The United States of Bison?
My job can be fairly taxing on the body, hunching over a machine all day pulling different species of animals across a thin-edged blade. Your back tightening up as you continue to thin down everything from white tail to moose. Over the years I’ve probably shaved close to 100 different species and I appreciate the days where only white tail deer are on my table. But, lately I’ve been noticing that there have been a lot of buffalo come across my table and it made me wonder about bison. What’s their history, how many are hunted, and are they only in the west. So let’s take a look at the state of bison in America.
Bison or Buffalo are native to the United States and have an interesting history in this country. Here are a few quick facts on these beasts. Bison are the largest mammal in North America weighing up to one ton for males and half a ton for females. They are also surprisingly quick able to run up to 35 miles per hour. Their life expectancy is between 10 and 20 years and they begin breeding at 2 years old. They have been traced back thousands of years by scientists and researchers, with herds being found in almost every area of North America. But populations began to decline throughout the 19th century and neared extinction by 1900. Former President and avid outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt saw the need for conservation of not only these mammals but others as well and formed the American Bison Society in 1905. Within 15 years populations increased from below 1,000 mammals to over 12,000, and by the turn of the 21st century the totals were over 250,000 in public and private herds.
Today bison hunting seems to be on the rise, though they are only legal to hunt in certain states such as Wyoming, Montana, and Texas with certain licenses. Many of the bison that we come across are from game ranches around the Midwest and Western United States. Many tanneries have taken in customers with requests for tanning bison hides or capes for mounts, and the prices have continued to increase as well because of the demand. Guided bison hunts can range anywhere from $2,000-$10,000 depending on the size and type of hunt.
There are many bison ranches across the states as well where they are harvested and their products sold for retail. Tom Riemann, President of North American Bison estimates that close to 50,000 bison are harvested in the industry per year and sees that number continuing to increase. He says that the more bison are harvested that should drop the prices of bison meat which has a growing popularity in restaurants across the country. Eateries like Best Bison in Omaha, Nebraska and The Counter with multiple locations in California and other coastal states, are known for great bison products.
We took a trip to Indianapolis a few years ago to see family and ended up going a popular new spot in the suburbs named Bub’s Burgers. They served fresh meats and salads, but they were known for their bison burgers. *Their meat is actually Elk meat not bison* It was my first time trying "bison" but it is still the best burger I have ever tasted. Bison have one third the calories of beef and are very lean. According to the USDA in the past eight years bison meat sales have grown from $278 million in 2011 to over $350 million last year.
If there is any doubt of the importance and popularity of the bison, look no further than this fact. The American Bison is our national mammal. In May of 2016 President Obama signed into law the National Bison Legacy Act, which designates the bison as the official mammal of the United States. Bison can now be found in every state in America. I feel as much as any other animal the bison is a representation of America. A strong, resilient, animal that has been through trials, left to wander, yet still calls this great land theirs.