A single rifle shot last Tuesday morning signaled the end of a 15-year-old moratorium on bison hunting in Montana. The state legislature this year opened a three-month season on the animals, limiting the take to 50 lucky permit holders. More than six thousand applicants vied for the coveted permits, which were awarded via a lottery earlier in the year.
During the 1980s, when bison hunting was last legal in Montana, state game wardens would phone up hunters as soon as bison strayed from the protected confines of nearby Yellowstone National Park. Animal rights activists decried hunting the innocently grazing animals as hardly sporting. The ensuing nationally televised protests and tourist boycotts forced the Montana legislature to shut the hunt down beginning in 1991.
But this year, with a bison hunter in the governor's mansion and the din of the state's hunting lobby growing louder, the Montana legislature lifted the ban, but not without some strings attached. For starters, the hunt is limited to a 450,000-acre area. State game officials are expressly forbidden from "helping." And hunters must get certified in their knowledge of the rules of the hunt.
Nevertheless, the animal rights crowd is not placated. Video cameras in hand, activists from the Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison advocacy group, filmed the killing of the first bison, which reportedly took five bullets and about 45 minutes after a 17-year-old marksman first picked it off in a field while it was grazing for its dinner.