Great brown beasts move across the Flint Hills prairie. Meandering, they munch on grass, occasionally bringing their heads up to sniff at the wind.
Nearby, a young huntress stalks her prey.
Three slow steps. Stop. Three slow steps. Stop.
Once within range, she raises her weapon, takes careful aim and fires.
A perfect kill shot.
Perhaps less dramatic than the bison hunts of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who grew up in Leavenworth and is said to have killed 4,280 American bison in 18 months in the mid-1800s, the hunt described was a dream realized for young Anna Dysart. As a gift for her coming 13th birthday, Dysart requested the Jan. 15 bison hunt on the expansive Black Kettle Buffalo Ranch near Moundridge.
“It was amazing,” Dysart, 12, Ottawa, said of the experience. “It’s just something that I feel really good about.”
As part of the guided hunt on the ranch, which is owned by Dick Gehring, the Dysart family first bought the animal Anna later shot. Anna, her father, Cary Dysart, and their guide, Bluehawk Adams, approached the herd of about 40 bison roaming in a 150-acre pasture.
Anna had two animals from which to choose. With the animal — identified by a numbered ear tag — in her sights, she pulled the trigger. Her 50-yard shot went through the animal’s lungs, killing it instantly, her mother, Betsy Dysart, said.
“She had a beautiful shot. One shot right through the lungs — beautiful shot,” Betsy Dysart, who also traveled to Moundridge with her daughter, said.
Anna has been training with firearms since she was 3, she said. In fact, the soon-to-be teen is so familiar and proficient with her .50-caliber black powder muzzleloader rifle that she calls it her “best friend.”
An active member of the Kansas Muzzleloading Association, Anna said she has not missed a target in the past two years. She participated in and won several shooting competitions since she started sharp shooting at a young age. Anna also killed her first deer during the past hunting season, after taking a hunter safety course.
In the 1800s, hunting, changes in land use and government policies brought the American bison to near extinction, with the population dropping from the tens of millions to fewer than 1,000. In recent years, however, interest in raising bison has grown among breeders, such as those at Black Kettle Buffalo Ranch. About 150,000 bison roam North America today. The animals no longer are endangered.
For Anna and her family, it wasn’t about just killing for sport. The 900-pound female bison she shot will help feed her family for a long time. Much like the Native Americans, the Dysart family plans to use nearly every bit of the animal, from the 400 pounds of lean meat to the hide and hooves.
“It’s not ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m going to go out and kill something.’ It’s ‘I’m going to provide meat for my family,’” Anna said.
Her mother agreed the hunt wasn’t about killing to kill, but rather to learn about the bison and get an experience few are able to enjoy.
“We don’t kill for fun,” Betsy Dysart said.
Anna said she plans to proudly display her animal hide during re-enactments in which her family participates across the state.
“When we re-enact, all the different re-enacters have different hides and pelts, and I just kind of sit there and think I really want one, but I don’t want to buy one,” Anna said. “I want something that I can call my own and relate a story and compare stories. Something you can tell your grandkids.”