Yellowstone bison stay inside Park this winter; Montana hunters bought expensive tags for nothing

Due to a mild winter, Yellowstone’s bison herd, which is plenty large, has remained inside the Park this winter. Montana’s Department of Livestock has had few to truck off under the fiction that they are dangerous to cattle, and Montana hunters who saw the state give a big increase this year for expensive bison tags have had little to hunt.

The bison hunt is controversial, in my view, because Montana refuses to give the bison any habitat, even though plenty of cattle free habitat exists to the west and NW of the Park. In the winter of 2005-6, a lot of bison left the Park and the small number bison hunt tags were quickly filled. For some reason, the state assumed that this large out-migration would happen every year, so this year they greatly increased the number of tags sold and did nothing to give bison room to roam beyond the Park.

Those who support bison being freed from their Yellowstone prison and bison hunters, who flat out got screwed, have plenty to complain about. The solution is easy — free the bison, but Montana’s state officials still won’t listen. They are blaming the bison for failure to migrate! No, it is not that unusual for the bison to stay in the Park. Montana government has only its selfish self to blame.
I hope the congressional investigation digs up the dirt that is obviously being hidden in Helena.

Story in the Billings Gazette. Bison staying in park this winter. By Mike Stark.







  1. kt Avatar

    This article credits the mild winter for the buffalo remaining in the Park. Josh Osher seems to be saying there could be a learned aversion to leaving due to the terrorizing and slaughtering by DOL et al. last year. Any thoughts on whether both are true? I’m guessing bison can live to be fairly old, and more savvy with each passing year, and so may be staying put until a real winter crisis hits???


    describes 12 to 15 years as being old age, with longevity up to 20 years.

    Has anyone plotted what land area (and landscape configuration) it would take to have a wild, free roaming, regulated by extreme weather and predators, and not artificial state game dept. human hunting, population here?

  2. Pronghorn Avatar

    Every bison who left the park was killed. Had FWP kept the tags at 50, as in the previous year, the success rate would have been much higher. But the “hunt” would still have been wrong. Also, let’s not forget that nearly 1000 bison were removed at Gardiner last year–850-some captured by NPS and sent to slaughter, and another 100 (I think) sent to quarantine. How can you remove 20% of the entire herd and think it won’t make a difference?

    I’m not willing to give hunters any sympathy for getting skunked. Unless they’ve been living under a rock (the MT ones, anyhow), they know for a fact that their hunting license and fees don’t do anything to contribute to bison conservation, the argument they consistently use (about how they fund habitat, programs, etc.). If they’re so eager to kill bison, why don’t they stand up for them first?

  3. Buffaloed Avatar

    12 to 15 years may be old age but with the current management very few live to be that old. It seems to me that the average age of bison in Yellowstone is somewhere around 5 years old.

    In my experience, many of the buffalo that are hazed in the West Yellowstone area repeatedly leave the Park shortly after they have been hazed. I think there may be some learned behavior but the drive to find forage may be a bigger drive. It’s hard to say for sure. I think that many bison don’t leave the Park because they don’t tend to go to places they have never been unless there is a severe winter. There are always bison that leave the Park though, no matter what the population.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan