At least 457 bison were killed this winter, a total that falls shy of a removal goal as most hunting seasons and capture-for-slaughter operations end.
Of those, 347 were shipped to slaughter after being caught in Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek Capture Facility and 106 were killed by hunters, according to a report from the park. The number taken by tribal hunters will likely increase because final harvest totals for several tribes haven’t been reported yet.
The report was compiled late last week as park officials shuttered the trap for the year. Park officials don’t capture bison beyond the end of March because of the approach of calving season for the animals, park spokeswoman Linda Veress said.
If 457 is the final number, it would be the lowest total since 2016, when managers culled fewer than 600. The past two years were among the highest in a decade, both topping 1,100.
It would also be short of bison managers’ goal of culling between 600 and 900, agreed to last fall to either slightly reduce the population of roughly 4,500 or keep it stable.
Culling bison depends heavily on the animals’ willingness to migrate north out of the park, something they didn’t really do until late this winter.
Many bison hunters got skunked early on while the animals remained inside the park even as snow grew deep and temperatures dropped. Large numbers of bison weren’t observed north of the park border until mid-March, according to the report.
The report’s tally of bison killed by hunters puts their take at 106, with another three bison killed by park staff after being wounded and wandering back into the park. But the report doesn’t have a complete accounting of which hunters took the bison, listing the lion’s share of the total as “unattributed harvests.”
Of the 85 hunters licensed through the state of Montana, only one was successful, said Mark Deleray, regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes took two bison.
Deleray said hunters from the Nez Perce Tribe harvested a total of 53 and hunters from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation took 11.
The migration that benefited hunters also gave park officials a chance to open the gates of the trap. A total of 348 were captured. One died in the corrals. The other 347 were sent to slaughter, and the meat will go to Native American tribes.