Find the best places to hunt Bison in Canada and discover the American Bison's Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status.

Provinces with American Bison Hunting

Yukon Resident and Non-Resident
North West Territories Resident and Non-Rssident
British Columbia Resident and Non-Resident
Alberta Resident and Non-Resident

Selecting a Calibre for Bison

The State of Alaska states that a rifle or handgun must fire a 200 grain or larger bullet, which retains at least 2000 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. A .30-06 with a 220 grain bullet is about the minimal weapon that meets this specification.

They also summarize the key points in shooting a bison:

  • Select an animal that is separated from its herd and away from the trees.
  • Stalk to within at least 100 yards of the selected animal.
  • Confirm that the target bison is the correct sex.
  • Aim carefully and make a double lung shot.
  • If a wounded bison rejoins the herd, do not shoot again until there is no chance of hitting another animal.
  • Don’t shoot at running bison.

Vital Shot Placement for Bison

Vital Shot Placement for Bison

Bison Hooves

Bison Hooves

Front Track

  • 4.5" - 6.5" (11.4 - 16.5 cm) long
  • 4.5" - 6" (11.4 - 15.2 cm) wide

Rear Track

  • 4.5" - 6" (10.8 - 15.2 cm) long
  • 4" - 5.5" (10.2 - 14 cm) wide

Trail Width

  • 10" - 22" (25.4 - 38.1 cm)

Photo From Pixabay

Cropped by Canada-Hunts. ca



Range - Distribution and Habitat of Bison

Historically, an iconic animal of the west the Wood Bison (also known as mountain Bison) were found throughout Alaska, the Yukon and the western portion of the Northwest Territories, southward through the Boreal Forest Natural Region of eastern British Columbia, Alberta, and western Saskatchewan that numbered in the millions.

Included in these legends of Bison is the Plains Bison, whose range continued south ward through the Parkland and Grassland Natural Regions of South Western Canada, and carried on into the United States, and Mexico.

Development of land for domesticating livestock by settlers which destroyed the habitat of the bison and over hunting for their meat and hides by non-indigenous and First Nations alike are the main culprits of reducing the Canadian population to an estimated 8 individuals (1880).

Today’s story for these two cousins is more of  “what was” to “what is” and is like comparing a forest fire to a camp fire. However, there is warmth in the fact, that today sport hunting for Plains and Wood Bison is permitted in those areas with free ranging herds.

Not counting the many private ranches, Canada has established and maintains several parks to preserve the bison.

Bison Range Map of Canada

Bison Range Map of Canada

Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By:


Plains Bison

1 - Pink Mountain

  • Pink Mountain is located north of Fort St. John in British Columbia and covers about 1500 km2 for a growing herd of Wild Plains Bison. In 1971 48 bison escaped from a local ranch located in Halfway River and the herd has grown since. In 2003 the herd numbers 876 and by 2006 there were 1302.

2 - Cold Lake / Primros Air Weapons Range

  • Cold Lake / Primros Air Weapons Range is 12,000 km2 of free range on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border for a Wild Plains Bison herd of  70 to 100 individuals on the Saskatchewan side of the range.

3 - Prince AlbertNational Park

  • Prince Albert National Park north of Prince Albert Saskatchewan is a National Park 3875 Km2 in size and is home to a growing herd of wild Plains Bison. Starting from a seed herd of 50 individuals from Elk Island in 1969 surveys showed that it had a population of 320 individuals in 2002 and 400 in 2006 and is known as the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Population.

4 - Elk Island National Park

  • Elk Island National Park located 50 km east of Edmonton maintains Canada’s only Semi Wild Plains Bison herd and has served as the donor herd for re-establishing other herds. This fenced in herd of about 500 strong roams about 136 Km2 and its population is quite stable.

5 - Riding Mountain National Park

  • Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park captive herd of 25 to 50 Plains Bison is for display purposes.

6 - Buffalo Pound Provincial Park

  • Buffalo Pound Provincial Park in south-western Saskatchewan has a captive herd of about 35 Plains Bison for display purposes.

7 - Waterton Lakes National Park

  • Waterton Lakes Nation Park is a Display Herd of 26 Plains Bison in captivity.

8 - Bud Cotton Buffalo Paddock

  • Bud Cotton Buffalo Paddock south of Wainwright Alberta, maintains a Plains Bison herd of 16 for display purposes.

Wood Bison

10 - Wood Buffalo Park.

  • Wood Buffalo Park in Northern Alberta, with 44,800 km2, was established in 1922 to protect Canada’s Wood Bison which is currently estimated to be 5,000 individuals.

11 - Aishihik Bison

  • Aishihik Bison herd is a Wood Bison Herd of 1,230 individuals (2011 est.) located on 1st nations lands in the Yukon Territory
  • If you wish to proceed with a hunt you must get approval from the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and/or the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation first. 

12 - Mackenzie Herd

  • Mackenzie herd is a herd of about 700 Wood Bison (2013 est.) found west of Great Slave Lake in the NWT.

13 - Nahanni Herd

  • Nahanni Herd, a herd of 431 Wood Bison (2011 est.) found on the Liard River drainage systems of the NWT.

Bison were known for their massive migrations where they would travel a few hundred miles as they moved seasonally to and from their summer and winter ranges. To-day, seasonal migrations are much shorter with Wood Buffalo Park having probably the longest migration of 150 miles. These seasonal migrations may be as simple as a change of elevation or moving directionally to a new habitat.

Today’s large herds consist of several bands of four to twenty individuals forming up to make a large herd. Bison will follow established trails and take the most direct route when getting from place to place. One individual depending of weather conditions, availability of forage, and the threat of predation will lead the herd daily anywhere from one to several kilometres.

Sex, age, and habitat appear to be determining factors for the size of a bison’s home range. Studies were done on the Wood bison and the results were as follows:

  • Yearlings averaged (712.2 Km2),
  • young bulls averaged (706.0 Km2),
  • adult cows averaged (1,240.5 Km2)
  • older adult bulls averaged (170.1 Km2).

American Bison (Bison bison)


Plains Bison

Wood Bison


Bull Cow Bull Cow
Life Span 15 Years 15 Years 15 Years 15 Years
Shoulder Height

65.75” – 73.2”

(167 - 186 cm) 

59.8” – 61.8 “

(152 – 157 cm). 

65.75” – 73.2”

(167 - 186 cm) 

59.8” – 61.8 “

(152 – 157 cm).

Overall Length

119.7” – 149.6”

(304 - 380 cm) 

83.9” – 125.2”

(213 - 318 cm).  

119.7” – 149.6”

(304 - 380 cm) 

83.9” – 125.2”

(213 - 318 cm). 


1303 – 1695 lbs.

(591-769 kg)

919 – 1001 lbs.

(417-454 kg)

1415 – 2006 lbs.

(642 - 910 kg) 

1086 – 1250 lbs.

(493-567 kg 

Weight at Birth 44 lbs. (20 kg )
Horns up to 2 ft (61 cm) long    
Hearing Hearing Good 
Eyes Eyesight Poor 
Dental Formula  I(0/2), C(0/1), P(3/3), M(3/3)
Body Temperature 101.7ºF (38.7ºC) 
Feet Hooved 
Can Travel 40 miles per hour (64.4 KPH) 
Sexual Maturity 3 years 3 years 3 years 3 years
Breeding Time July to mid-August 
Gestation N/A 285 day N/A 285 days
Birthing N/A late April to early June N/A late April to early June
# in Litter N/A 1 N/A 1
Weaning 7 to 8 months 
Communication grunting, bleating, sneezing, snorting, foot stamping and tooth grinding


Plains Bison

Wood Bison  

Photo By USFWS – Flickr

Descriptions added by

Photo from Pixabay

Descriptions added by             


There are two subspecies of American Bison, the Plains Bison and the Wood Bison and for two cousins of the same family there are probably more dissimilarities between the two than similarities.

The most notable distinguishing feature between the two has got to be the hump over the shoulder. The Plains Bison sports a small (almost non existent) hump right over its leg. But the Wood Bison has a great big square hump located forward of its leg between its shoulder area and its neck.

The coloring of these two Bison is dark brown, the Wood Bison is a little darker in color, and the fur of both consists of long, coarse guard hairs and a thick under fur.  The Wood Bison has less color discrepancy between their front and hind sections in comparison to the Plains Bison’s mane which is almost gold in color. Refer to the pictures above and you will note that the Plains Bison has a well defined mane that ends right about its shoulder. In looking at the Wood Bison, its mane tapers off into the body well back of the leg.

The Plains Bison also appears to have fur leggings or chaps on its legs while again the Wood Bison’s legging are scruffy with no real definition to the feature.  

Bison’s have a shaggy winter coat and a lighter-weight summer coat, this feature leads to moulting twice in a given year, once in the spring and once in late summer.

The heads and forequarters are huge on these two animals. The Wood Bison has a black head, a small beard, the fur on it head does not cover its horns, and the fur in general on its head and neck is not as dense, longer, and it looks kind of scruffy. The Plain Bison in comparison has a brown head, a big beard, the fur on its head covers the base of the horns, and the fur on its head and neck is thicker, shorter, and it looks like it has been to a barber and had a hair cut.

Bulls have a shoulder height of 65.75” – 73.2” (167 cm - 186 cm), cows are 59.8” – 61.8 “ (152 – 157 cm) high, bulls are 119.7” – 149.6”  (304 - 380 cm) long and females range 83.9” – 125.2” (213 - 318 cm) in length.

When it comes to weight the males in both cases outweigh the females, but the wood bison is the heavy weight of the two  species.  Wood Bison Bulls will range between 1415 – 2006 lbs. (642 - 910 kg) in comparison to the Plains Bison Bulls at 1086 – 1250 lbs. (493-567 kg.). Again Wood Bison Cows out weight their Plain Bison counterparts when comparing 1303 – 1695 lbs. (591-769 kg) to 919 – 1001 lbs. (417-454 kg) respectively.

Both of these species along with both sexes have black, short, curved, non shedding horns that curve upward and can attain a length of up to 2 ft (61 cm) long. Typically the Wood Bison has longer horns but both species will use their horns for fighting for status within the herd and for defence.  The female’s horns are generally shorter than a males and her horns are thinner, point upwards, and have greater curvature.

They both have the same dental formula of: I(0/2), C(0/1), P(3/3), M(3/3) , a body temperature of 101.7ºF (38.7ºC) , and vocalizations include those of: grunting, bleating, sneezing, snorting, foot stamping and tooth grinding. Their tail is 20 to 26 in. (50 – 66.4 cm) long and has a large tuft at the end of the tail. The Wood Bison’s tail is slightly shorter.

There is a greater degree of sexual dimorphism in Plains Bison than in Wood Bison. 

Plains Bison

 Photo From - Pixabay

Characteristics that can Help Identify Male and Female Bison

Sex Organs Penis sheath present but may be difficult to see on young bison or in late winter Penis sheath absent but tufts of belly hair may look similar to a penis sheath
Horn Base Size Generally larger than on cows; ranges from 2 ¾ inches in diameter on small bulls (very similar to large cows) to 3 ½ inches or more on large bulls Generally smaller than on bulls; ranges from 2 – 2 ½ inches in diameter; horn bases on large cows often similar in size to those on small bulls
Adult Horn Shape Adult horns point up, or curve inward on older bulls similar to cows; taper quickly from base Adult horns generally curved, but may point up similar to bulls; taper slowly from base
Yearling Horn Shape Point at 45 degree angle from head but longer and larger bases than yearling cows Point at 45 degree angle from head but shorter and smaller bases than yearling bulls
Head Shape Wider blockier forehead than cows; smaller bulls may appear similar to larger cows Narrower forehead than bulls; large cows may appear similar to small bulls
Coat Often two-tone; light & woolly on front shoulders, darker on back; may be single color Often single color coat; can be two-tone


Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Bison

Bison Herd

Bison Herd

Bison Herd - Photo By PD-USGov-Interior-FWS

Bison seem to utilize a vast amount of habitat and the type of habitat seems to vary according to the season with them giving preference to grass and sedge meadows, which provide high-quality forage.

Stands of forest play an important part, in that, forest covered areas are often used as movement corridors. These corridors provide shade in the summer, shelter in the winter, and are used in the spring to calve in.  Areas where more than 10% is covered by shrubs and less than 10% of the cover is trees, wetland-associated meadows and open dry grasslands provide good foraging and grazing grounds.

The bison will establish travel corridors but don’t do much feeding in forest stands of the landscape. In addition to these forest trails, they will establish water body crossings in order get between their favoured feeding grounds. Most of their foraging time is spent between dawn and dusk, with their daily routine taken in two hour increments and consists of grazing, resting, cud chewing, and moving to a new grazing area.

Bison are herbivores and will graze on grasses, sedges, willow leaves, lichens, and twigs. Preferred forage includes the following: wheat grass, brome grass, wild rye, wild oats, June grass, blue grass, vanilla grass, reed grass, salt grass, foxtail grass and spear grass; as well as horsetail, rushes, sedges, lichens, vetches, pea vine, blueberries and bearberries.

Although these grasses and sedges are chosen when in abundance, Bison can easily change their diet to other types of browse when required.

In the spring and early summer, wet meadows are chosen habitats. Then as the summer progresses they will move to upland meadows and use them right up into the early fall. The summer time will also find the bison seeking relief from insects by wallowing in sand pits and spending time in more mountainous terrain. 

As the fall progresses, the bison take to a broader range of habitats including evergreen forests, the only criteria seems to be “Anywhere there is food”

Bison eat grasses, lichens, and sedges in the winter and with the aid of their huge heads and hooves they will move snow aside to obtain forage. About the only terrain they avoid in the winter are muskeg, steep terrain, and dense forest. In the winter, foraging may occur at night but this is only a measure to increase energy intake during leaner times and shorter daylight hours.

Breeding and Reproduction of Bison

Wood Bison Cow and Calf

Bison Cow and Calf

Cow and Calf - Photo By Jitze Couperus

The Bison’s rut peaks from late July to mid-August and overall takes place from the 1st of July to the 30th of September. It is at this time that the size of the Plains Bison Herd increases in size and conversely the Wood Bison Herd will decrease in size. The difference being: Plains Bison Bulls will enter cow-calf herds but the Wood Bison maintains more a harem like relationship like the Elk.

Cows and Bulls become mature at the age of 3 and can participate in the rut but the reality is that the bulls may not be large or strong enough until they are 5 years of age. Cows come into heat at this time and have an estrous cycle of about 3 weeks. Prime age for a bull bison is 6 to 9 years old while 5 to 14 years of age is most productive for a cow. During the rut, the dominant bull will exhibit vocalizations of roaring and bellowing along with wallowing, courting cows (butting each other), mounting cows, threatening rivals, and of course fighting with other bulls as part of his daily routine.

Cows do not necessarily produce calves every year with limiting factors being age, size of cow, prior success, and availability of forage. A behaviour that I found strange was that the cow has what is called a post-copulatory posture after mating has occurred. She will maintain an arched back and hold her tail up for several hours after insemination. The cow’s gestation period is about 285 days and subsequent calving for southern herds will occur late April to early June, whereas, northern herds calve two weeks later.

Where the herd occupies open country cows will calve within the sanctuary of the herd, but, where taller vegetation is available she will choose an area of cover and calve by herself. The cow normally produces a single reddish-brown calf and twins are rare. The calf is able to nurse on its mother right away, will maintain its lighter brown color for about 2 months,  and will be weaned at about 7 to 8 months of age. That is, unless its’ mother does not calve the following year in which case it will nurse for another year.

The cows and calves maintain communication through a series of grunts and snorts and safety of the calf is maintained by staying with the herd, but if it fails to keep up with the herd during a predatory chase, it stands a chance of being abandoned. As the calf gets older it becomes more independent and it should have a life expectancy of about 15 years in the wild.

Status of Bison in Canada

Today’s Canada’s bison population is sitting at an estimated 10,000 animals.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), has given the Plains Bison an assessment of  “Threatened” (November 2013) and the wood bison an assessment of “Special Concern” (November 2013)

Because of their immense size, bison have few predators. However, packs of grey wolves, human sport hunting, black bears, brown bears, coyotes, and grizzly bears are some of the notable exception. With the exception of the sport hunting who target the strong mature bulls, most of these predators target the calves, elderly, and sick adults. A pack of grey wolves are very efficient and probably the most successful predator of being able to separate a single adult from the herd and then circling it to take it down. Brown bears are known to drive wolf packs off of a kill and claim it for themselves.

Disease in a herd of bison and the efforts by humans to remove the disease from the herd is probably the leading cause of decline in bison populations. Anthrax, brucellosis, and tuberculosis are the three main diseases that affect wild populations of Bison.


Anthrax is from a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis that is a highly infectious and often a lethal disease. Anthrax spores can stay dormant in the soil for years and then all of a sudden attack a herd. Outbreaks in the Mackenzie Bison Herd and Wood Buffalo National Park have been reported. It is inhaled or enters the body through an existing break in the skin or mucous membrane. Bison outbreaks are thought to obtained by ingesting the spores from contaminated pastures, feed or soil (while grazing). Once ingested, the anthrax spore grows and multiplies itself in the blood stream to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and even death in its victim.

Brucellosis and Tuberculosis are diseases that last the rest of their lives. These diseases reduce productivity, recruitment, cause infected animals to become anti social, and make the animals vulnerable to predation.

The catch alls are of course, forestry operations, induced pollutants, ranching efforts, large forest fires, roadway collisions and drowning due from river flooding and falling through the ice.

Cow at Salt Lick

Cow at salt lick

Photo by Doreen Van Ryswyk/USFWS


Most of the time, it's the bulls that are fighting. This cow was very possessive over the salt blocks in the back of the refuge truck and would take on any who wanted to take over her spot!


  • Hinterland Who's Who -

Photo Credits - Article

Photo Credits - Background

  • Marshal Hedin - Flicker
  • Listing information on this website has been collected and presented as accurately as possible.
  • In case of any difference(s) between the information listed about outfitter's / resorts / guides.
  • The outfitter's website should always be taken.
  • This website should not be considered as the final say when it comes to hunting regulations.
  • Always consult the Provincial / Territorial jurisdiction that you are going to when planning your hunt.
  • Images on this site have been collected and used under Creative Commons License or are public domain images. 
  • Recipes are the work of You may reprint and distribute them for personal non commercial use. 
  • Please include as your source on all copies.
  • Hunting Optics Blog information was provided by the generosity of Vortex Canada.
  • All work in that blog is their sole property and permission to reuse it should be directed to Vortex of Canada.

If you need more information use the form below and contact us.