“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Using the cover of a single juniper bush, Clark Bartkowski of Darby had just managed to sneak within 40 yards of a 2,000 pound bison just outside of Gardiner.
His guide, Lloyd Johnson of Specimen Creek Outfitters, wasn’t feeling keen about the idea of shooting the huge bison with a bow.
“They can get a bit nasty,” Johnson whispered to his client.
It was Bartkowski’s 76th birthday weekend.
Already, it had been memorable few days. On Friday night, Bartkowski and his family watched the underdog University of Montana basketball team defeat Boise State. The next day, they cheered on the Grizzly football team that went on to beat Eastern Washington quite handily.
“The weekend had started off perfectly,” Bartkowski said.
On Sunday, he was slated to get up early for the five-hour drive to Gardiner for the bison hunt. Halfway there, Johnson called to tell him that several other hunters had found the bison that he had hoped to show to Bartkowski.
The guide told Bartkowski that maybe he should come back a different day.
Bartkowski pressed on.
When he arrived about noon, Johnson told him that he had found a couple of huge bison earlier that day. As they drove up a mountain road to the place where the hunt would begin, they passed a couple of other successful hunters who were in the process of dressing out their bison.
“Although I was happy for their success, I was even more convinced that I wanted a true stalk and fair-chase hunt to harvest one of these magnificent animals,” Bartkowski said. “Using a bow would be the ultimate challenge.”
After about a mile of walking, they spotted the two large bulls.
Twice, they tried to get in close enough for Bartkowski to take a shot with his bow, but there wasn’t much cover. They could never get closer than about 100 yards.
Johnson was carrying Bartkowski’s rifle. He told his client that maybe he should use it to shoot the bison.
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Bartkowski convinced him to try getting in close just one more time. They circled around and came in from the opposite direction. Using the bush as cover, Bartkowski was able to get within the 40-yard mark where he felt comfortable with his bow.
He nocked an arrow.
His guide whispered one more warning.
The arrow hit the bison in its side. The bull bolted forward and then turned and suddenly charged right at the two men.
“Its nose was about the size of my head,” Bartkowski said.
Johnson was handing Bartkowski his rifle when the bull veered off about 10 yards in front of the two men.
“It all happened so fast,” Bartkowski said. “I think he suddenly realized that something wasn’t right.”
The bull went down and Bartkowski used his rifle to finish it.
The outfitters brought in a horse-drawn sleigh to pack out the meat and hide.
“The hide by itself weighed 500 pounds,” Bartkowski said. “It was a beautiful hide. I didn’t want it to go to waste.”
And neither will any of the hundreds of pounds of meat.
Bartkowski serves as the president of the Darby Bread Box food pantry. He plans to donate nearly all of the bison to the food bank.
“A lot of folks around here have grown up on venison,” Bartkowski said. “Given the choice, I think a lot of them would prefer venison over beef. I think they will like the bison.”
Bartkowski said it’s his way of giving back to the community.
“This is a wonderful place, but there are a lot of people who need some help to keep food on the table,” he said.