Bison rifles

This afternoon I ticked one of 2018s hunting goals off the list; putting grouse (ruffed, in this case) back on the menu.

The schnitzel was on the chewy side, due to an old and big bird and more likely to a pan to table time under 2 hours, but with plenty of lemon still reminded why it is a favorite.


Last fall I shot zero grouse, and put no time into small game hunting.  Grouse, squirrels and rabbits don’t requires visits to marquee locations, but in terms of skill building, taste, and fun are all but the equal of deer and sheep.  (Except our Red Squirrels, still haven’t found a way to cook them into a genuinely good dish.)  Small game hunting is also an easy fit with kids.  Now, we’re two weekends into September, and have put a grouse and a squirrel in the bag, with many more days chasing both to come.

One of my favorite things about Montana is that for the last third of the year you can shoot grouse with just about any firearm you please, including rifles.  Careful shot placement is obviously the order of the day, or the use of light loads and bullets.  The later was at play today, and I shot the ruffed off her log at 30 yards, making for the .350 rem mags first kill in my hands.

Hunting is no different than any outdoor pursuit, in that a name-brand trip is often the impetus to buy new things.  A bison tag would seem to be better reason than most of a new gun, just like a trip down the Nahanni would good reason for a new boat, or a trip to the Alps reason for new skis or ice tools.  The flaw in this thinking is that outings with higher consequences, or at least places where second chances will be harder than usual to come by, would seem to put a premium on gear whose function has become second nature.  And this is the exact problem I currently have with bison rifles.

At top is my Kimber .308, which I’ve carried for hundreds of miles and with which I’ve shot over a dozen big game animals (and over a dozen grouse).  It’s light, shoulders instantly, and I trust it totally.  In the search for more consistent terminal performance and no concerns with lead in meat I’ve been using Barnes TSX bullets, 168 grain.  The bottom rifle is my grandfathers, on long-term loan from my cousin, a Remington 660 in .350 rem mag.  The 660 is a bit heavier, kicks more, and holds fewer rounds in the magazine, but otherwise the guns feel similar, close to identical.  The older 3x M8 on the 660 is even darn close to the FX 4x I’ve had on the Kimber since the beginning.

The question is, which to take?  The heavier, fatter bullet out of the 660 would seem like the obvious choice, but the Kimber goes a hair faster, and I’m shooting a bullet with better sectional density.  But the main factor is that I just haven’t had much field time with the 660, my fault, and something that lingers in the back of my head as less than ideal.


7 responses to “Bison rifles”

  1. I think something along the lines of a 180 grain Partition (or similar) would do the trick in .308.

    In the end, it’s shot placement that will determine a swift kill. I see Alaska advises a double lung shot, Montana either a head or heart shot. The head shot on a bison is a small footprint, but extremely effective.

  2. Not presuming to give more experienced hunters than myself any advice on ballistics…but life experience tells me that entering an unfamiliar situation with confidence in one’s equipment is certainly worth something.
    Interested to watch this discussion from the sideline.

  3. I have heard great things about the 35 Whelan (a ballistic twin of the 350). That said I’d have a bunch of questions first.
    1. What is the ammo situation? I’d choose the 308 with stout bullets over 350 ammo designed for deer.
    2. How about the rifle? The wood stock makes me nervous in the rain. Can you shoot it as well as the Kimber?
    3. Do you trust the 350’s scope? Does it fog up in bad weather?
    4. Finally what are you most comfortable with?

    For someone way more knowledgeable than me check out this website from a New Zealand hunter. he has a detailed article I n the.350, 35 Whelan and the.308. And he’s shot big bovines down there.

  4. […] rifles (maybe) and a whole lot of gamebags (to be discussed soon) there’s not much bison hunting […]

  5. I have been using Barnes solid copper bullets in my muzzleloader for whitetail deer and have been very happy with the results. All of my hits have been double lung passthroughs. I have yet to recover a bullet from an animal, but those that I have recovered have been perfectly mushroomed and intact. The slid copper bullets are lighter than the equivalent jacketed bullet, but don’t fragment easily. We can’t hunt deer with centerfire rifles in Illinois, bu we can use modern in-line muzzleloaders.

  6. Oh my friend this is a dilemma. Let’s start by entering this conversation with abit of an intro. I’ve shot one bison and have been present for the shooting of 2 others. I’m an avid reloader/ hunter who shots a lot of game. That said I’m NOT claiming to be an expert one the subject.
    This is what I know
    – Bison are EXTREMELY hard to put on the ground for a lot of people. 3 shots from a .338 and the animal has been known to stand there and look at you.
    – Large caliber rifles make bad shots out of a lot of hunters.
    – Bison love to wander into a milling herd after shot and honestly from first hand experience will simply wander off. The issue quickly becomes ensuring you don’t accidentally shoot a second one. One bison I saw shot 7 times from a .300 Win Mag and 5 shots from a 7mm Mag. and that big boy just wandered off for over a km. before falling down. For the record all shots were kill shots and not one was even slightly misplaced.

    So my experience was abit different – 225 grain Triple Shock from my .338 and my 6 year old bull when struck right through the heart did 3 hops at 100 yrds. and fell stone dead.
    In my opinion you have 2 choices
    1) buy a MUCH bigger gun. 30 caliber in my honest opinion is simply to light.
    2) go with your tried and true 308 and be absolutely pin point accurate with your first shot. I’m sure you have examined the anatomy of where to shoot a bison but look again over and over. It’s totally different than any other animals. The heart and lungs are right at the bottom of the chest. You shoot it like a moose or elk it’s gone never to be recovered. When I shot I help my horizontal cross hairs on the bottom of the animal knowing I’m 3” high at a 100 yrds. and it was perfect. What little extra you’ll gain in my opinion isn’t going to be enough to risk it on not a tried and true gun.

    Good luck and hope you have a terrific time.

    1. Good thoughts Gary. The hunt went well. Four shots from the .308 put the bull down within 50 yards. No external bleeding from two solid lung shots. Quite the experience.

      I’d definitely endorse your recommendations for careful shot placement. And quick follow ups.

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