of topics related to hunting and wildlife. Caleb runs Canadian Bushcraft and he has a depth of knowledge about being in the outdoors. One of his skills is tracking, and he wanted to give an introduction to some of the things we should understand to become a good tracker. Thanks, Caleb.

So, you want to hunt big game. You got your hunting license, your tags, and your weapon of choice. You got all the right gear, and you spent the time at the range making your aim as lethally accurate as you can. Deer Shed But now you’re in the field, and you have no idea where to go from here. Yeah, you may see the occasional footprint from an animal, but how do you know it is from your quarry?  And how do you know it is recent enough to make it worth following? On several occasions annually, Search-and-Rescue are called in to find lost hunters who were following elk, moose or mule deer tracks that were over a month old. So this is not some unlikely scenario. And even if you are plumb lucky and see a deer or moose, then shoot it. Now what? Where did it go? Are you sure?

Tracking is a vital component to any hunter’s mental toolkit. It helps you find game, before and after dispatching. It helps you understand what predators may be pressuring the animals in your area. It helps you understand what foods are being eaten by your quarry. It identifies so much more than simply seeing a deer, rabbit or turkey ever could.

Raccoon Tracks

The truth is, tracking is the oldest science our species has ever developed. Many animals track by scent, and through that system, they can discern species, gender, age of activity, and even the age and health of the animal they are tracking. However, we – as humans – do not have the olfactory system made for such an endeavour. We do however have sight on our side, and the ability to discern differences in the environment. Being able to identify a track, trail or other sign left over by animals, our ancestors were able to read all of the details needed to find, kill and bring home meat for their families. The Saan People of Namibia and Botswana, the Lipan Apache of Texas and Mexico, and many other Indigenous peoples still carry the knowledge of reading the ground like a newspaper. Biologists, naturalists and professional guides have also learned the science of tracking for their daily living as well -though from a more western perspective.

For us, as hunters, or supporters of wildlife conservation, there is a lot to take in if we wish to learn how to track. One of the first things I want to emphasize is humility. This article, and no amount of time spent tracking will ever make you perfect at it. I’ve seen some of the best trackers in Canada and the States get stumped. Tracking is not easy. But it is vital if we wish to be good, effective hunters. So learn to take your mistakes openly, and when you don’t know? Just say so. Admit it, and move forward.

So before we go too far into how to track an animal, let’s discuss how to find tracks. When you come into an environment (field, swamp, forest, dirt trail, etc), stop, breathe deeply and slow the hell down. You are going to miss details, and those details will be the ones you need. Expand your vision beyond your own set of feet, and examine your surroundings. Look at the dirt. Now really look at it. Study it until you’ve picked out every individual stone. What you are looking for is the baseline symphony of life. This sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Okay, how about we delve deeper.

The Baseline Symphony of the forest is what everything looks like normal. Rain, wind and other variables of the elements have all impacted the land around us. Dirt has been buffeted by breezes, and pounded smooth by rain. When a deer trots through that dirt, it will leave dents and scuffs in that smooth ground. Deer Rub These are tracks, and when they are made, they disrupt the baseline symphony of the dirt. They stand out for a reason, as if they are yelling at you. But only if you slow the hell down.
This becomes even clearer if you are tracking a running deer through a hardwood forest, full of leaf litter. The normal shape of the leaves are all flat, like tiles on a floor. But when the deer charges through, the leaves are kicked up and end up looking like miniature Sydney Opera Houses. The deer has disrupted the Baseline Symphony.

This Baseline Symphony concept can be extrapolated beyond dirt and the forest floor. Scratches and scuffs on trees. Scat (poo) on rocks or logs. Hair clinging to a branch. This all will begin to stand out to you, if you only would just slow the hell down, and look around you.

The problem I see most people falling into with tracking, is they are looking for clear, obvious prints, like the ones in the pictures of a field manual. The truth is, most animals are moving for a reason, and rarely does that reason involve how their tracks look. They’re just not as egotistical or narcissistic as us. This means a coyote track could look like a deer track, unless we carefully examine more than just the individual track.

So, what are we looking for exactly? Anytime an animal come in contact with the ground, branches, or other parts of the environment, they leave behind something. Let’s list some stuff:

Tracks: Imprints of the animal’s feet on soil, clay, sand, leaf litter, snow, etc.
Lion Track

Scrapes/Drags: Where an animal has scuffed the ground. This could be from looking for food, making a wallow, or dragging something along (like a fox dragging a grouse through snow).

Feeding Spots: This could be a muskrat’s feeding raft, or a kill site from a wolf pack.
Lion Kill




Bedding Spots:
Where the animal lays down to rest for a time. Often on hillsides, and in the daytime, usually facing south. In the evenings, usually on the eastern side of the hill (to avoid wind and to greet a warming sun). This could also include dens.

Fox Den

Scat: The fecal matter and/or urine of an animal. Elk Scat


Fisher Scat and urine

Trails: Where an animal walked through grass, cattails, sphagnum moss, or other plant life. These trails may be occasional, or they may be daily used trails. A snowshoe hare will make trails through the snow and these will become their main paths for the winter. The path of least resistance is the most attractive to the majority of wildlife. A trapline can become very productive after a heavy snowfall, because the animals will want to follow the trails made by the trapper rather than make their own.

Now, begin to examine your surroundings, using this information. Don’t try to make any of it appear, or you’ll begin to follow an imaginary trail. Just look around. At some point, an animal will have walked through where you are, and chances are you can find their signs, without any formal training.

But that brings us to the last part of this article. It is really difficult to self-teach yourself how to track. Remember the Lipan Apache and Saan People? Well they have countless generations of knowledge on the subject, passed down from parent to child. Those big game guides and field biologists? Well they got training from either their employers or from a school. For almost every province, territory and state in Canada and the USA, there’s someone teaching tracking. There are even tracking clubs! So don’t think you have to do this on your own. Jump on a search engine (you’re already reading this online for crying out loud, so don’t give me any excuses), and look for tracking schools, tracking courses, or tracking clubs. Trust me, they’re out there.

And if you can’t, well do not worry, I will have a few more articles in the near future to help you out.

Caleb Musgrave is the owner and head instructor at Canadian Bushcraft; a wilderness living skills school, located on the north shores of Rice Lake. He has been featured on the CBC, CTVnews, the Globe and Mail, and several survival magazines. His articles can be found on, Survival Quarterly Magazine, and Self-Reliance Illustrated. Caleb has traveled to many parts of North America, to learn the skills of the land, but where he finds home is where his ancestors -the Anishinaabeg- have always been: Peterborough, Ontario.