Former Sabetha resident bags bison

David Stoller smiles after shooting this bison in Alaska.

In July of 1989, David and Nancy Stoller sold off most of their worldly possessions and packed some essentials in the back of a large U-Haul truck they had purchased and headed up the highway. Their destination was several thousand miles from Sabetha to a land that was about as far away as one can get in North America.

Since both David and Nancy had a love of the outdoors and the activities that fall into line with that, it seemed like the perfect fit for them to move north to Alaska. Almost 30 years later, they still reside in the largest state in the United States and have never looked back.

Their initial move was to Delta Junction, Alaska, and a year later the couple moved north up the Richardson Highway to North Pole, a community right south of Fairbanks. Nancy secured a job teaching and coaching sports in one of the local schools, and David began working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the Sportfish Department.

David’s job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has allowed him to experience outdoor adventures that most people can only dream about doing. He is truly living the outdoorsman’s dream!

The Stollers’ two sons, Matthew and Mark, were both born in Alaska and have inherited the love of the outdoors from their parents. Their life in Alaska has been filled with many adventures over the years that has seen them traverse the state from one end to the other. They have fished and hunted across the state and experienced great success in their excursions.

David has even ventured down to the famous Kodiak Island and bagged a massive Brown Bear. During that same adventure, he and his hunting partner were fortunate enough to bag several Blacktail Deer. Not only has he hunted and bagged one of the most sought after trophies in Alaska, the Brown Bear, he has pursued Caribou, Rocky Mountain Goat, Dall Sheep and Moose.

Alaska is home to some of the most diverse and magnificent big game hunting opportunities in the world. It is truly a hunter’s paradise. To be able to hunt these species in your own backyard is amazing. It must be pointed out, however, that the backyard of Alaska is quite large and the journey to the hunting areas for some of these species is quite a journey.

As one looks over the list of the big game animals that the Stollers have pursued in Alaska, it was missing one animal. The animal that was missing was left out on purpose because it is a special species and one that might not seem like it belongs in Alaska. The species that was recently hunted by David is the American Bison.

Before going any further, one needs to remember that in North America these bovids are called bison and not buffalo. Yes, there is a difference. Buffalo have large sweeping horns and are located in Africa and Asia. Bison, on the other hand, have smaller and shorter horns and are characterized by the hump on its back.

There are no buffalo in North America, but there are a lot of bison. This was not always true. In 1883, it was estimated that there were still more than 40 million bison roaming North America, down from an estimate of more than 60 million around 1800. In the Lewis and Clark journals from the expedition to the west coast in 1804-1805, it was noted that the massive herds of bison would extend for miles upon miles as far as the eye could see. By the turn of the century, the bison had been hunted to the point that there were less than 1,000 remaining.

In 1907, bison were shipped from the Bronx Zoo to areas on the Plains out west to start to replenish the bison population. This undertaking was instituted by President Theodore Roosevelt, a conservationist who oversaw the shipping of bison to three locations out west. Roosevelt – who once hunted the mighty bison on the Plains in 1883 – was deeply saddened by the demise of the symbolic animal on the land west of the Mississippi River and wanted to do everything in his power to reestablish this great beast.

Fast forward to 1928 and to the state of Alaska near the Delta River at Delta Junction. Twenty-three Plains Bison were moved from the National Bison Range in Montana to the area near Delta Junction. The herd grew to over 500 animals and by 1950 a hunting season was established to keep the population in check. Now there are more than 900 animals in four locations in Alaska. Yes, there are bison roaming the wilds of Alaska.

As in the past, a hunting season is used to keep the population in check. The annual bison hunt is one of the most popular hunts in Alaska. In order to get a hunting permit for bison you must enter the drawing. This year there were 90 tags available to hunters, and more than 27,000 people applied for these tags.

“I have been applying for a bison permit for 27 years,” David said.

Drawing a bison tag is like winning the lottery. David’s permit allowed him to harvest a bull or a cow.

“I definitely wanted to shoot a bull,” David said.

These bison are not tame animals that are used to humans like they are in Yellowstone National Park.

“These bison are totally wild,” David said. “If they catch your scent or see you, they are gone in the blink of an eye.”

David explained that most shots at the bison are around 150 yards and definitely not over 200 yards.

“I used my trusty .338 Winchester Magnum,” David said. “It is the same gun I used on the Brown Bear as well.”

Because the bison in Alaska do not have any natural predators such as wolves or bears, gaining permission to hunt them is not an issue.

“Most farmers don’t like the bison because they destroy their crops,” David said. “They like them thinned out.”

If you are fortunate enough to draw a tag, you are then not eligible to draw another tag for 10 years. Another interesting factor in the bison hunting is that the hunter is allowed to have a backup hunter with him who can shoot as well. The reason for this is that the bison is so tough that they are hard to put on the ground with one shot and having a backup shooter ups the success of anchoring the bison and not losing him. This is the only species in Alaska that this practice is allowed.

The season for bison hunting runs from Oct. 1 through March 31.

“I was fortunate to be drawn to hunt on the opening date of the season,” David said. “The Department of Fish and Game staggers the hunters going out in the field so all 90 hunters aren’t out there at once.”

David and his backup hunting buddy went afield on the opening day.

“We located a herd of around 20 bison,” he said. “We crawled on our bellies and snuck through some trees and finally got into position for a shot.”

David dropped the bull with his first shot.

“When we walked up to it I had no clue how we were going to gut this thing,” David said.

The mature bull would have weighed at least a ton.

“It took the two of us to gut him,” David said. “We spent around five hours gutting, skinning and quartering the bull.”

The two hunters loaded the bison up after they were done and headed for David’s garage, where they hung up the quarters.

“I was a little worried about breaking the rafters when we hung the meat,” David said. “I had over 450 pounds of meat hanging there.”

David took some of the meat to the local locker and had it ground up into hamburger.

“We added bacon to the meat and had it ground up. It really gives it a great flavor,” David said. “We have roasts, steaks, and a lot of burger. We love the meat. It is very tasty.”

The only problem David has now is that his freezer is completely full.

“My freezer is full of bison meat, so I don’t know if I can go moose hunting this coming fall,” David said.

Tim Kellenberger109 Posts

Tim Kellenberger serves as Owner, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for The Sabetha Herald since 2004. He specializes in sports reporting and column writing, as well as sports photography. Tim is a Grace University graduate with a dual degree in agricultural economics and human resource management. He lives in rural Sabetha with his wife and has four grown children and two grandchildren.

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